The conflicts occurring in Syria and Iraq are amongst the worst humanitarian disasters of our time. As of October 2017, the conflicts have resulted more than 15 million people across Syria and Iraq forced to flee their homes. (Source: UNHCR)
On 9 September 2015, the Australian Government responded to the conflicts by committing to settle an additional 12,000 refugees, in addition to the existing annual Humanitarian Program intake of 13,750.
From November 2015 to 14 July 2017, around 6570 people displaced by conflict in Syria and Iraq arrived in New South Wales as part of the additional 12,000 places.
Overall, NSW has successfully settled around 11,190 arrivals in the last financial year; nearly 43 per cent of Australia’s total humanitarian intake. Of these, more than 9980 were from Syria and Iraq.
The NSW Government’s main focus now is to support these refugees by providing the services and support they need for them to rebuild their lives here in NSW.
The NSW Government has appointed Professor Peter Shergold as the NSW Coordinator General for Refugee Resettlement. Professor Shergold is working hard to strengthen collaboration at all levels of government, and between the non-government, community, education and corporate sectors around the common goal of supporting the successful long-term settlement of refugees.
Core NSW Government services
In June 2016, the NSW Government announced a commitment of $146 million over four years to ensure the right services and supports are in place to help newly arrived refugees build their lives. Core services include health and education, as well as specialist services such as the Refugee Health Nurse Screening Program, Intensive Education Centres, and English as Additional Language or Dialect (EALD) Program in schools.
Refugees are eligible to apply to the NSW Government for housing support, travel concessions and vocational and educational training subsidies if the criteria are met. The NSW Government has committed $3.9 million to help deliver private rental assistance products to eligible refugee families to assist them in securing a safe place to live as they rebuild their lives in NSW.
Refugee employment support in NSW
Refugees bring new skills and experiences, fill important labour shortages in the economy, are highly entrepreneurial, and contribute to the social and human capital of the communities where they settle.
Successful refugee settlement outcomes are underpinned by economic empowerment. Supporting newly arrived refugees into employment pathways is fundamental to successful transitions.
In May 2017, the NSW Government committed $22 million over four years to the Refugee Employment Support Program (RESP). Managed by the NSW Department of Industry and delivered by Settlement Services International in partnership with the corporate sector, the program will support up to 6000 refugees and 1000 asylum seekers to find sustainable and skilled employment in Western Sydney and the Illawarra.
Key organisations have committed to train, mentor, or employ refugees. Many have also pledged to develop targeted refugee employment programs, provide employment grants, and assist refugees to become ‘job ready’.
The NSW Government is also committed to employing at least 100 refugees across the public sector – 60 eligible refugees have been employed to date.
NSW settlement areas
Where refugees are placed in NSW is primarily a matter for the Australian Government.
The settlement locations in NSW are Sydney, Wollongong, Newcastle, Coffs Harbour, Armidale, Wagga Wagga and Albury.
Each of these locations has a proud history of welcoming refugees into their communities.
Australian Government support
The Australian Government’s Department of Social Services operates the Humanitarian Settlement, which gives refugees practical support for six to 12 months. Newly arrived refugees undergo orientation into Australian law and receive help to enrol in school and register with Centrelink and Medicare.
Can you help?
Organisations working to support refugees settle in NSW need your help. You can make a difference.
Opportunities exist for all members of the NSW community to get involved. You can volunteer your time, skills or experience to help refugees settle in NSW. Big or small, your contribution can help make a difference to the lives of refugees living in our community.
The NSW Volunteering website now has a volunteer recruitment tool that helps you to find volunteering opportunities in your community. It is free and easy to use and you can express interest in an opportunity online with the volunteering organisation.
Please note donations of food and offers of accommodation are not needed at this time.
The case studies below highlight how government and non-government organisations are helping refugees rebuild their lives in NSW.
Names that have been changed for privacy reasons are indicated with a *.
How the NRMA DriveTime program helped Payam get his driver's license
The NRMA is piloting DriveTime, a driver licensing support program for refugees in Western Sydney and the Illawarra. The program supports participants in gaining new skills and confidence to drive safely on open roads.
After a learner driver graduates from the program, they attend supervised driving lessons with volunteer mentors to develop their skills, knowledge and confidence behind the wheel before attending their Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) driving test.
