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Meeting with MP broaches a raft of refugee issues

Meeting with MP broaches a raft of refugee issues

Mark Coure MP, Liberal member for Oatley in the NSW Parliament, discussed a wide-range of migrant and refugee issues when he met with senior executive staff and board members of Advance Diversity Services (ADS) in the ADS offices on May 5.

Antoinette Chow, CEO of ADS thanked Mr Coure for the free RAT (rapid antigen test) kits and the emergency relief for temporary visa holders he had helped to facilitate in his role as Minister for Multiculturalism.

She said that without this COVID-related assistance:

  • Many CALD people in the region, who do not qualify for government benefits, would have struggled to access RAT tests and find support in understanding how to use them.
  • Many vulnerable temporary visa holders in the region who were facing financial hardship as a result of COVID-19 would have been without vital supplies, including medical support, emergency food and supplies, transport and essential housing. 

Mr Coure acknowledged the continuing importance of ADS’s Learn to Drive Program after hearing an update from Anthony Scerri, Manager of Settlement and Community Services, about this driver education program for recently arrived refugees and migrants.

Mr Scerri said that while funding received from Transport NSW had facilitated an effective rollout, top-up funds would be required to keep the program running given the rising cost of fuel and vehicle upkeep.

Mr Scerri also broached building a stronger LGBTIQ network in the St George and Sutherland region, to which Mr Coure said ADS could find helpful details to assist with this in the NSW LGBTIQ Health Strategy and to seek the support of local councils and peak bodies.

MP Mark Coure (centre) met with staff and board members of ADS on May 5.

To help build links between CALD and Aboriginal communities in the region, Ms Chow asked Mr Coure to share contacts.

‘We’re asking for educational/support contacts in the area relating to Aboriginal history,’ she said, ‘because we’re hoping that our community groups – which include established and newer migrants – can be educated more effectively about Australian Indigenous history.’

Magdaline Shenton-Kaleido Team Leader, Emerging Communities, Settlement and Community Services for ADS, spoke about the Refugee Council of Australia’s (RCoA) Platform for Change, which outlines key areas that need reform over the next Parliamentary term, as well as three matters requiring immediate attention and action in 2022.

Ms Shenton-Kaleido said ADS was eager to see Australia’s Parliamentarians acting on allurgent refugee issues raised by RCoA but was pressing Mr Coure now to agitate for the repeal of the ‘unnecessary, expensive and unfair’ temporary protection system and for the reinstatement of Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program.

‘The temporary protection system is a legacy of a punitive system to stop the boats, but no longer makes sense,’ she said.

RCoA’s Platform for Change states that: ‘Australia has found more than 19,000 boat arrivals to be in need of refugee protection but has granted them only temporary visas (Temporary Protection Visas or TPVs, and Safe Haven Enterprise Visas or SHEVs), which bars them from ever becoming permanent residents or reuniting with their families.

‘They need to re-apply for protection after three or five years and engage in a full reassessment of their refugee needs, putting a significant and unnecessary burden on the already stretched resources of the Department of Home Affairs. The reassessment process also further harms people as they have to re-live their trauma repeatedly, hampering their ability to settle and move on.

‘When Afghanistan fell to the Taliban last year, Australia allocated 31,000 visas for Afghans over the next 4 years, but those who arrived by boat 9 years ago, fleeing the same violence / persecution, will only ever be granted temporary protection. The policy does not make sense anymore because AUS turns back boats now.’

Mr Coure agreed that the temporary protection policy no longer made sense, and would look more closely at the paperwork provided by ADS, including RCoA’s Platform for Change, to determine any action.

Chair of ADS, Ruth Fyfe, thanked Mr Coure for his visit to ADS and for offering to further explore issues raised by staff in the meeting.

Expanded Multicultural LGBTIQA+ Support Directory a boon for wellbeing

Expanded Multicultural LGBTIQA+ Support Directory a boon for wellbeing

Loc Nguyen from ACON worked closely with James Sabbagh during his student work placement with Advance Diversity Services (ADS) to expand and update the Multicultural LGBTIQA+ Support Directory.

The directory incorporates a vast array of counselling services, legal support, faith communities, media services, university groups, aged care, youth services, professional associations and more in the Sydney area.

It’s also a useful referral tool for social workers, case workers and organisations who work with CALD LGBTIQA+ people who are migrants or the children of migrants, refugees, asylum-seekers, stateless or internally displaced.

