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Refugee and Humanitarian program

​​Discover inspiring stories of refugees who have built new lives in Australia, contributing skills and ideas to our multicultural society.​​


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Refugee to Tasmanian Australian of the Year 2023

John Kamara was awarded Tasmanian Australian of the Year 2023 for his contributions to migrants, refugees and people from culturally diverse communities.

John Kamara escaped war-torn Sierra Leone in 1999 and arrived in Tasmania in 2004 to start a new life. He has since dedicated his life to assist migrants, refugees and people from culturally diverse communities, often in a voluntary capacity.  

Working full time in Child Safety, John also sits on multiple boards and is involved in many community groups. He co-founded the Culturally Diverse Alliance of Tasmania to support education about multicultural issues and promote social cohesion. In addition, he co-founded the first ever African Communities Council of Tasmania which strives to strengthen relationships among African Australians and the wider community. 

John and his wife, Mavis, have also established Kamara’s Heart Foundation, a charity to support the education of children in Sierra Leone. He also assists with migrants’ resumes, jobs and housing as a practical way to support new arrivals. 

John is a leader in the community and often talks to people until all hours of the night to hear their concerns and stories. He wants to raise awareness of the challenges that migrants face such as racism, exploitation and recognition of overseas qualifications. 

“Showing people respect and insisting on grassroots consultation is a method that works not just for Africans, not just for refugees and migrants, but it is a leadership style that works for everybody,” John said. 

“I believe the way to lead is non-judgemental, listening to everybody’s point of view, and staying optimistic that things can get better if we work together.” 

John has been given the opportunity to utilise his leadership and expertise to advise on the Review of Australia’s Multicultural Framework as an appointed member of a reference group for the national Migration Review Panel. 

John hopes to use his voice to advocate for refugees and debunk the stereotype that refugees are “troublemakers from warzones”. 

“When we are put in that box, it makes the healing and the community building harder, and people don’t see all our potential and our positive qualities. 

“Refugees do carry trauma, but they can heal and if we invest the time to heal then we can bring the good and our productivity will double. 

“We can progress to leadership roles, contribute to the economy, and add so much to community life. 

“We have a different perspective on life, different languages and different points of view to speak from that can be enriching.” 

John gets his strength and motivation from his family and community, to continue making the world a better place.  

“When I see the long term effects of supporting and mentoring young people, and when they start to establish themselves in good jobs and build homes and express their gratitude and be examples in their turn, it is very rewarding.” 

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Former Afghan journalist uses voice to advocate for refugees

Former journalist and news presenter Khalid Amiri is using his voice to advocate for Afghanistan after being forced to flee his career and home following the return of the Taliban.

Khalid Amiri built a successful career in Afghanistan as a journalist and presenter of the nightly news bulletin. A prominent face on television, he conducted high profile interviews with the Prime Minister and Government ministers there. 

However, Khalid had to leave that all behind immediately.

He was forced to flee his home, career and everything he worked hard for following the collapse of the national government and return of the Taliban regime in September 2021. Heartbroken by the conflict and not being able to say goodbye to family members, Khalid recalls how traumatic the situation was.

“I’m still haunted by the images I saw of crowds of Afghans at Kabul airport desperately trying to escape their motherland,” Khalid said.

Khalid arrived in Australia with limited knowledge of the country; just the Sydney Opera House and the men’s cricket team. Now today, he’s settling well in Melbourne with his parents, brother and five sisters. He is currently studying a Master of International Relations, for which he received a scholarship.

Khalid worked for a short period with the Asia Pacific desk at the ABC, has been invited as a panellist on the SBS show Insight and The Drum on ABC TV, and has participated in numerous media interviews where he’s been able to advocate for refugees and raise awareness of the conflict.  

For Khalid, the experiences and opportunities in Australia have been beyond his imagination. He is grateful for the protection Australia has offered him and the opportunity to contribute to society. The warmth and affection he feels from both Australian individuals and the Australian Government have brought some healing and sense of belonging. Khalid recalls the generosity of a particular university professor who visited his family, and gave them appliances and furniture to help them set up their new home.

Khalid feels ‘survivor’s guilt’ however he’s determined to use his voice in media to speak for Afghanistan and advocate for refugees.

 “One misconception I hear is that ‘refugees are a burden on society’.

“In reality refugees are resilient individuals who have endured immense hardships and have much to offer to their host society.

“Refugees have many skills and talents and perceptions to contribute to bettering their host society.” 

