pop-up content starts
pop-up content ends

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Refu​​​gee Week 2022​

​​Australia is celebrating Refugee Week 2022 from 19-25 June. It is an opportunity to reflect on Australia's long history of resettling refugees and others in humanitarian need, and acknowledge the many contributions they make to Australia.

Since the end of the Second World War Australia has accepted more than 930,000 refugees and humanitarian entrants. Refugees have brought diversity to our cities, suburbs and towns. This diversity has helped create the Australia that we know and enjoy today.

Message from the Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia

His Excellency General the Honourable David Hurley AC DSC: Australia is one of the most diverse, successful multicultural nations in the world.

Our different backgrounds, experiences and cultures combine to make our community vibrant, cohesive and compassionate.

Our diversity is – quite simply – a strength.

World Refugee Day and Refugee Week are important opportunities to reflect on Australia’s history of resettling refugees and others in humanitarian need.

And, I think most importantly, a time to recognise and celebrate the many contributions that those individuals make to Australia.

These contributions are as diverse as we are.

Name a field of endeavour – community service, academia, industry, sport, the arts and so on – and you’ll find examples.

Resettling refugees is not an act of charity – it is an opportunity to strengthen our communities and our country.

In almost every community that Linda and I visit in the course of our role we have the opportunity to meet new Australians.

Their stories are inspiring and while each is unique there are some common characteristics: not least their commitment to contribute to the community they’re now part of.

To me they’re a very real example of that fact that while we all have different backgrounds, different experiences and different cultures, we are one nation and we are all Australians.

Our diversity is one of our greatest strengths and one that is worth celebrating.

Humanitarian sett​le​ment​

Our humanitarian settlement services are among the best in the world. They help refugees and humanitarian entrants build independence and participate fully in their new Australian community.

These services help to strengthen new arrivals’ sense of belonging and increase their ability to join the work force and participate in society, where their contributions benefit all Australians.

The work of humanitarian settlement service providers and the partnerships across many sectors are delivering innovative services to help refugees and humanitarian entrants successfully build new lives in Australia.

To showcase this work, captured on this page are some of the many inspiring stories of former refugees and their settlement journey.

The Welcome Project

SSI’s General Manager Service Delivery explains The Welcome Project, which helps refugees and humanitarian entrants make the most of their new lives in Australia.

Yamamah Agha, General Manager Service Delivery, SSI: The Welcome Project is a project really to work with our newcomers and very newly arrived families, but also with the mainstream community, utilising the model of ambassadors from the communities from different services and from the normal everyday Australian families.

And what does that mean? It starts from the day you pick them up from the airport, and support them through their registration and take them to on-arrival accommodation, and help them with all the foundational services like access to Medicare, access to bank, how to catch public transport, how to orientate them into their local community, local area.

And then they have case managers who will work with them to develop case management plans to set the goals for their settlement journey. We have a comprehensive orientation program where they have to learn about the Australian way of life, you know, how to live in Australia, education, employment and everything they need to know in a new country.

This group, we were all shocked and surprised by the fall of Kabul, and what happened suddenly. Normally when we have humanitarian entrants and refugees coming, they go through a process. In this case they were evacuated in an emergency situation where they had to leave everything behind.

So one of the things that we are seeing with this group is a very high level of trauma, separation from family members, the comprehension of ‘Why am I here?’ and ‘How did that happen so suddenly?’

It’s like some of the mothers who, across the gate of the airport, leaving some children behind, so it’s just some terrible experiences they went through.

But a lot of opportunities for them, as well, and willingness to contribute and appreciation and gratefulness for Australia as a country that they are safe at least.


Warm welcome sets tone for new life in Australia

Access Community Services settlement case worker Zac says the Settlement Engagement and Transition Support Program is about a warm welcome.

Zac, Adult Settlement Team Leader: I really believe in welcome, and I really wanted to extend welcome to people newly arrived to Australia. My name is Zac, and I am a settlement case worker.

Why I became a settlement case worker is because once people know that they are welcome, everything else follows from that. They’re able to confidently approach services and challenge themselves, have a sense of self-agency, to tick off the things that they need to do in order to have a positive, happy and rewarding life. That comes first.

If someone doesn’t feel like they belong, then that’s going to be a catalyst for them not achieving what their potential is.

Our culture being diverse is really rewarding for us, influences that impact the way we think about different things—the way we think about family, and quality time, that is something that I’ve learnt from my clients. I think there is so much opportunity in Australia, and so much support available, but knowing where to find it is the hurdle. 

