Coordinator-General to hear about win-win for Armidale with refugee settlement


Mutual benefit for Ezidis and regional community

Settlement Services International (SSI) is hosting Alison Larkins, Commonwealth Coordinator-General for Migrant Services in the Department of Home Affairs, at several events in Armidale on Tuesday, May 4.

As Coordinator-General for Migrant Services, Ms Larkins works closely within the Commonwealth, state and territory governments, industry and the community sector to drive improvements to employment, English language, and broader outcomes for migrants, refugees and humanitarian entrants as they settle in Australia.

She also promotes the contribution those newcomers make to the nation.

Since February 2018, Armidale has received around 600 Ezidi refugees. Ezidis are an ethnic minority with significant populations in Northern Iraq and parts of Syria and Turkey, who have a distinct religious tradition.

During her visit with SSI, Ms Larkins will attend a community roundtable, hear of research insights led by University of New England that monitors community attitudes toward refugees in Armidale, and visit Ezidi refugees working with Costa Group’s tomato glasshouses in Guyra and local restaurant the Minnie Barn.

Costa is Australia’s leading grower, packer and marketer of fresh fruit and vegetables.

SSI delivers the Australian Government’s Humanitarian Settlement Program in Armidale, including education and employment pathways, and has forged a mutually-beneficial partnership with Costa Group in Armidale to provide the Ezidi refugee community with employment opportunities.

The Ezidi community recognises steady employment as being foundational for settlement and connection to the Australian community.

When an Ezidi family bought their first house in Armidale, other community members were further motivated to find employment so they too could buy their first home.

Tim Gray, SSI HSP Manager Armidale, said the promotion of the Australian identity of home ownership and contributing to society had begun to be well understood within the community.

“It is now also 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,” he said.

“It has also been observed that there are significant benefits to each, such as broadening English language skills through vocational exposure.”

The partnership was a win-win situation for both the community and the tomato farm, he said.

It came at a time when Costa Group was in need of identifying new employment streams as its international workforce was drastically reduced due to COVID-19.

Qasim Qasim is one of the Ezidi refugees working on the tomato farm and was identified by SSI as a community member who displayed strong English language proficiency and leadership skills.

He 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.

He had been the proud owner of a local clothing store, but an attack on the Ezidi community led him and his family to flee and leave life as they knew it behind.

He received support from SSI to make friends with people in the community and also made new friends through his job with Costa.

Mr Qasim said he was very optimistic about Australia, especially for his children, and that this new job would help him and his family reach a good quality of life.

“In the future, I am keen to progress my study in pharmacy. But, until then, this will help me with my language development and understand the Australian systems,” he said.

In addition to Mayor Ian Tiley, the roundtable discussion on the progress of settlement, education and employment pathways in Armidale will include representatives from Sanctuary, the Intensive English Centre, Creating Chances, Rotary and Northern Settlement Services.

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