Forum gives marginalised communities a voice

29 community leaders from more than 17 different communities and community organisations participated in a 2-day leadership course delivered via the STARTTS CiCT Program in June 2021.
29 community leaders from more than 17 different communities and community organisations participated in a 2-day leadership course delivered via the STARTTS CiCT Program in June 2021.

In September, STARTTS (NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors) hosted their flagship Communities in Cultural Transition Forum (CiCT).

This year a record attendance took part in the virtual event which explored a range of issues including the current crisis in Afghanistan and included a series of Q&A sessions with panelists on different topics like how to combat racism faced by young people.

The Champion caught up with STARRTS' senior project officer of the Communities in Cultural Transition Program David Ajak Ajang to talk about the annual event.

What's the main role of the CiCT forum?

CiCT assists non-funded associations and groups from newly arrived, small and emerging communities from refugee backgrounds to help develop their leadership and governance skills. The program aims to reduce the dependence of these small groups on large community service organisations by empowering them to manage their own affairs. CiCT uses a strength-based approach to provide support for communities from refugee backgrounds to take control of their own development in building and running organisations in Australian context. This helps ease the pressures of settlement and leads to a sense of inclusion in the wider Australian society. It also facilitates building of new connections and strengthening of those already existing to ensure the community groups are able to engage and mobilise their strengths. These relationships contribute to community's Social Capital.

What were some of the themes you covered in this year's forum?

Leaders fostering change in refugee communities in uncertain times: Refugee Community leaders or leaders from communities of refugee backgrounds are critical enablers of smooth refugee settlement, community development and sense of belonging to the country that have given them a safe home and a future.

This is not only because they have experienced the collective trauma their communities have faced, but more importantly they have actively engaged in alleviating the impacts of those collective traumatic experiences for a number of years or decades.

Community leaders are bridges between their Communities and the "mainstream" organisations. They understand their communities deeply and also understand the "mainstream" organisations more than the "mainstream" organizations can understand their communities and issues their communities faces.

To be an effective leader in this space, leaders need new tools, new understanding that allows them to see their own problems and challenges in new ways. This help the leaders to conjure up new creative solutions.

Responding to the current humanitarian crisis, have we done enough? Australia has witnessed humanitarian crisis in a number of countries over the last 12 months including Myanmar, Ethiopia and most recently Afghanistan. The Panel discussed Australia's role in such situations particularly in relation to Afghan crisis taking into account Australia's long-term involvement in Afghanistan.

LGBTIQA+ communities: Seventy-one jurisdictions criminalise consensual adult same-sex sexual activity; in eleven jurisdictions same-sex sexual activity carries the death penalty and at least six of those (Iran, Northern Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen) have been known to implement the death penalty. Fifteen jurisdictions criminalise gender expression and/or identity of transgender people.

People with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions or sex characteristics (SOGIESC) fleeing these countries, or other countries where they are unsafe, face a complex array of challenges and threats throughout all stages of the displacement cycle. These challenges include discrimination, violence (including rape, torture and murder), difficulty in accessing basic social and economic rights and barriers to articulating their protection needs during asylum procedures. They are among the most marginalised and vulnerable people world-wide. They face unique risks and require unique protections yet very often they are failed by the very same system that is supposed to protect them: their families, the police and governments. During their settlement journey, they often do not feel they belong to their ethnic community or feel a need to keep their sexuality or gender hidden. They may not feel to the mainstream LGBTIQA+ community either, as their lived experiences are unique and not easily understood. STARTTS has been implementing an :LGBTIQA+ project over a number of years and the project included social support groups, one-on-one assistance and training for service providers. We are committed to creating safe communities led by people with lived experience.

How has COVID-19 affected the lives of refugees?

The impact of COVID-19 is more acute among the refugee communities. Many people in the emerging refugee communities are struggling with complex issues of trauma and settlement transition to their new adapted country and then COVID-19 on top of all that.

Majority of members from communities of refugees backgrounds work in unsecure blue colour industries where working conditions and entitlement are very minimum. Many live from cheque to cheque and have very limited ability to take extended leave to quarantine; and if they do quarantined, they suffer severe economic consequences.

How important is it to share refugee success stories?

Many people from communities of refugee backgrounds have survived horrendous conflicts and have come to Australia with nothing in term of material things, but with a lots resilience and the will to succeed. Highlighting some of their achievements in Australia help shift how refugees are viewed as "poor people" by some people in the mainstream Australia. The stories of more established communities provides inspiration for the newly arrived refugee and asylum seekers.

The forum creates a platform where the most marginalised of the marginalised communities, such as the LGBTIQA+ can have a platform to project their voices far and wide.

What is the biggest issue facing refugees at the moment?

Issues facing refugee and asylum seekers are multifaceted in nature. Refugees and asylum seekers flee gross human right violation in their countries of origin in search of a safe new home and a sense of new belonging to somewhere safe. The process of settling in to this new home in Australia, can be challenging when one has to overcome so many barriers such as Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), lack of functional English, racism and the like.