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Committed to serving our community

John Aciek’s story underscores the limitless potential of refugees to make substantial contribution when given the opportunity.

Originally from South Sudan, John Aciek spent his initial years in a Kenyan refugee camp where he was able to learn English. This proved invaluable upon his arrival to Australia in 2002, when he came to Western Australia as part of Australia’s Humanitarian Settlement program.

Despite initial difficulties, John pursued higher education, completing a bachelor’s degree in Economics and an MBA with a specialisation in Project Management. While studying, he found work in the manufacturing sector, which provided him critical industry experience. The global financial crisis however led him to explore new avenues.

John transitioned to the non-government sector in 2011, employing his academic qualifications and life experiences to promote community development. Today, John is a Community Development Officer with Ngala, working closely with the Australian Government. He is also a specialist in Community and Economic Development Consulting.

John’s commitment to service extends beyond his profession. He serves as the President of the South Sudan Community Association of Western Australia Inc. and coordinates African community leaders in the state with the Organisation of African Communities. Furthermore, he has served as a Community Advisory Representative for the City of Swan, Member of Advisory Council for Sudanese Affairs for the Anglican Church Diocese of Perth, Board Member for a local primary school and Coach of a local football team.  

John believes that the welcoming and open-minded nature of Australians is the most significant empowerment source for refugees, facilitating connections and opportunity when done right. He wants to highlight the immense contribution that refugees make to Australia’s values, linguistic and culinary diversity, as well as the unique skills and experience they bring to enhance cultural, social and economic benefits:

“Welcoming and valuing refugees is indeed a win-win for Australia.” 

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From zero English to guest speaker

Ganga Maya McNamara went from being illiterate in her first language to being a guest speaker thanks to learning English.

Ganga Maya McNamara fled Bhutan in the early 1990s, when thousands of people sought refuge in UN-supported camps in Nepal. She spent almost 20 years there before settling in Albury, New South Wales in 2008. Because of the lack of opportunity for any schooling in Nepal, Ganga was illiterate in her first language. She wasn’t able to spell or write her own name, tell the time, or count to 100. 

Ganga enrolled in the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) through TAFE in Albury where she gradually learned new vocabulary and was able to socialise with the other students. She also learnt how to sign her own name. 

Life began to change for Ganga; she felt more confident in her new home, she enjoyed attending classes and studying English, and she started forming friendships with other students.  

Ganga began work at a local factory and when her English improved, she worked at a childcare centre for five years. After attempting to complete a childcare qualification, Ganga realised she needed to improve her English further so she enrolled into the AMEP again. 

Ganga has come very far; she is now studying a Certificate II in Spoken and Written English part time while working as a cleaner. Ganga hopes to start her own childcare business in the future. 

Last year, Ganga presented at a Refugee Week event where she was able to speak confidently in English about her life before leaving Bhutan, camp life in Nepal, and her experiences arriving in Australia.  

Ganga loves cooking, and enjoys experimenting and combining recipes from different cultures. She’s provided cooking demonstrations of Nepali food for the local community in Albury. 

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Hard work pays off for Rumman

Rumman Ali’s settlement journey embodies the hardworking, resilient and positive attitude that marks the Sudanese communities’ success stories in the city of Toowoomba.

After being threatened with disease, famine and indiscriminate violence, Rumman Ali’s family fled Sudan in 2006 in the wake of civil war. Her family crossed the border into Egypt as refugees, However, Rumman dreamt of a future free from uncertainty, where she could go to school, make friends, and pursue a career in medicine. 

In July 2010, her family arrived in Australia under the Humanitarian Settlement Program, settling in the regional city of Toowoomba. 

“From the beginning, we never felt alone,” Rumman said. 

“There were people close who we could go to, who welcomed us and who then became our second family. 

“We gained a sense of belonging in the community and have welcomed the huge opportunity we were given for a second life we extremely needed.” 

Presented with the challenges of completing school in a second language, Rumman’s hardworking and positive attitude saw her graduate high school with the grades necessary to study Medical Laboratory Science at the University of Southern Queensland. She recently achieved her degree and is looking forward to a career in medical science and completing post-graduate studies. 

Rumman enjoys giving back to the community and currently helps local community organisations promote the needs of the most vulnerable community members. 

“It's incredibly fulfilling to see the impact we can make on the lives of individuals, fostering inclusivity and wellbeing within our community.” 

Rumman hopes to change the misconception that refugees do not add value to the community. 

“Settling into a new country is never the ending point for a refugee. 

