Growing up, we have the opportunity to go to school, to make our own friends, to meet their parents and create connections through them.
We live in a world that’s fundamentally made up of networks, and without these relationships it makes it hard to access basic support and create our own opportunities.
A refugee’s access to community and human connections plays a key role in whether an individual has a successful resettlement into Australia or one that is detrimental an individuals mental health.
Nina Evason, Project Manager at The Cultural Atlas, a collaborative project between SBS, International Education Services and Multicultural NSW, aims to inform and educate the public about the migrant populations of Australia by promoting cohesion and inclusion in diversity.
Ms. Evason had close contact with a refugee who, for at least three years, was affected by their limits to work on a temporary protection visa, which allowed them $130 a fortnight with no rights to work.
“Many refugees come to Australia with a strong intention to contribute to society and in many of the cultures they are coming from, hard work is extremely valued, when they’re restricted from doing that, in our society, it can affect their own self-worth and self-perception,” Ms Evason said.
“If you’re someone whose experienced atrocious things in detention centers, a very troubling journey and also witnessed atrocities back in your own country not having a job means there’s nine more hours of your day, every day, that you have to sit with these memories and thoughts,” Ms Evason said.
By the initiative of local community members, the refugee was able to work for free doing a stock job in a local shop for multiple months, as a tool of solace, giving them a distraction from their tortured memories and thoughts.
“I actually firmly believe that if these community members hadn’t done that, this individual would of killed himself,” Ms Evason said.
While Ms. Evason did not have personal contact with them, she knew of multiple instances in which refugees had committed suicide in recent years whilst living in the Australian community.
“The worst case scenario, is a dangerously common scenario” Ms Evason said.
Nicolle White, founder of non-profit organizations, Babes Against Detention (B.A.D) and Refugee Stories Project, aims to raise awareness of refugee’s issues using unconventional platforms.
Ms. White spoke about the importance that connections and networking plays in an individual’s life when seeking asylum.
“The difficulty of this is you have no support system, in what is already an incredibly distressing time, by developing connections they have access to that much needed support system as well as the opportunity to gain understanding of the community they have moved into,” Ms White said.
“I previously founded a project called ‘Refugee Stories’ which aimed to break down stigma by interviewing refugees about why they came to Australia, their journey and experiences here since arriving.”
A man interviewed by Ms. White, for her Refugee Stories project, spoke about the role the community played in his resettlement in Australia.
“Cricket is a much loved sport in Australia, Australians love cricket, Tamils who live in Australia love cricket, Tamils who are coming to Australia love cricket, cricket is a great way to relieve stress for people that have been in detention and to foster relationships and bonds within the Tamil community and wider Australia,” he said.
The Refugee Council of Australia spoke of the UNHCR and Amnesty International 14 reports of the harsh nature of the conditions noting the physical and mental health impacts of indefinite detention on the asylum seekers.
“There have been numerous incidents of self-harm, protests and disturbances on both Nauru and Manus Island,” Refugee Council of Australia reported.
“Under the Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS) program, some Bridging Visa E holders who have complex needs are eligible for more intensive casework support but the majority receive little assistance beyond income support.”
Sonia Caton, Chairperson of the Refugee Council of Australia, said the core issue for refugees, with complex mental health problems, is the lack of funds and assistance from Australia’s mental health system.
By providing refugees with the rights to work it allows the individuals to build their own connections, to help them feel a sense of pride and value and allow them to discover their part in society.