SYDNEY - Australia has resettled about half of the 12,000 refugees it agreed to take in last year from the conflict in Syria. Most of the new arrivals are living with relatives in Sydney, the country’s biggest city, Sydney.
The New South Wales government is offering free training programs to Iraqi and Syrian refugees resettled in the state to help them find work. It will spend $20 million over the next four years on various schemes.
John Barilaro, the New South Wales minister for Skills, says the programs will help refugees build new lives.
“The purpose is to make sure that they assimilate in society and become part of what is wonderful about this state and that is jobs and opportunity for everybody, including those that have now joined our shores,” said Barilaro.
Last year, Australia promised to accept 12,000 refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria on top of its annual humanitarian intake of about 14,000 people.
Last December, 51-year Iymen Baerli arrived in Sydney with his wife and three young children. War had forced them to leave their home in the Syrian city of Homs. They fled to Egypt, before being offered sanctuary in Australia, where life has not been easy. He is still unemployed and relies on welfare payments to survive.
"It was a very hard move, moving from Syria to Australia. There are huge differences in culture and tradition. I have been struggling and it isn’t easy, but I hope in the future it will be better,” said Baerli.
Ahmad Hemmed is a migration agent and community volunteer, who has helped many Syrian families in Sydney. He believes the majority are struggling to adapt to live in their new homeland.
“There are people that after I meet them here after even a year, they do not like the country and they are scared to mix with (the) Australian community. They [are] still isolating themselves with similar cultural background people and I think they are raising their kids in the same way, which, you know, for me it is really concern[ing],” said Hemmed.
Officials concede that many Syrian refugees have struggled to find work in Australia.
Professor Peter Shergold, the New South Wales coordinator general for refugee resettlement, says measures are being put in place to help.
“The [NSW state] Premier wanted to make sure that if we were going to do this and have expanded numbers that we were providing the support services that were necessary that these people could build their new lives as quickly as possible, and so my job is really to both oversight the government agencies delivering services, but in particular to try and make sure that we are working with community, with corporate New South Wales, with the not-for-profit organizations, with volunteers so it becomes not just a government effort but a community effort,” said Shergold.
The remaining 6,000 refugees from the Syrian crisis are expected to arrive in Australia within a year.
But Alex Greenwich, an independent MP in the New South Wales state parliament, believes the resettlement program needs to move faster.
“The refugee and asylum seeker immigration process is one that is intensely bureaucratic. There are obviously important checks and balances in place but I think I and many other people would like to see that fast-tracked, would like to see us being able to welcome people sooner than later. It is much better for a refugee to spend less time in a camp or in a detention center and get into being welcomed into a community. It is better for their health, their mental health. It is obviously something that we should be prioritizing and fast-tracking,” said Greenwich.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said his government will permanently increase the nation’s annual refugee intake from 13,750 people to almost 19,000.
Since the end of World War II, Australia has resettled about 800,000 refugees.