Hi, I’m Kelsey Schwabe, the Acting Manager at the Brotherhood’s Ecumenical Migration Centre.
Very recently, one of EMC’s employees, Said Dileri, was inducted by the Victorian Multicultural Commission into the Victorian Refugee Recognition Record (VRRR) for 2011. The award acknowledges the outstanding contribution of people from refugee backgrounds to the Victorian community.
Why did Said receive this award? Because, with great commitment and diligence, he works to help people in Melbourne’s refugee community. He has a number of paid and volunteer roles with the Brotherhood, Humanitarian Crisis Hub, Life Without Barriers and the Imam Ali Islamic Centre.
This alone makes him a very worthy recipient of the VRRR. But there’s so much more to Said’s story.
In December 2009, Said came to Australia from his homeland, Afghanistan, to present a paper on community-based peace building at the Parliament of World’s Religions. As an expert in international community development, there were plenty of people who appreciated what he had to say.
But then his contacts in Afghanistan got in touch, and advised him it would be unsafe for him to return home. He sought asylum in Australia.
If this sounds like a neat solution, it wasn’t – and still isn’t. It meant leaving his wife and three young children behind. While Said was making the decision to stay, he had to do so with the knowledge that his wife and children were fleeing into Pakistan without his protection. Pakistan is where his family now live, and they remain apart from Said today. His kids are now aged 3, 5 and 8.
It’s hard to fathom how hard being away from his family must be for Said. How distressing it must be to be constantly worrying about their safety. But he considers it even more difficult for his wife, who is raising their children on her own in a highly volatile country.
Separation from loved ones is a tormenting reality many other refugees in this country also struggle to cope with, and makes re-settling in Australia an even more challenging process. So that’s where organisations like EMC come into the picture – we help refugees to build their lives here, whether it’s to help them find a job, learn English, link into community support, cope with trauma, heal relationships, etc. We provide services that help refugees actively participate in the life of our community, and also refer them to other services which help achieve this end.
Considering the personal upheaval he has to cope with on a daily basis, it’s astounding how much Said has achieved in only 18 months in Australia. He’s done everything from work with unaccompanied humanitarian minors at Melbourne’s Interim Transit Accommodation (Broadmeadows Detention Centre), to researching the cultural factors in the financial behaviour of recently-arrived Afghan and Burmese communities in Australia as part of his role at the Brotherhood.
Despite his raft of qualifications and excellent command of English, it was hard for Said to find a job in his field when he arrived in Australia – an experience shared by many other refugees here with great career experience who are highly educated. Employers often don’t value experience which is acquired overseas. So Said decided to take matters into his own hands, and began volunteering with the Brotherhood in May 2010.
There was no way we were going to let him get away! We offered him a permanent position in February this year. It would be so fantastic if more employees could see the skills and knowledge that refugees can bring to their workplace, because it truly is incredibly valuable. Plus, getting work is such an important step in giving refugees confidence and helping them to really feel like this is their new home, and that they are valued here.
The recent SBS series ‘Go Back To Where You Came From’ did much to open the eyes of Australians to the refugee experience. Even when they arrive safely in Australia, many refugees and asylum seekers like Said are coming to terms with the distressing events of their past, or with the reality that their family are not with them. It’s something we should always keep in mind.
Thankfully, organisations like the Brotherhood are there to help make the transition to life in a new country just that little bit easier to manage.