The SETS (Settlement Engagement and Transition Support) Program here in Access is a program that supports people up to five years after their first arrival in Australia, based on their visa type. Many of those people have come on humanitarian visas.

Primarily what we do is provide information, give a bit of advice about how to understand that information, and I guess we act as a central hub to make referrals to other more specialised services like an education institution or a housing service, an employment service.

To me, the program is all about taking an opportunity in the first five years to teach people some of the skills they’re going to need after they’re no longer eligible for our supports.

Immediate support for Afghans evacuated to Australia

Settlement agency AMES Australia stepped up in challenging times to support Afghans arriving in Australia after fleeing conflict and persecution.

Narrator: In August 2021, the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, sparking an exodus of thousands of Afghans who had worked with Western governments and organisations over the previous 20 years. Between the 14th and the 25th of August, the US, the UK, Australia and other nations airlifted almost 130,000 people out of Afghanistan in what was the largest civilian evacuation since the Vietnam war. After spending time at Allied air bases in the Middle East, thousands of Afghans were brought to Australia under the Australian Government’s Humanitarian Settlement Program, which offers sanctuary to people fleeing conflict or persecution.

Arriving during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Afghan refugees were all subject to two weeks of quarantine. Among these arrivals was Jalal Ahmadzai.

Jalal Ahmadzai: It was really hard, you know. Our lives and our societies were effectively blown up. Everything that we’d worked so hard for for over 20 years disappeared right in front of us when the Taliban took over Kabul. All of the human rights, the women’s rights, all of the achievements that we’ve had, were reversed and a lot of people were killed and locked up by the Taliban.

I was a student of the American University of Afghanistan, and when the Taliban came we were instructed by the university to get rid of all of our documents, our IDs and everything that linked us to the university because it would pose a threat to us. So it was really sad seeing everything that we’d worked so hard for for four years to just burn away. A few days after the Taliban took over the country, me and my family were lucky enough to get on an airplane out of the country and we were eventually evacuated to Australia.

When we arrived in Australia we were received at the airport by AMES staff, and have been supported by AMES ever since—and by the local community groups. I was lucky enough to join AMES as a volunteer and later as a staff member, but still it’s hard not to feel sad for the people that we’ve left behind, and it’s very difficult not to fear for the future of our country.

Narrator: After completing quarantine the Afghans were released into the care of refugee settlement agencies across Australia. In Melbourne, settlement agency AMES Australia saw around 2000 people arrive over 15 days—this coming after almost two years of no refugee arrivals because of Australia’s closed borders. This represented a significant challenge for the organisation to welcome, house feed, clothe and provide medical, mental health and other essential needs to the new arrivals—and all during a COVID lockdown. By leveraging relationships with corporate and community partners as well as volunteers and stakeholders, AMES was able to supply the Afghan refugees with the material and intangible requirements to support them through a confronting and difficult period. More than a million dollars’ worth of donated goods was distributed to the refugees, and more than 4000 medical appointments were made. And a vaccination and COVID testing arrangement was put in place.

Cath Scarth, CEO, AMES Australia: It’s been an incredible effort by everyone at AMES. We were able to find accommodation in what would be normally very difficult circumstances. But we found international student units which were empty because of the pandemic. We equipped them with linen, cooking utensils and other necessities, and families were provided with culturally appropriate food package, toiletries and everything else they needed. We had amazing support from corporate and business donors, from individuals, and of course the local Afghan community.

We established a donation hub where families could come and collect everything they needed—clothes, toys, toiletries, school materials and so much more. We were able to organise vaccinations, health care, orientation for families as they came to grips with their new cicrumstances.

I’m incredibly proud of our people. They overcame extraordinary challenges which were exacerbated by the COVID pandemic—not to mention protests and earthquakes we had in Melbourne too.

Many of the families arrived with little more than the clothes that they were wearing. This was the community and AMES working together at its best.

Narrator: Nine months after their arrival, 770 Afghan families have been helped to find their own homes, 600 people have been supported to find work, and 400 more are on educational or training pathways. Almost 800 children are in school. Just five months after the first Afghans arrived, people fleeing the war in Ukraine began arriving in Melbourne. For AMES Australia, the work of supporting people fleeing conflict and persecution continues.


Chala’s journey

Chala is making waves in social work and helping other refugees after coming to Australia from Ethiopia via Kenya.

Chala Kedjela: My name is Chala Kedjela… the pronunciation of my name seems to have been changed since I came to Australia because obviously we don’t have the sound ‘tcha’ in Australia, so people call me ‘Chala’ or ‘Shala’ which I’m fine with. I left Ethiopia in June 2001, and then I spent another three years as a refugee in Kenya before I got resettled in Australia under humanitarian protection visa.