“It’s a beginning to a future with many opportunities that will not only better our lives but those close to us and the community.”

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Changing the lives of others through lived experiences

From refugee to humanitarian settlement project officer, Maria Rosales exemplifies the incredible contribution refugees make to Australia.

Maria Rosales' family fled Venezuela in search of a life that would offer security and normality. In Venezuela, her family was a target of corruption due to her mother being a single parent running a small business. After Maria’s sister was abducted and the situation for her family in Venezuela deteriorated, Maria’s family fled seeking sanctuary outside of the country they once called home.

Maria arrived in Australia in 2015. She undertook study at La Trobe University completing a Bachelor degree in International Relations. Australia’s spirit of ‘mateship’ and cultural diversity provided her with camaraderie and a sense of belonging from her fellow students and university lecturers. Maria’s experiences at university cemented her aspiration to contribute to the settlement journey of others.

“I aim to put my lived experience and skills at the service of programs and research-based efforts that are focused on improving resources, and creating pathways and opportunities for people with migrant, refugee, and asylum seeker backgrounds,” Maria said.

This led Maria to conduct work and volunteer with numerous related organisations including Diaspora Action Australia and the Centre for Multicultural Youth.

Last year, Maria made the move from Melbourne to Brisbane, securing employment at The Social Policy Group. Here Maria is working on a review of the Settlement Engagement Transition Support (SETS) Program. Her contribution will help shape Australia’s humanitarian and refugee policy.

Looking forward, Maria hopes to one day change the misconception that refugees are a burden on society. She encourages others to not view refugees through the lens of trauma but one of empowerment and support.

“Refugees are human beings with extraordinary resilience, resourcefulness, talents, and skills.

“Showing refugees compassion, care, support, and safety, gives us a second chance to live our lives with dignity.

“These also give us an opportunity to heal, to reach our highest potential and be of service to our local communities.”

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Overcoming hardships through stoicism and resilience

Zabi’s positive attitude for life has helped him overcome challenges to chase his dreams.

“Becoming a refugee is like stepping into a sea of uncertainty, which you would never want to do.”

Zabi and his two brothers, all of whom have disabilities, spent seven years as refugees in India before coming to Australia in April 2022. Zabi was born in the Parwan province in Afghanistan, an area that was under control of the Taliban. His family fled to India due to the security situation.

Being a refugee with a disability in India was an extra layer of challenge for Zabi.  However his resilience led to obtaining a scholarship towards a Bachelor and Master of Information Technology.

“When we were in India, most of the refugee youth had given up on the dream of pursuing their higher education because of their refugee status,” Zabi said.

“On the other hand, I persisted in contacting institutions until I was admitted and received a scholarship.”

Zabi was forced to learn English, Hindi and technology skills in order to complete his degrees. He even had to commute 42 kilometres every day on public transport just to get to university. Eventually his legs started giving way more frequently and Zabi required help from others to lift him up.

“I knew that my condition was progressing and it was inevitable.

“I choose to live my best, full of dignity and courage, and never used my physical limitations as a justification for suffering or doing nothing.”

Zabi defines finding out his family would be moving to Australia in 2020 as the happiest moment of his life, despite not knowing anyone in Australia.

“We saw a lot of people die during COVID-19 in India.

“My brothers were struggling to breathe; it was nightmarish and I was worried.

“We were just praying. It was God’s plan that we made it here.

“I finally had a place I could call home. I began learning about Australian history, political system, and culture in order to make the transition to living here easier.”

Now 24 or 25 (Zabi is unsure of his exact age), Zabi is working in IT at Uniting Communities and speaks 5 languages. He’s looking forward to upskilling to Australian standards to become a cyber security analyst or software engineer.

Zadi volunteered with the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) helping Afghans learn English and aspires to make that a regular commitment between work and his life.

“That was one of the best things I’ve done in Australia. If I don’t do something like that (volunteering), I just feel don’t feel very well.”

Zabi lives his life by the Stoicism philosophy and his faith. He views everything bad that has happened in his life in a positive light.

“If that falling and if that disability and that refugee journey did not happen, I wouldn’t have been the person I am today. So I am just grateful even for those bad memories.”

Looking forward, Zabi can’t wait to further make a meaningful contribution to Australia and other refugees with his winning attitude for life.

“For many Australians, refugees that arrive here are just numbers that they see on TV, and they think that this is someone else’s problem.

“This lack of connection leads to resentment between cultures and I have a responsibility to change that; we learn from other people and I want to do my part in this country.

