I am often stopped when shopping and asked what is happening about Armidale’s new refugee settlers. It seems so many people want to know and are very keen to help them in any way they can. I’ll try to answer some of the most frequent questions.
More than 100 people have arrived and more are coming every month. They are mostly Yazidi (also spelt Yezidi) families with children from northern Iraq. A much smaller number have come from Syria but soon after arrival here join family and friends in other cities.
The Yazidis have been persecuted for centuries and our government recognises the ongoing attempts, by ISIS and others, of genocide. All the families have experienced killings and kidnappings and other horrors. They are naturally fearful of anyone who resembles or reminds them of the perpetrators.
Some readers will have seen TV reports of Yazidis fleeing to the Sinjar Mountains to escape ISIS. Unfortunately hundreds were slaughtered. Australia helped in the rescue of many. Friday, August 3 is the fourth anniversary of this tragedy.
Yazidis speak Kurdish Kurmanji and have no English on arrival. Their religion, culture and language are very ancient and very important to them. Yazidis believe in the one God and that an angel is the representation of that God.
I have found all my new Yazidi friends to be gentle, polite people eager to learn English and our way of life. And of course eager in time to find work and buy a car. The children are a delight!
So my frequently asked question – How can I help? Of course everyone is free to help just as we would any newcomer to our town.
You can do this in everyday ways of being a good neighbour. Introduce yourself, invite them in for a cup of tea, take in a cake or even a spare warm blanket, introduce your child to the family’s children. There are many neighbourly ways.
You may wish to be part of a group who takes families on picnics or some such. It is entirely up to you. It is most important that our new friends feel both safe and welcomed.
Yes, language can be a hitch but I have found that a smile, a handshake and some miming can work at least with simple matters. After a while and as their English improves due to their TAFE lessons communication will become easier. Children of course learn languages more quickly and might be useful interpreters.
Some people might wish to become formally-appointed volunteers. Settlement Services International (SSI) has the government’s contracted responsibility for basic settlement provisions and introductions to services. It invites people to volunteer, trains and allocates specific settlement roles. You can contact SSI at 86 Beardy Street.
Our town is the richer in so many ways for welcoming these and other needy people. In one obvious way, it creates jobs (there are probably as many as 20 new jobs already) and so adds to our town’s wealth. But it also adds so much to the richness and understanding of us personally and as a community.