I feel like my first week was very interesting and kind of memorable. I just asked my friends ‘Please, I want to just go down to see a beach’ and I was really in the mood [for] swimming. I like swimming. As I grew up, we grew up swimming on the river and other things. We jumped into the ocean at Surfers Paradise, and then I don’t know how to swim obviously the waves and stuff, so I just keep swimming and the wave pulling me in and stuff. And then at some point in time I realised like the lifesaving people running and somewhere blowing a whistle, they were running toward me. And then I went to turn around, I was actually struggling because of the big waves kind of pulling me in... The aftermath was a bit of a shock. I just came to Australia and then I was going to be drowning in a beach in the ocean, so that was my first week of experience in Australia.

The biggest, or the bigger challenge when I came to Australia was expectation and reality not matching up pretty quickly, as quickly as I’ve expected. For instance like I came from another country but I still spoke English, I did my first degree in Kenya and I kind of thought that life would be very easy for me, going, you know, moving forward. When I came to Australia, few months as I settled in, and now came that ‘Really I’m separating from the tradition that I always believed I belonged to’, and it’s a completely different… the weather, the environment, everything, the setup, the setting, in terms of population and culture, everything not looking like you. And then you feel missing out something from, missing out one of the things that constructed you. That was a challenge I saw you had.

The Humanitarian Settlement Program kind of served as a corridor from one place completely different into another place, right? So they helped us with housing, the orientation, taking us to, for instance, how I can get my overseas qualifications recognised, which really made it easy. The coaching in terms of employment, and most importantly… the context of being frustrated when you come across realities not matching expectations as quickly as you want. Without Humanitarian Settlement Program, settlement wouldn’t be possible.

I believe Humanitarian Settlement Program has assisted me with getting my overseas qualifications recognised very quickly, that was the stepping stone for me to apply for studies. So that is my most memorable thing.

I feel welcome in Australia so much. I think I’ve achieved what I kind of planned. I did my Masters degree in social work, so single parenting two children and studying full time at the same time is one of the most difficult challenges that you can imagine. My kind of key is mainly getting Humanitarian Settlement Program, and I love doing this job.

The clients who I met within seven days of arrival, and then they’ve now settled very well, they’ve got jobs and they’re really happy with their life. That makes you happy, that makes you, kind of motivates you to do more in this space. And occasionally we got out to the beach now. I now know how to swim the beach so there’s no fear of like getting drowned. Those are the things that I do with my kids. Most of my free time I spend with the children.

photograph of a family of four on a couch. A father, mother, and two young children

Refugee mechanic supported to start a business

Syrian refugee Habib is building a better future for his family in Melbourne with a growing heavy machinery repair business.

A refugee family forced apart by conflict and economic necessity is now reunited in Australia and building a new future together.

To make a living, Syrian refugee Habib Abdo Kammoush was forced to work overseas away from his family for 12 long years.

Habib spent gruelling stints building roads in Nigeria and maintaining forestry equipment in the jungles of the Central African Republic.

But when the war in his homeland closed in on his family, Habib was forced to give up his job and take them to safety.

After resettling in Melbourne, Habib saw an opportunity to start his own business during the COVID-19 lockdowns. He was able to buy the tools, equipment and vehicle he needed cheaply as COVID stricken businesses liquidated their assets.

Through support from AMES Australia and refugee micro-financier Thrive in learning about running a business and gaining his plant operating qualifications, Habib was able to open his own heavy machinery repair business.

‘I started the ATK Mobile Plant Mechanic business in January 2021 and it’s going very well. I’m getting work all over Melbourne. I go out and repair equipment on-site,’ Habib said.

‘I work with heavy machinery, construction equipment, earthmovers and generators.

‘I hope to grow my business and move forward so that my kids can have a better future.

‘Here in Australia we have no fears about tomorrow. In my [former] country you always have fears about what will happen in the future.

‘This is a good place for my family. Things will be better for them when they grow up,’ he said.

Photograph of a family of four sitting on the grass in front of a food stall

Refugee family bring new cuisine to outback Australia

Ethiopian flavours are a hit in Alice Springs as family of four settle in central Australia.

Sitting in a Kenyan refugee camp, having fled their home country of Ethiopia, teachers Yihun Gadamu and Hiwot Dire Lissanu and their two children received news that they had been accepted for resettlement through the UNHCR to Australia.

They had planned to settle in Tasmania, but due to the climate difference between Tasmania and their country of origin they chose to move to central Australia.

