Rising numbers of asylum seekers volunteering in the community
Asylum seekers in Melbourne are volunteering in droves as they try to find ways to make a contribution, occupy themselves and connect with local communities.
An audit of asylum seeker clients of settlement agency AMES has found more than 400 have volunteered with community groups or not for profit organisations in the past year.
More than 50 asylum seekers volunteered for Vision Australia in their Myer Christmas Gift Wrapping project which raised almost $70,000 for the charity, the audit found.
Around 18 new arrivals on bridging visas have volunteered at FareShare, a charity that provides fresh, healthy food to disadvantaged families, using donated ingredients.
More than 40 asylum seekers volunteered to help St Vincent de Paul in their furniture warehouse and local stores and up to 25 have been involved in sewing and knitting blankets for then Knit One Give One (KOGO) charity.
Another 40 clients have been volunteering to help Parks Victoria restore gardens at Werribee Park.
Fifteen more asylum seekers with advanced English language skills are helping in programs aimed at giving other new arrivals to Australia English language tuition.
Afghan asylum seeker Zaidi Hussein volunteered for Vision Australia wrapping presents over Christmas at Myer Fountain Gate.
“Being able to volunteer gives us the feeling that we are contributing something and that we have something to offer,” said Mr Hussein, who fled his home in Quetta, Pakistan, after being targeted by local extremist Islamic groups because he is an ethnic Hazara.
“We do not want not sit at home and do nothing and take money from the Australian Government. We want to work to support ourselves and by volunteering maybe we can show people this,” he said.
AMES Chief Executive Cath Scarth said volunteering opportunities gave asylum seekers some meaningful activities to take part in and the chance engage with the broader community.
“We are seeing volunteering opportunities for asylum seekers filled as soon as they become available,” Ms Scarth said.
“Many asylum seekers struggle to occupy themselves or connect with their local communities. Some are at risk of mental health problems, some are living in tough financial circumstances and almost all are living with uncertainty,” she said.
AMES, its partners and other community organisations are trying to remedy this by organising volunteering opportunities and activities through the ‘Meaningful Engagement Program’.
“Part of AMES work is to help get new arrivals to Australia involved and engaged in their communities through sport, cultural and leisure activities. Offering volunteering opportunities is one way of doing this,” Ms Scarth said.
“Volunteering gives clients valued roles in their community and a sense of purpose as they build their skills to potentially settle in Australia,” she said.
AMES has more than 6000 asylum seeker client and about 15 per cent have tertiary qualifications of skills.
Any organisations with volunteering opportunities can contact AMES Client Engagement Coordinator Diane Tabbagh on 9926 4746.