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Working with young people seeking refuge

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As Refugee Week winds down, we caught up with Andrew Holt, an Outreach Worker from Dandenong. Andrew works with a number of young refugees and asylum seekers within the YSAS One Community Program. Here he shares his experience of working with people seeking refuge in Melbourne’s south east.

What are some of the main needs of young refugees accessing the One Community Program?

We mainly see young males, they’ve been sent ahead by their families back home to set themselves up, earn some money and then send for the rest of the family who are still living either in danger at home or in a Refugee Camp.

Because they’re alone, they’re really isolated and the biggest immediate need is to create social connections, make human contact.

How does the program support these young people to make connections?

Part of the program is a Wednesday night shared dinner in a relaxed environment. Our setup is kind of like a lounge and they can do anything from play Uno to have an official letter translated by a worker. It’s a really relaxed, welcoming environment with a home cooked meal by other young people.

These evenings help the young people to create those positive bonds and networks in Dandenong. In a way, it’s like recreating the networks we’ve all enjoyed growing up, but for this group of vulnerable young people who find themselves alone in a new country.

What contributions do young refugees in the Dandenong area make to the community?

I think that, just by being here and working or studying, and sharing their experiences, they’re really teaching the wider community about where they’re from and the journey they’ve taken to get here.

One of the local employers who’s just taken on a young guy from the Middle East has told me his whole workforce has been really struck by this guy’s experience. He arrived in Australia after travelling overland and alone across Asia to Australia, because of war in his home country.

They kind of can’t believe one person could endure all that and still be so motivated and positive every day at work.

Just by being here and talking about their experiences refugees and asylum seekers are myth busting a lot of the really unfair things said about them in the media.

I get frustrated listening to some of the rhetoric –expecting people to go straight into full-time work after the trauma almost every refugee has experienced is mind-blowing. Rather than first allowing them to heal some pretty deep wounds.

Another young guy who is still in school and facing a few immigration difficulties has been so taken in by the community, they’ve raised over $30,000 to support his continued education – it’s incredible.

What have you learned, personally from the young refugees you’ve worked with?

They’ve helped me realise just how globally connected we are. What happens in Afghanistan affects us in Dandenong, and our government policies affect ordinary people in Afghanistan and beyond. My world view is much bigger now, I pay a lot more attention to global news and issues affecting refugees and asylum seekers.

Are there any stories in particular that young people have told you that have struck you?

Yeah, there are a lot! One young guy in particular I’ve been working with for around 24 months. He’s in his early twenties and left Afghanistan because of the war, leaving behind his entire family, including a wife and three kids. His journey to Australia was unbelievably traumatic but as the oldest male of the family, he had to make this journey out here in the hope that he could claim asylum, get a job and earn enough money to start bringing his family out here.

Despite everything he’s been through – escaping his home country because people were trying to kill him, crossing many countries alone, not understanding the languages, dealing with smugglers, arriving in Australia after a harrowing trip – he is still committed to working as much as he can to reunite his family.

He’s only a young guy, and when I was explaining how his holiday pay and leave entitlements work he was telling me he wouldn’t take time off because when he wasn’t working he was thinking about all he’s been through and the danger his family continues to live in. And that wasn’t really an option.

So the strength of this guy, just to highlight one example is incredibly striking.

If you’d like to support programs like the One Community Program in Dandenong’s work with young refugees and asylum seekers, you can donate here.

To find out more about Refugee Week, visit the campaign website.

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