‘We were in Kenya in the refugee camp when we were given the chance to come to Australia. When we arrived, the government helped us through the service provider—they welcomed us, provided us housing, food, funds for our basic needs, furniture and everything was ready for us,’ Yihun said.

On arrival in Alice Springs the family received support from the Multicultural Community Services of Central Australia Inc (MCSCA) through the Australian Government’s Settlement Engagement and Transition Support program.

‘When we were transferred to Alice Springs, with the help of MCSCA, I got a job, we were supported with our rent, food and the kids went to school. We were very happy because we were given the chance to work, study, and learn English,’ Yihun said.

Yihun found full-time employment within six weeks of arrival and also attended the Adult Migrant English Program.

Hiwot was also keen to contribute to the family and decided she wanted to run her own business while caring for their son and daughter. She found the perfect business opportunity—a food stall.

With the help of MCSCA and support from the Alice Springs Town Council and local friends, the family launched their night market stall, offering genuine Ethiopian foods. This was welcomed by the small African community in Alice Springs and delighted the town’s food lovers.

The opportunity to sell food and promote her unique cuisine and culture at the markets, and at other events such as festivals, helped build Hiwot’s employability skills, while also providing opportunities for the family to connect with others in the Alice Springs community.

Since then both Yihun and Hiwot have undertaken further study, completing their Certificate III in Aged Care and Disability and are currently working diligently in that industry.

‘We had hurt inside us but now we are 100 per cent healed because Australia is a very secure place, our lives are not threatened. It’s very good, there is no security issue for us, there are no scary politics,’ Yihun said.

‘Every day, we wake up, we just think of business and how to improve our lives. We already forget our stress from our past because we have better treatment and are treated equally,’ he said.

Hiwot’s unique culinary delights are still in demand and the family continue to provide their food stall for many events in the Alice Springs region.

Photograph of a woman and child sitting at a desk. The woman is writing in a notebook.

Career coaching connects refugees with Aussie jobs

Support programs help arrivals from Rwanda find their feet in Far North Queensland.

Alphonse Antoney Nsengiyaremye and Nadia Umutoniwase, who arrived in Cairns as humanitarian entrants from Rwanda in 2019, were both set on rewarding and successful career paths through the Centacare FNQ (Far North Queensland) Connections program.

Alphonse had completed Year Six of primary school in Rwanda and worked in various roles before arriving in Australia, including in a factory and a timber mill, and doing handyman jobs. With very little formal schooling, Alphonse thought that he would improve his English through securing employment and being immersed in the Australian workplace culture. He had arrived in Australia with his wife and teenage son and was keen to find employment.

Through the Connections program, Alphonse was able to participate in simulated construction work environments and gain a better understanding of the Australian workplace and was then offered a job with a local butcher. Through ongoing post placement support from the Connections team, Alphonse was able to secure full-time employment.

‘I want to make sure I keep learning and have many skills, so that I can work in many different areas in Australia,’ Alphonse said.

Alphonse has gone on to complete a Security Licence and has also started further vocational study.

Nadia arrived in Australia with her parents and six siblings as Congolese humanitarian entrants. She had completed her Year 10 High School level in Rwanda and was fluent in three languages, plus conversational English skills.

She undertook career coaching and mentoring to improve her understanding of the Australian workplace. She was able to participate in a simulated work environment weekly with the Centacare FNQ community engagement youth outreach team at Cairns West State School.

Because of her excellent language skills the school offered her employment as a Bi-Cultural Teacher Aide. Through ongoing post-placement support and career mentoring, Nadia has also decided to increase her skills and study a Certificate III in Individual Support to meet local industry demand for disability support workers in the region.

‘Centacare’s programs have given me a lot of support, and I am the first in my family to get a job in Australia. I am so proud of myself,’ Nadia said.

Picture of two women sitting at a computer

Former refugee helps other mums build new lives in Australia

Women of World program gives Mirna and others the WOW factor.

Mirna Polus Kikhwa came to Australia from Jordan on a refugee visa in 2016 after escaping the war in Iraq with her family.

Mirna was studying to be a teacher in Iraq before the war broke out and, having settled in Melbourne, she wanted to make the most of the opportunities available to her in Australia.

‘I was determined to improve my English, try and raise my children to live in a new Australian culture, and make new friends to help us engage with the broader community,’ Mirna said.

‘When my son started at St Dominic’s Parish Primary school I took the opportunity to study English in the school hub, which had childcare support for my baby daughter. As my English improved I helped the English teacher with the new arrival parents, which led me to become a volunteer tutor with the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP).’