Payam was among the first group of learners referred to DriveTime. While he had driving experience in his home country, he had never driven in Australia. He had attempted his driving test before joining the program but was unsuccessful each time. Payam was on the priority list for the program as he suffers from a medical condition and needs to drive to doctor’s appointments.
Payam attempted his RMS driving test twice and passed on his second attempt. After finding out he passed, Payam was overwhelmed with happiness. He asked to extend his gratitude to everyone involved in the program.
ClubsNSW is supporting a four-week hospitality program and a work readiness program and has committed to employ at least 30 refugees. Twelve refugees graduated from the hospitality course in April 2017, including Bassam.
While Bassam holds a Master’s degree in physics from his home country, he believes this course will help him work in places where he can improve his English and one day undertake training to be able to teach again.
In 2016-17 Legal Aid received funding to teach more refugees about their legal rights and obligations and provide them with legal advice.
The funding supported a new Legal Aid outreach service, based in the Bankstown office. The outreach service leverages existing outreach clinics to provide advice and support on civil, family and criminal matters. It uses bilingual staff to engage with Arabic, Assyrian, and Spanish-speaking communities better. In its first three months of operation, the clinic supported almost 700 people.
Saida* arrived in Australia in 2016 from Syria with her partner and two young children. She spoke very limited English Saida was a sub-tenant and experienced difficulties with her head tenant and landlord. The head tenant made an application to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) against -her for compensation for alleged damage to the rental property totalling $5000. She was not aware of her rights and responsibilities as a sub-tenant and wasn’t given the opportunity to review the condition report before moving into the rental property and after moving out.
Saida’s caseworker referred her to the Legal Aid Refugee Service for assistance. The Service provided her with advice and helped her to obtain favourable directions from NCAT in preparation for the final hearing. If the Service wasn’t present at the conciliation, there was a risk that Saida would have agreed to settle and pay for damages they did not cause because of unfamiliarity with the relevant laws.
Saida was thankful for Legal Aid’s guidance and service.
Saif and his family arrived from Iraq in 2017 after spending nine months as refugees in Jordan. Saif and his wife have two daughters aged three and two.
After one week in Australia, Saif and his family were assessed by a refugee health nurse in Liverpool, with a professional health care interpreter present. The assessment involved taking medical histories, baseline blood tests for the parents, and checking the family’s immunisation status. The nurse provided health education, made referrals to the public dental clinic at Fairfield, informed the parents about the available trauma counselling services and provided findings to the family’s local doctor.
One week later the new Early Childhood Refugee Nurse program arranged to see Saif’s two young children at home. The program involved developmental checks on the children confirming their immunisation status and advice about healthy nutrition.
In 2016, Henekal and her daughter Elena arrived from Syria on a Woman at Risk visa (subclass 204). The Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District (ISLHD) Refugee Health team identified that Henekal had congenital hip dysplasia and Elena had microcephaly – a condition where a baby is born with a smaller head than expected.
An assessment by a refugee health nurse found that the family had complex needs and referred them to Multicultural Health Service (MHS) Social Work.
The service referred Henekal to an orthopaedic specialist and trauma-related counselling. To help her adjust to life in Australia, Henekal was encouraged to attend the STARTTS Family in Cultural Transition (FICT) program for Arabic speaking people. MHS also advocated that the family receive complex case support, due to their physical disabilities and no family support in Australia.
The MHS visited Henekal before her surgery to discuss her concerns and inform her of services available to her, including interpreter services, in-home support, outpatient physiotherapy and in-home childcare.
MHS social work liaised closely with Henekal’s GP and non-emergency patient transport to ensure that they had the necessary information. MHS social work also visited Henekal post-discharge to provide advice on applying for the Disability Support Pension, register for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and for Centrelink, including how to engage with settlement services for support for these processes.
Henekal is now settled in the Illawarra area, attends English classes and her daughter attends school. They are both very happy and settled in the area.
Professor Peter Shergold AC, the Chancellor of Western Sydney University, is the NSW Coordinator-General for Refugee Resettlement.
From 2015, Professor Shergold ensured that the NSW Government was prepared for the arrival of the additional refugee intake.
Now that almost 6000 refugees have arrived in NSW, Professor Shergold is coordinating their settlement across all levels government, the non-government, community, education and corporate sectors.