Fairfield City Settlement Action Plan provides collaborative approach to refugee settlement

Planning ahead: Maryam Mansoor with Fairfield City Settlement Action Plan Coordinator Marie Saliba
Planning ahead: Maryam Mansoor with Fairfield City Settlement Action Plan Coordinator Marie Saliba

Meet Maryam Mansoor. She is 18. She is a refugee. And she is one of the success stories of the Fairfield City Settlement Action Plan.

The Plan, launched in 2017, aimed to enhance existing service provision for refugees through greater collaboration and partnership development amongst local service providers.

Maryam’s story is like many of the approximately 8000 Iraq and Syrian refugees that have recently arrived in Fairfield.

Forced to flee her home country of Iraq, she spent three years in Jordan waiting to come to Australia.

But what’s next? Usually questions. How do things work? What if I need help? What are the services available? Will the other kids not like me because I wasn’t born here?

It’s why the plan made giving youth a sense of belonging to the Australian community, keeping them engaged in education and building a social network a focus.

“I went on a Youth Camp – one of the initiatives of the plan – and I had to learn to trust and rely on other people I met for the first time...in essence what I learnt was how to adapt and adjust in new situations. It helped me break out of my shell,” she said.

“The other kids didn’t discriminate against me and actually welcomed me and wanted to know about me and they understood my pain and what I have been through.”

The Fairfield resident is also part of the Refugee Youth Peer Mentoring Program where she has paired up with mentor from a refugee background to talk all things from favourite books to the generation gap between parents.

Maryam’s story is one that will be shared as part of a progress report that will be delivered on February 25.

The plan, which won a Zest Award for Exceptional Community Partnership in a Local Government Area at the weekend, identified ten settlement themes and outlined actions and approaches to address issues across eight key action areas.

In total there are 44 action items with a lead agency identified to drive the implementation of plan which is separated into three broad categories – people, opportunity and place.

Fairfield City Settlement Action Plan Coordinator Marie Saliba said seeing more than 20 government and non-government agencies work together to utiilise each other’s expertise has been a “positive outcome” of the plan which was led by Fairfield Council and CORE Community Services.

Employment has been a key focus of the plan with several initiatives around encouraging the promotion of the array of  different refugee employment support programs.

Last year a business breakfast was held to promote the benefits of employing someone with a refugee background to local businesses. 

A Pathways to Employment Expo also provided around 500 refugee and migrant jobseekers information on training and opportunities to inspire and encourage participation.

“Employment in terms of settlement is integral. It’s one step towards financial independence,” she said.

“It’s a  way of starting to build your identity and networking in your local community. Establishing networks is so important. It’s something that you take for granted when you have grown up in the area.”

In its purest form the plan is a way to effectively ensure refugees are getting the right help which led to events like the Law Expo where more than 200 refugees learnt about the Australian Legal System informing them on their rights and responsibilities under the law.

It is also a way to identify gaps in the system – and not to just mention the gaps but put a strategy in place to fix it.

Ms Saliba said domestic violence in terms of access to immediate assistance is still a barrier despite a total of 1260 people being part of information sessions on DV since the plan started.

“There needs to more specialists in Fairfield so people know where to go if they want to leave an abusive relationship,” she said.

“The NDIS is another big one. If a refugee wants to apply for the scheme it is very difficult and there needs to be more support for refugees.”

CORE Community Services chief executive Juana Reinoso said the plan highlights the need for services to collaborate and work together – sharing ideas, resources and expertise. 

“We believe that the ability to address settlement to its full potential, is through collaboration,” she said.

Multicultural NSW has supported the Fairfield City Settlement Action Plan working group by facilitating connections between NSW Government agencies and the NGO sector.