The school hub also introduced Mirna to the Women of World (WOW) program. WOW is a capacity-building program for newly-arrived women, provided in partnership by the Migrant Resource Centre North West and St Dominic’s Parish Primary School with funding from the Australian Government’s Settlement Engagement Transition Support program.

The WOW program started to support newly-arrived mums in the school through settlement education, including women’s health and safety, conversational English, building friendships and increasing networks within the Hume local government area. It helps migrant women learn how to live in Australia and straddle both a new and old culture.

Mirna now works with the Migrant Resource Centre North West as a facilitator, teaching new arrival women how to navigate online Settlement Systems, while also studying a Diploma of Community Services.

‘I have recently been working for the Australian Electoral Commission in the latest Federal Election. It was a great experience,’ Mirna said.

‘Australia is a beautiful country, which acknowledges and supports everyone. Living in Australia is like getting a hug,’ she said.

Photograph of two women sitting on a park bench smiling at the camera

Ukrainian sisters’ flight to freedom

Yevheniia and Alexandra find a safe haven in Melbourne after the Russian invasion.

Two Ukrainian sisters have found refuge in Australia after braving bombs and snipers in a desperate journey to safety.

Yevheniia Cherkasova, 24, and her sister Alexandra, 14, fled besieged Kharkiv as Russian tanks attempted to encircle the city.

After surviving bombing and missile strikes, the sisters were put aboard a train by their parents in the hope they would reach safety.

Now safe in Melbourne, they are being supported by refugee settlement agency AMES Australia through the federal government’s Humanitarian Settlement Program.

The sisters have told of the human, economic and emotional toll the Russian invasion of Ukraine has taken on themselves and their beleaguered nation.

As the Russian attack on Kharkiv began, Yevheniia’s immediate emotion was disbelief.

At home with her family in their comfortable apartment close to the centre of the city, she struggled to process the idea that her world was about to be turned upside down. Before long she was headed for the other side of the world.

‘I thought maybe it was fireworks but far away. But then they started to bomb the city centre and we knew what it was. It was the Russians attacking us,’ Yevheniia said.

‘At 5am… we all woke up. We heard loud noises from the street. There were explosions not far from us—maybe 10 kilometres away.

‘At first we didn’t think it was war but then there was a factory explosion and when we read the news, we realised it was war.

‘It was scary because we had no electricity or internet connections, no water and we didn’t know what was happening because we couldn’t see or read the news,’ she said.

Yevheniia’s parents sent her and her sister away on 13 March after a missile hit houses across the street from their apartment.

‘Our parents put us in the car and drove us to the railway station. They put us on a train to Lviv in the west of Ukraine and then we made it into Poland,’ she said.

A family friend who has lived in Australia for a decade reached out and suggested the sisters come down under.

‘Our friend told us about the Australian program to offer tourist visas to Ukrainians and we applied. After we got our visas we flew 27 hours through Warsaw and Istanbul to Melbourne.

‘Melbourne is a beautiful city and very peaceful. We were very scared and so we are happy and grateful to be here.

‘We are grateful to the Australian Government and the Australian people for giving us a safe place to live,’ Yevheniia said.

Portrait photograph of a woman wearing a hijab

Kamila leading by example as she helps her community in Queensland

A former Somali refugee looks back on her long road to Townsville, where she is now supporting community members and new arrivals.

Kamila was young when she had to flee her home country of Somalia and sought refuge in Kenya. There, she spent 22 years in a refugee camp where she had her children. Almost a decade later, she is now reflecting on the settlement journey that brought her to Australia.

Upon their arrival in 2013, Kamila noted how different Townsville was from her home country and Kenya. The new environment was disorienting and confusing at times for her, even with all the support provided by settlement services. Kamila had to make new adjustments with her family, the hardest of which was learning English.

‘I remember when I first came here that my English was so bad,’ Kamila said. ‘I used to have someone coming into my house to teach me English.’

Now, Kamila is proactive in her community, helping and guiding those who need support. For instance, she attends community events and serves as the unofficial interpreter for newer Somali arrivals.

Kamila has a particularly good relationship with a local organisation that provides settlement services in the area, the Townsville Intercultural Centre (TIC).

‘Townsville Intercultural Centre has been with me every step of the way since my arrival,’ Kamila said. ‘They helped me with settling in, finding jobs, gaining my citizenship and now my children are seeking support from them too.’

Two of Kamila’s children participate in the TIC Youth Ambassadors program, where they discuss community concerns and take part in activities. Her husband also works as a groundskeeper on the premises.

Kamila is proud of how far she has come in her journey and the things she has learnt along the way. Now that her children are growing up, she hopes that they will also step up and help their community.