Refugees toast of town

Local businesses have been made aware of the employability of former refugees, at an event dedicated to educating locals during Australian Refugee Week.

Hosted by the Australian Migrant Resource Centre, the Refugee Employment Forum heard from speakers from the Rotary Group of Mount Gambier, local businesses, and migrant success stories from the South East’s Karen and Karenni community, Congolese community, and Yazidi community.

“To all of you wonderful people who have taken the courage to make Australia your home, I hope that we are able to embrace you and create pathway opportunities for careers and way beyond,” Local Jobs Program Employment facilitator Christine Willlersdorf said. Attendees at the event, hosted at Italo Australian Club Mount Gambier, were also treated to performances from Mount Gambier’s Karenni, Congolese, and Yazidi communities.

These included a bamboo dance with a twist by the Karen and Karenni community, substituting bamboo for PVC pipes. Alongside the dance was a love song that’s main lyrics translate to, “wherever you go, I will go with you.” Following this, Micheal Safari, Sadiici Kumandele, and Balolane Mudage of the Mount Gambier Congolese community took to the stage to perform.

While Yazidi man Haji Garnos ended the night with a performance by playing the tanpura, a long-necked plucked string instrument. However, the night was not just about the successes of refugees in our region. Gillian McGinty, the chief executive of Boandik Lodge – which employs 41 people from refugee backgrounds – provided a reality check when she said refugees here were discriminated against.

“All our staff are very accepting of people from the different cultures that we have,” she said. “However, there is some racial discrimination in our industry, which is a challenge for people from refugee backgrounds.”

Ms McGinty claimed this was because “we have an older population living with us who have lived through wars and have some racial discrimination”. “That can be quite challenging for the refugee community,” she said. It comes as the South East’s cultural fabric continues to expand.

Speaking at the event, Mount Gambier Migrant Resource Centre manager Anelia Blackie said she expected the coming census to show up to 1500 people of refugee backgrounds now called Mount Gambier home.

Each of these people, whether Karenni, Congolese or Yazidi, sought safety in refugee camps after experiencing religious and cultural persecution in their own countries, before arriving in Australia for a better life. Ms Blackie suggested it was time to throw away the “refugee” moniker and start calling them “locals” and slammed the notion that “refugees are just taking Australians’ jobs” as pure ignorance.

“If you come here to live as a permanent resident and you’re coming here to settle and have children, and make your life here, you’re basically a local. “You are Australian,” she said. “It’s quite offensive when people say that. “It’s just ignorance.”

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