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Overcoming destitution: stories from migrants


Asylum seekers share stories of hardship, heartache, the challenges of finding work and the joy of finding peace.

Wednesday March 22, 2017

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Cora from Red Cross at a forum that brought together practitioners to address the challenges that leave migrants facing poverty. Photo: Susan Cullinan
Cora from Red Cross at a forum that brought together practitioners to address the challenges that leave migrants facing poverty. Photo: Susan Cullinan
None of us want to be a burden. We all have a goal and a dream.

Those words from young former asylum seeker Arash set the tone for a Red Cross forum looking at destitution among migrant communities.

The forum, held on 22 March at Melbourne Town Hall, heard from a panel of young asylum seekers who shared stories of unthinkable hardship, which forced them to flee from the country and people they love.

The stories all included a sense of joy when they finally arrived in Australia - a land of peace and respect for human rights.

Amel told of the heartache of fleeing Iraq, ultimately ending up in Australia and the subsequent difficulties of trying to find work and rebuild her life. She was refused numerous jobs because she lacked experience. Others spoke of a distrust of refugees.

Amel persisted. She worked in hospitality while she completed two university degrees and now works as a lawyer.

Her message to other newcomers battling similar obstacles?

"Don't give up. Step by step overcome the barriers. Focus on the light at the end of the tunnel."

As to any racism and criticism along the way: "People will criticise anything. This is nothing compared to what we've come from. Don't listen to them."

Red Cross CEO Judy Slatyer told the audience of 150 people working in the migration support community that positive stories of migrants' contribution needed to be heard across Australia.

Stories such as Khaled's, who as soon as he was on his feet in Australia, began volunteering to help others in need.

"We know migrants are resilient, innovative and resourceful," she said. "We also know that it's important that they are supported."

Ms Slatyer described how Spain's high general and youth unemployment had improved through policies which harnessed engagement, support, adaption and resilience.

Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) Chief Executive Cassandra Goldie echoed the comments, saying youth unemployment is a global challenge.

"Young people need resilience and adaptation," she said. "The risk and fear of high unemployment is that people turn on each other."

Dr Goldie also said the engine room of economic growth was often within refugee and migrant communities.

Follow highlights of the forum at #PracForum17.

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