Laughter, joy, celebration and hope are perhaps not the emotions associated with refugees. However, this was the atmosphere that greeted everyone who entered the Macquarie Room in NSW Parliament House on the morning of June 21. After the grand celebrations of the World Refugee Day on June 20, everybody seemed to be in high spirits.
Minister for Multiculturalism, MP Ray Williams discussed work and policy implementation with the agencies working for refugees and thanked the refugees present for their outstanding contribution to the Australian society.
Success stories were all around and they all showcased the true quality of refugees in Australia and the vast skill set that they bring along with them. Professor Peter Shergold AC, NSW coordinator-general for Refugee Settlement, said: “Refugees are not here to live on welfare but are here to build their lives and the society. They are risk takers and have a great entrepreneurial spirit.”
He added: “It is Australia’s responsibility to extend the hand of hope to refugees and it has done so. In the last year alone, NSW has taken in 6,000 refugees. Usually, the intake ranges around 3,000-4,000 per year but in the past three years, they have taken in 17,000 refugees from Syria, Iraq and many countries of Asia and Africa, which is commendable. Not only that, they strive to enhance assistance to refugees and this is done by continuous evaluation. I am happy to say that this is the aim of both the Federal and the State government. They are now providing specialised health services, which is a huge success and over 700 people have availed the services in just the first three months of operation. English classes are being given in many communities and schools. Refugee employment services are also playing a very important role in integrating refugees in the community. 500 out of the 3,000 enrolled have already been placed. The good thing about these services is that they are located around the hubs of refugee settlements such as Fairfield, Blacktown, Parramatta and Liverpool. We have also partnered with civil service organisations such as the Red Cross and the Salvation Army to utilise the front line of defence and make a joint public impact.”
Following up on that note, Minister Williams said: “I am happy to inform you that NSW has been one of the leading states when it comes to taking in refugees. However, these families are still struggling and we can do better to make their lives more prosperous. I would like to thank all the refugees that are struggling for the sake of a better and safe future for their children. I have seen these children becoming school captains and remarkable musicians and that makes us very proud. We understand the struggles of the first generation of not understanding the language and trying to make something out of nothing but we would like you to know that we value each and every one of you”.
The very first person to be recruited in the public service through the refugee employment services, Anya, too, shared her story with everyone. “I came to this country two years ago from Syria. I did not know the language. When I was placed, I was given one month to come at par with everyone. I would like to tell all the refugees that it is okay to be different as long as you deliver. I want to tell them, grab every opportunity that comes your way and don’t wait for the perfect job to come around. Now, I feel very happy and safe. We should own the refugee tag and destigmatise it.”