Loc and James brought the combined weight of their networking, coordination, research and editing skills to the exacting task of ensuring the new edition of the directory is user friendly and up-to-date.

Both say the new version is a vital resource for a CALD LGBTIQA+ person to find services and groups that can support their wellbeing.

Loc Nguyen was instrumental in updating the Multicultural LGBTIQA+ Support Directory – a new version of which will be launched in March 2022.

On the heels of its launch, Loc explains why …

Why is it crucial to continue to produce the directory and promote the accessibility of the services and groups, which exist to support the wellbeing of the CALD LGBTIQA+ community?

Many mainstream services and programs provide support to community members assuming that they either belong to the LGBTQ+ community or to a cultural group, and rarely do we see programs that meet the intersectional needs of those belonging to both or more groups.

For LGBTQ+ community members from culturally, linguistically and ethnically diverse backgrounds, it is important that they are able to see themselves in community groups and services that holistically and meaningfully understand their experiences of culture, gender and sexuality. This is even more important for those with migrant or refugee experience who are looking to build their social connections with peers in Australia.

The directory will support the social wellbeing of LGBTQ+ community members from culturally, linguistically and ethnically diverse backgrounds to get connected with the right community groups and services that are culturally safe and relevant to their needs and experiences.

What feedback have ACON, ADS and others had from users about previous versions of the directory?

Overall, feedback has been really positive for the resource with many community members expressing it has made it easier for them to find relevant community groups to get connected with. Service providers have also shared how useful the resource has been when referring LGBTQ+ community members from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds to other services.

However, we have also received feedback that certain LGBTQ cultural groups have not been represented in this resource in the past. The beauty of the directory and website being updated frequently is that we can continue to expand and include groups that have been missing so that we can support as many community members when looking to the future.

What barriers can CALD LGBTIQA+ people face in finding the support they need, which could well be overcome by using the information provided in the directory?

Studies have shown that LGBTQ+ people from culturally, linguistically and ethnically diverse backgrounds and those with migrant and refugee experience are disproportionately faced with multiple forms of marginalisation in social and health settings. This includes racism, xenophobia, homophobia and transphobia.

This leads to poorer physical, social and mental health outcomes for these communities as well as reduced access to mainstream health services, which community members may not perceive to be for them if the service is seen to be for white or non-LGBTQ people.

However, evidence from studies shows that when LGBTQ+ community members from culturally, linguistically and ethnically diverse backgrounds are connected to their peers, there is an increase in confidence when accessing to health services.

This directory links LGBTQ+ people from culturally, linguistically and ethnically diverse, migrant and refugee backgrounds, and LGBTQ+ people of colour into services and community groups that provide culturally safe and appropriate support that are specific to the diverse needs of community members, which is crucial to overcoming these social barriers and to improving health outcomes and literacy for these communities. 

Why is the directory website at https://www.rainbowcultures.org.au/ so useful?

Rainbow Cultures is an online directory that expands on the physical Multicultural LGBTQIA+ Support Directory. This website was developed through a combined effort by ACON and community groups, SocialisAsians and ANTRA, with support from Advance Diversity Services and CALD Gay Men’s Action Group.

Being online, Rainbow Cultures is much more accessible to community members, and is potentially more shareable amongst peers. As a digital resource, the website also continues to be expanded and updated with the latest information around the multicultural LGBTQ+ community groups in NSW. This became even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns when community members were looking to stay connected with their peers through online events. We hope moving forward the website can house further resources for multicultural LGBTQ+ community members.

What was it like to work with James on the directory and where can people find the print version?

James was great. He brought his Social Worker training to the job and surveyed LGBTIQA+ groups and individuals – the feedback from which helped us to shape this edition. There’s a web viewable version of the directory here. Advance Diversity Services will also have a limited supply of printed copies, which people can get by contacting info@advancediversity.org.au and pick-up from its Hurstville office.

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Loc Nguyen is Community Health Promotion Officer – Multicultural Engagement and Community Development for ACON.

 James Sabbagh completed his six-month student work placement with ADS in January 2022 as part of his Social Work honours degree at the University of Wollongong. He commenced his new role as Social Worker at Sutherland Hospital in early February.

