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Refugee honoured for work helping others

24 April 20240 comments

A former Afghan refugee who employs and trains fellow displaced people in his social enterprise construction business has won the 2024 Australia for UNHCR-SBS Les Murray Award for Refugee Recognition. 

Hedayat Osyan founded CommUnity Construction seven years ago to support refugees struggling to find work or facing exploitation in the construction industry because they don’t speak English.

Mr Osyan is from the persecuted Hazara community in Afghanistan. In 2006, his father, a high school teacher, was arrested by the Taliban and disappeared.

When the Taliban attacked the family’s village in Ghazni in 2009, Hedayat’s mother told him to flee. He was 17 when he said goodbye to her and his two younger siblings.

As a teenager, he eventually travelled by boat to Australia and was detained on Christmas Island for three months. In 2010, he received his residency and moved to Sydney where he studied English at Marsden High School in West Ryde, before completing year 11 and 12 

“My father believed that we can change the world through education. I followed his advice. I went to Canberra to study politics and international relations,” Mr Osyan said.

“Six years before, I’d been in a country that didn’t give me a chance to go to high school, let alone university.”

Since starting CommUnity Construction in 2017, Hedayat has trained 90 refugees from different countries, with 60 now employed in construction and four setting up their own companies.

In his spare time, Mr Osyan has also been helping a group of recently arrived orphans from Afghanistan to settle into school and life in Australia. He also secured a grant for another group of young refugees, so they had a place to play football and could access uniforms.

“They have a sense of belonging. This kind of work gives me lots of energy,” Mr Osyan said.

“We help refugees thrive and become independent. We want to prove refugees are resilient, hard workers and bring new skills to society if you give them an opportunity.

“Winning the Les Murray Award was the most exciting and happy moment. I really admire Les Murray’s work in Australia. He made a huge contribution to Australian media and to other refugees. Being selected for the award is a huge achievement for me,” he said.

The annual Les Murray award is named after legendary SBS sports broadcaster Les Murray AM, himself a former refugee from Hungary, and recognises an outstanding former refugee who is raising awareness of the plight of forcibly displaced people.

“The Les Murray Award is now in its third year and SBS is proud to sponsor this important award,” said James Taylor, Managing Director of SBS. 

“I congratulate Hedayat Osyan for his many achievements and commitment to providing work for a vulnerable community that needed a trusted partner to help them build pathways for their careers and livelihoods.”

CEO of Australia for UNHCR, Trudi Mitchell, said Mr Osyan was a standout candidate for this year’s award.

“Hedayat identified a key need in the community and has since empowered dozens of refugees to become self-sufficient. The judges were impressed by his determination to make a difference in a very tangible way.”

The Les Murray award was judged by Australia for UNHCR CEO Trudi Mitchell, UNHCR Regional Representative Adrian Edwards, SBS Editor of Australia Explained Roza Germian, and Australia for UNHCR Board Member Lynn Dang.