 “I really believe in leaving the world a little bit better than when I found it, so I cannot wait to utilise all the opportunities this country offers to grow personally and to be able to give back to this society.”

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Islamic State survivor dedicates life to helping refugees

Sami Sheebo is committed to improving the lives of other refugees after being subjected to incomprehensible hardships.

Sami Sheebo's story originates in Iraq, as a member of the Yazidi community.  In 2014, Islamic State attacked his hometown. As a 23 year old pharmacy assistant, Sami witnessed horrific scenes. 

Islamic State arrested Sami. However, he managed to escape to the mountains with members of his community, with no access to food or water.

“I stayed here for about two weeks and then the International Coalition came by plane and delivered supplies to us. They helped us to escape to Syria and then to Kurdistan,” Sami said.

In 2018, the International Organization for Migration opened a program to help people affected by war. They brought Sami and his family to Australia.

Sami now lives in Coffs Harbour in New South Wales with his parents and sister. Upon arrival to Australia, he learnt English through the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) for 6 months. Following this, he did volunteer work with a refugee clinic, and began work as a Teachers Aid at a high school and a Translator for the Department of Home Affairs, of which he still continues today.

Sami then secured employment as a Refugee and Multicultural Mentor for a recruitment service before moving to his current role as a Jobs Advisor with Enterprise and Training Company (ETC). Here he supports customers from multicultural communities with preparing for and securing employment. ETC also provides financial support to migrant and refugee organisations.

“I feel proud to work for ETC as we help many local refugees through our employment and training services.”

Sami’s own transition to Australia was made smooth thanks to his local community who embraced him with open arms. He encourages everyone to support refugees and not to “don't judge a book by its cover”.

“I feel very grateful to be living in Australia with my family and contributing to the success of other refugees.”

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War-torn Iraq victim grateful for new life

Mirza Hammo has built a new life in Australia after being forced to flee his home following an Islamic State attack.

Mirza Hammo arrived in Australia in June 2019 on a special humanitarian visa. He used to call Sinjar, Iraq his home but that all changed in 2014 when the Islamic State attacked the Yazidi community. Mirza believed this was the end of his life.   

“We fled to Sinjar’s mountain in north Iraq and we went through a lot of difficult situations,” Mirza said.

“I thought that was the end because we lost many people from our Yazidi community, and many people very close to me as well."

Mirza remained trapped in the mountains for two weeks with little food, water and sleeping on rocks.  

Thankfully Mirza was able to resettle in Armidale in New South Wales in 2019 with some members of his family. He worked in construction to support the rest of his family in Iraq and faced the challenges of settling into a new country.

“When I first arrived to Armidale, I was very nervous because I didn’t know anything about Australia.

“Everything was new - English language, culture, new country - but now I love living in Australia. It’s an amazing and safe country.”

Now 26 years old, Mirza is currently studying and employed as a youth worker with the Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors, where he is able to support his community. He is very appreciative of his new life here.

“On behalf of myself and my Yazidi community, I would like to thank the Australian Government, the Australian community and all the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for their kindness to us, and welcoming us to this beautiful land.”

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From refugee to proud Australian citizen

Khalid Adi became a proud Australian citizen this year after fleeing the conflict in Iraq.

Khalid Adi fled war-torn Iraq and was resettled in Australia in 2018. Khalid and his family have built their new life in Armidale.

This year, Khalid, his wife Basima and their three children became Australian citizens.

“26 January 2023 was a special day for me because I got my citizenship which means I am Australian forever,” Khalid said.

“I am so happy that now I can say I am an Aussie.”

Khalid and other refugees in the local community have contributed to growing Armidale and he’s very grateful for this opportunity.

“The local Yazidi community has greatly helped in re-invigorating our regional town, establishing new local businesses, participating in local sport, doing very well in local schools, and holding events to which the broader community are invited.

“I would like to give thanks to those who helped us to settle in this beautiful and peaceful country. Thank you to the Australian Government and the Armidale community.”

Khalid’s community helped him to learn English as he only knew a few words upon arrival to Australia. He has come a long way in a short time, completing a Certificate III Spoken and Written in English at TAFE in 2021. Khalid also completed a Tertiary Preparation Certificate to study at university.

Khalid looks forward to continuously supporting his local community. In 2019, he was a contributor to a ground-breaking local creative project called Stories Connect. The project featured in the New England Regional Art Museum as a major exhibition, a short film and an SBS podcast.



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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.