James Sabbagh: ‘With ADS I used a broad array of my social work skills’

James Sabbagh: ‘With ADS I used a broad array of my social work skills’

James Sabbagh did his student work placement with Advance Diversity Services (ADS) from July 2021 to January 2022. Magdaline Shenton-Kaleido Team Leader, Emerging Communities, Settlement and Community Services for ADS said James gave stellar support to ADS’s programs in 2021 and made a big difference. James started in his new role at Sutherland hospital in early February.

What drew you to volunteer and/or to do your student placement with ADS?

I was very happy and excited to commence my placement with ADS. I was drawn to the idea of working with a service that was so connected to the local community. So much of ADS’s work is informed by the community for the community, which is amazing to see, especially when working with a culturally diverse population. ADS’s responsiveness and care for the needs of their service users is inspiring.

What are you studying and where? And how has your personal history and/or your cultural background informed your work with ADS?

I studied a Bachelor of Social Work at the University of Wollongong. I come from a mixed cultural background, my mum Irish and my dad Maltese/Lebanese. Growing up with a culturally and linguistically diverse family was a great asset when working at ADS. I think because of my family background I was able to be more culturally conscious and receptive when working within a culturally diverse team and with culturally diverse service users. However, due to being born and raised in Australia, throughout my placement I resumed the role of a learner, committing myself to learning and hearing from others about their cultural background and identity.

What ADS programs have you assisted with and how have you been encouraged to apply your studies and/or expand your skills in your role?

During my placement at ADS I was involved in and supported the evaluation and update of the Multicultural LGBTIQA+ Support Directory, worked with the Specialised and Intensive Services (SIS) team, supported the Emergency Relief program and helped to organise online Migrant Information Day sessions. The staff at ADS were extremely supportive and continually encouraged me to participate in as many programs and roles as I could. Working in the evaluation, community development and direct client work spaces while at ADS enabled me to utilise a broad array of social work skills. I really enjoyed working with the SIS team and with clients of the SIS program, where I utilised skills of communication, advocacy, empowerment, cultural consciousness and team work. 

What has been the most challenging work you have done with ADS during your time as a volunteer / student?

The most challenging aspect of my work at ADS has definitely been the advocacy work that is often required to ensure beneficial and meaningful service provision. When I say advocacy, I’m referring to the countless phone calls the SIS team makes, trying to overcome hurdles so that other services and resources are accessible to the SIS clients. It can be very frustrating navigating everyday services that constantly seem to inhibit the settlement journey for migrants and refugees.

What strengths have you brought to your placement?

I believe that my strengths in communication, teamwork and reflexive practice were essential to my placement at ADS. Working well in teams and being a confident and adaptive communicator meant that I could successfully work across multiple teams at ADS. I believe that these strengths enabled me to be a useful team member that put forward practical ideas and strategies to enhance service provision. Being a reflexive worker meant that I was always reflecting on my practice and trying to identify ways that I could better support SIS clients and develop resources for ADS.

What has been your proudest moment, greatest achievement, deepest connection in your time at ADS?

It is not a specific moment, but rather all the times a client and I have celebrated small wins. These are the moments when an Opal card has been successfully applied for, a MyGov account is set up or financial support is received. These are all seemingly small achievements but often come after many hurdles and complications. Sharing moments of joy and relief at minor successes with SIS clients has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my work at ADS.

‘Be You With Us’ is ADS’s tagline, and it reflects the organisation’s commitment to welcoming and accepting everyone of all ages, gender, culture, sexuality, and religious beliefs. How have you been encouraged to ‘Be You With Us’ during your time with ADS?

Reflecting back on my placement and time volunteering, the tagline ‘Be You With Us’ perfectly encapsulates the environment at ADS. The staff were all so welcoming of me and took a genuine interest in me and my studies. I felt comfortable to speak with others about my cultural background and family, but similarly enjoyed hearing about the identities of other team members. While working on the Multicultural LGBTIQA+ Support Directory it was so amazing to see that the ADS commitment to diverse populations was not superficial in any sense, it was actually ingrained in the work culture.

What more should the Australian Government be doing to welcome migrants and refugees and to ensure they find the support they need to adjust quickly and well to life in Australia?

I think the Australian Government, among many other things, should make a commitment to reunite the families of migrants and refugees. Supporting migrants and refugees to have other family members join them in Australia would make a huge difference to their overall wellbeing and would help to create larger support networks, making migrants and refugees feel more settled in their new home.

What is your ultimate goal and how has the work you’ve done with ADS equipped you for what you would like to do next?

