Alison Larkins, Commonwealth Coordinator-General for Migrant Services, attended a community roundtable and visited Yazidi refugees in Armidale on Tuesday.
Settlement Services International (SSI), a provider of the federal government’s humanitarian settlement program in Armidale, hosted Larkins, who participated in a series of events to engage with the local community of approximately 600 Yazidis.
Larkins’ Tuesday tour included insights from researchers at the University of New England who monitor local community attitudes towards refugees, and a visit to local fruit and vegetable grower Costa Group, which hires a large group of Yazidi refugees.
SSI has also forged a partnership with Costa Group in Armidale to provide the Yazidi community with employment opportunities in its local tomato glasshouses and restaurants.
According to SSI HSP Manager Tim Gray, fostering strong relationships between local business and the refugees was an important bridge to help integrate people in the local community and establish a sense of belonging. Gainful employment has also motivated others in the refugee community to work towards a home-ownership goal, he said.
“It is now being understood that education and employment are not mutually exclusive and that a mix of both is crucial for progress in establishing a place in Australia,” Gray said.
“It has also been observed that there are significant benefits to each, such as broadening English language skills through vocational exposure.”
The partnership between SSI and Costa Group is a win-win situation for both the community and the tomato farm, he added, seeing as COVID-19 had impacted the company’s international workforce — the company suddenly needed a new employment stream.
Qasim Qasim arrived in Australia from Iraq at the cusp of the pandemic in February 2020, with his wife and two young children. Before 2014, he lived in a regional town near Shengal, Iraq, and owned a local clothing store.
Mr Qasim was identified by the SSI group as a community member with strong English language proficiency and leadership skills. He has been working on the tomato farm and has made new friends with his job at Costa.
“In the future, I am keen to progress my study in pharmacy. But, until then, this [work] will help me with my language development and understand the Australian systems,” Qasim said.
Yazidi refugees — an ethnic minority group living across northern Iraq and parts of Syria and Turkey — have been settling in Armidale since February 2018.
Larkins’ role as coordinator-general for migrant services sees her work closely with state and territory governments, as well as industry and the community stakeholders to offer new migrants the best opportunities to gain employment, learn English and improve their overall settlement outcomes. She also promotes the contribution those newcomers make to the nation.
While visiting Armidale, Larkins also participated in a community roundtable with Mayor Ian Tiley, to discuss the progress of settlement, education and local employment pathways. The meeting included representatives from Sanctuary, the Intensive English Centre, Creating Chances, Rotary and Northern Settlement Services.