Last year, the government in Canberra said it would accept 12,000 people fleeing the conflict in Syria, and Australia’s hospitality industry is offering to help train them.
Sharon and Carol Salloum’s parents arrived from Syria 40 years ago, and the menu at their restaurant in Sydney is inspired by the flavors of the Middle East. The sisters say they feel an obligation to help those displaced by fighting.
“Our parents still have so much family still in Syria that could be our parent’s families that were coming here as refugees," Sharon Salloum said. "We’re lucky enough that is not the case, but that could very well have been one of the many aunties and uncles that we still have - or cousins that we still have - over there at the moment, so why wouldn’t we help?”
'They want to work'
Her sister Carol said, “A lot of people who come from overseas and work in Australia, that is all they want to do. They want to work, they want to create a life for themselves. They are not lazy, they’ll take on any jobs that they can.
"You can see that from the migrants that are already here and that we’ve employed. I don’t doubt that it is good business for anyone, especially in the hospitality industry where these people are passionate about food and hospitality," she added.
Hospitality can be hot and hard work, but it could give migrants the start they need to prosper in Australia.
Training will be offered to Syrian refugees at various restaurants under a program devised by professional refugee resettlement services.
It is hoped the skills that are passed on will lead to a productive future. Sharon Salloum says the hospitality industry could be a natural fit for Syrian migrants.
“We obviously will make the reality of working in hospitality clear to people, but at the same time I think it is quite an innate part of us growing up in a Middle Eastern household -- in a Syrian household -- we were taught to be hospitable to anyone," she said.
Newly arrived refugees Iymen Baerlie and his family are from the Syrian city of Homs.
Fearing for their lives, they fled to Egypt and flew into Sydney at the end of December. Speaking through an interpreter, Baerlie said his dream was to set up a catering business.
“Of course, it is very important for me to find a good job and I have started from now looking to establish my own job, my own business. But now I am depending on my relatives to train me how to establish my own business," Baerlie said.
After just a few weeks in Australia, Baerlie is being supported by his brother-in-law, who runs a bakery in Sydney. But he is desperate to make his own way in his adopted homeland.
“I am very thankful to the Australian government for everything it did to me, but I don’t want to depend on the Australian government," he said. "I want to establish my own business for my own sake and for my family’s sake, and I want to create [a] good income for me."
Baerlie would certainly benefit from the sort of help offered by the Salloum sisters and their industry colleagues, including Hugh Foster, who has run Middle Eastern restaurants in Sydney for more than 20 years.
“What we’re trying to do is make this a good experience for people, so that when they do arrive they feel, maybe, in 20, 30 year’s time ‘Wow, that was a great thing that happened to us and look what this country has done for us and look what we can give back to this country, you know," Foster said.
Campaigners have urged the Australian government to offer sanctuary to more Syrians above the current allocation of 12,000. Some business leaders believe Australia has the capacity to accept up to 30,000.