I do not have an ultimate goal as far as position or practice area, but I am committed to a continual journey of learning and professional development. I see it as inevitable that in the near future I will return to work in the settlement space. This placement has moulded my understanding of what proper community development work looks like. I hope that in my future career I can be in a position that elevates community members’ voices to rally for much-needed change. I have learnt a lot in this placement about how hard it is for migrants and refugees to settle in a new country and I hope that I can, in the future, assist to make that process easier.

Please finish this sentence: I love ADS because …

I love ADS because of their tireless and enthusiastic support for all community members no matter their age, gender, culture, sexuality, and religious beliefs.

James Sabbagh said, ‘My placement with ADS moulded my understanding of what proper community development work looks like.’

Advance Diversity Services celebrates 40 years of service

Advance Diversity Services celebrates 40 years of service

Advance Diversity Services (ADS) celebrated its 40th anniversary with speeches, awards, Nepalese dancing and branded cupcakes at its AGM held in its Hurstville office on December 9.

Mark Coure MP, Member for Oatley, spoke about ADS’s outstanding work in the community and presented a 40-year Service Award to Branislav Musovski. Khalil Haragli, also a recipient of the 40-year Service Award, was unable to attend the ceremony.

Mark Coure presenting the 40-year Service Award to Branislav Musovski.

Rodney Thompson (representing David Coleman MP) presented the Banks Volunteer of the Year Award to Martyn Perry, ADS Learn to Drive Mentor volunteer.

Rodney Thompson (representing David Coleman MP) presenting the Banks Volunteer of the Year Award to Martyn Perry, ADS Learn to Drive Mentor volunteer.

Anna Veneris, Group Facilitator, and Rosaline Havea, Board of Directors, received appreciation for 20 years of service and Mushrat Mishu, Finance Officer, and Vera Trajkovska, Community Care Worker, received their 10-year Service Award.

Mushrat Mishu, Finance Officer, being presented with her 10-year Service Award.

ADS CEO Antoinette Chow thanked board members who had completed their service and once again welcomed Chura Belbase, Marites Bairstow, Dr Rifaat Hanna, Rosaline Havea and Ruth Fyfe to their roles on the board.

She also praised Shreya Gyawali, the Nepalese dancer who performed at the AGM, and who happily serves a volunteer at ADS’s Nepalese cultural dance class.

Chairperson Ruth Fyfe said that while celebrations had been disrupted by the pandemic, the 40th Anniversary was still a milestone event for ADS.

‘In 1981, from a simple beginning as St George Migrant Resource Centre, ADS has achieved 40 years of proud service to the community,’ she said. ‘And it is still a values-driven organisation.

‘ADS has grown to include offices at Hurstville, Rockdale, Bexley and Sutherland from where Services are provided to South Eastern Sydney including Bayside, Georges River and Sutherland Shire local government areas.

‘It continues to provide high-quality services to the community by having an active commitment to social justice, compassion, inclusion, empowerment, integrity and collaboration.’

Astrid Perry, AGM Returning Officer.

Ms Fyfe said ADS was fortunate to have highly skilled staff with extensive knowledge of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities.

‘Staff and volunteers speak over thirty community languages, she said, ‘and ADS continues to thrive in a constantly changing environment.’

Ms Chow said ADS has had a rich history and continues to build on a firm foundation established over decades.

Highlights from the last five years she noted, included, expanding the Settlement Services Program; running anti-racism workshops and domestic and family violence prevention initiatives; offering affordable driving lessons by trained volunteers to people from disadvantaged groups; adapting aged care programs to meet Australia’s aged care reforms; registration as a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) provider; and winning several awards for our work in fostering diversity with a specific focus on the CALD LGBTQIA+ community, which includes launching our marketing campaign ‘Be YOU WITH US – You belong, We All belong’ and introducing ADS Diversity Champions.

That ADS had been able to purchase and move into its own premises in Hurstville CBD in 2019 was another high point she added.

‘Through our Strategic Plan 2021-2024, we will continue to enact our values of inclusion, collaboration, empowerment, compassion and integrity while focusing on the three strategic pillars: strengthening our industry leadership and partnerships; operating with excellence; and diversifying our services,’ she said.

‘Thank you all for supporting ADS over the last 40 years and I look forward to continuing to work together to build a strong ADS that is well-equipped to face the future.’

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Read our annual report here https://www.advancediversity.org.au/resources/

Cupcakes to help ADS celebrate 40 years of fine service in the community.