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Syrian refugee child at school. Photo by UNHCR

Refugee settlement

Published 31st January, 2019

NSW is proud to play an integral role in resettling the refugees fleeing the conflict in the Middle East.

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.

Find support services for refugees in NSW on the Multicultural NSW Settlement Portal

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.

Find more information about the Refugee Employment Support Program

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.

Find information about settlement services for refugees in Australia

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.

Find volunteering opportunities that support refugees in NSW

Case studies

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 *.

Legal Aid NSW

How Legal Aid NSW helped Natalie with her domestic violence situation.

Natalie* was a refugee who arrived in Australia in 2017 with her husband and daughter. Natalie initially came to see the Legal Aid NSW Refugee Service for advice on how to let Centrelink know that she had separated from her husband. It was soon discovered that domestic violence was the reason for the separation and Natalie was distraught because she felt isolated and did not know what she could do. Natalie said that she wanted to leave her current premises, but was worried about the rental lease.

As Natalie was highly vulnerable and spoke little English, a Legal Aid community engagement officer, who spoke the same language as Natalie, arranged a number of meetings with Natalie, a Legal Aid solicitor and local support agencies. These meetings focussed on establishing a coordinated plan for Natalie and her daughter to leave safely.

Natalie is now living in new premises with her daughter and is continuing to receive support from a domestic violence worker at the local migrant resource centre.

In 2016-17, the NSW Government committed $4 million over four years to Legal Aid NSW to establish an outreach refugee legal service.  

Department of Industry – RESP

How the RESP helped Nadia to set up her own small business.

Nadia arrived in Wollongong in April 2017. When she arrived, she enrolled in the Refugee Employment Support Program (RESP) and told Settlement Services International (SSI) she wanted to open her own small business in catering. Nadia had owned and operated a restaurant in Iraq for over 15 years, holding a wealth of experience and skills in the hospitality industry.

Nadia was unsure how to navigate the Australian business landscape to make her dream a reality. Nadia lacked the confidence to establish her own small business and did not have the financial capital required to start the business.

Through the RESP, Nadia received career advice, went to business skills development workshops, completed courses like the Introduction to Hospitality and Hygiene in Australia, and accessed start-up funds to set up a business. Nadia also undertook a work placement at SSI’s social enterprise Food for Thought food truck. This placement gave Nadia hands-on work experience in commercial cookery, hospitality and retail in the Australian context. The safe and supportive environment helped Nadia build her confidence.

Through ongoing support from the RESP and SSI, Nadia has been able to set up her own small business providing catering services to businesses in Wollongong and surrounding areas.

Nadia continues to receive support from the RESP. The SSI is now helping Nadia connect with local restaurants to arrange special collaborative events that include her Iraqi food.

In May 2017, the NSW Government committed $22 million over four years to the RESP.

NSW Health

How NSW Health helped refugee women address their mental health.

The Western Sydney Local Health District Multicultural health services deliver a number of major health education programs, including the Bilingual Community Education program.

The program employs trained bilingual community educators (BCEs) to facilitate groups in the first language of participants. The program educates migrant and refugee communities on a range of health topics including mental wellbeing, raising children and women’s health.

BCEs case study
Left to right: Rabia Azizi (Dari BCE), Anoop Johar (BCE program officer), Georgette Hilmi (Arabic BCE), Nisha Shrestha (Nepali BCE).

Rabia Azizi (Dari BCE) likes providing the mental wellbeing program ‘Changing Lives Keep Your Balance’ to groups of refugee women from Afghanistan. During the program, a participant revealed they were having suicidal thoughts due to challenges faced by her and her family. The safe environment, opportunities to hear other women’s stories, and knowledge acquired from the program helped this woman take steps to overcome some of the challenges she faced. At the end of the program, the participant said “because of this program, I have so many things to live for, I don’t want to die”.

Georgette Hilmi (Arabic BCE) said that the Women and Children Growing together in a New Country program helped many Sudanese refugee women to learn how to be role models for their children. Including how to eat healthy food, prepare healthy lunches and do activities with children that stimulate their development and positive relationships with parents.

Nisha Shrestha (Nepali BCE) said that through the New Healthy Woman program, many Nepali women have learned more about women’s health and discussed issues they had never talked about before. This improved their confidence, understanding of their health needs and understanding of how to access health services.

In 2016-17, the NSW Government committed $32.4 million to meet the health needs of refugees through delivering a number of specialised refugee health services. 

NSW Department of Education

How Liverpool West Public School is supporting refugee students and their families.

To support the needs of newly arrived refugee students, Liverpool West Public School received additional resources through the New Arrivals program.

With these additional resources, the school was able to establish a transition class which provided a high level of English language support to fast-track students’ access to the curriculum. Within 12 months, the majority of students in the transition class made a significant improvement in their English language development.

The transition class also helped students feel welcome at the school. The school accommodated siblings remaining together in the transition class until they were ready to move to mainstream classes, helping students and their parents feel more secure. Newly arrived students were also paired with students from the transition class who could help orientate them to school life.

Students in the transition class spoke positively about their experiences:

  • “I got lots of help from my friends and teachers.”
  • “I felt safe because we spoke Arabic and a teacher spoke Arabic.”
  • “It helped me learn about the school, how to buy things from the canteen.”
  • “I felt very happy because I was learning English.”

The additional resources also allowed the school to:

  • hire a school learning support officer, who provided bilingual support for students.
  • employ a speech pathologist to assess and support students with speech difficulties.
  • implement a range of strategies to encourage parents to communicate, share knowledge and engage with staff. These included a breakfast club, parent café and food bank collection.
  • implement multiple programs including Toddler Time, English classes, computer classes, cooking classes, Zumba classes and onsite translation support.

In 2016-17, the NSW Government allocated almost $30 million to the New Arrivals Program to provide intensive English language tuition and bilingual support for around 4900 newly arrived students, including refugee students. 

Department of Family and Community Services (FACS)

How the Families in Cultural Transition program empowered Sara to help other refugees.

The Families in Cultural Transition (FiCT) program, run by NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS), is a nine-week workshop designed to help newly arrived refugees learn about Australia and settle successfully in their new country.

Sara* is a Syrian refugee who began her journey with FiCT in regional NSW. Sara found the program to be incredibly helpful during the transition into life in Australia. Sara said that she learned a lot about her rights, including gender rights.

Once Sara finished the program, she was offered a job minding children during other FiCT sessions. Working in the program helped Sara to build her self-esteem, English language skills and understanding of Australian work practices. When the opportunity to attend the FiCT facilitators’ training presented itself, Sara felt confident to register for the training and become a certified facilitator.

“It is very important to work and you feel like you can do something. It’s very important for me to support my family,” said Sara.

Sara’s experience as a FiCT facilitator motivated her to enrol to study community services to build her employment opportunities and continue to help others. 

“I am now studying community services and that makes me feel I want to work more to help this community because I understand some people who come to Australia have a lot of problems,” said Sara.

“After FiCT I feel I can do more to support them.”

In 2016-17, the NSW Government committed $1.7 million for the expansion of the FiCT program.  

Peter Shergold

peter shergold

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.

Published 31st January, 2019
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