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A town’s worth of Afghan evacuees settled in Victoria

17 December 20210 comments

Afghan refugee evacuees equivalent to the population of a medium-sized Victorian town have been supported to settle in Victoria since the Taliban seized control of the beleaguered nation in August.

Since the end of August, migrant and refugee settlement agency AMES Australia has welcomed, housed and supported around 2500 Afghan evacuees who were forced to flee their homes after becoming potential targets of the Taliban regime.

This represents the equivalent of the population of a medium size town such as Anglesea or St Arnaud and twice the size of Charlton or Donald.

It also represents a major piece of settlement work on the part of AMES Australia staff, volunteers and partner organisations.

More than 2400 people have been provided with on arrival accommodation; and more than a thousand people – representing around 500 families – have been supported to find their own long term housing.

Around 1100 clients have been referred to employment service providers and almost 100 have so far found jobs or offers of employment.

Each week workshops for the refugees are held on topics and issues around life in Australia, including health services, schooling and education, public transport, renting and accommodation as well as rights and responsibilities under the law.

More than 200 Afghan refugees have arrived in Melbourne on each of the last two weekends.

In the early days of the emergency response, AMES Australia’s accommodation team found 800 beds in a matter of just a few days to accommodate the first arrivals.

AMES’ settlement and employment teams have also risen to the challenges of supporting the Afghan evacuees.

More than 2000 vaccinations have been administered to clients, with the vast majority now double dosed.

There have been 200 orientation sessions delivered, more than 2500 medical referrals and three babies delivered safely.

AMES’ settlement teams have met dozens of flights, working with Quarantine Victoria to get the refugees though the hotel quarantine process; and there have been hundreds of referrals to English language schools for children and English courses for adults.

Meanwhile, refugee trauma agency Foundation House has co-located at AMES accommodation sites to provide support and counselling to the Afghan evacuees.

AMES CEO Cath Scarth said that in normal years, before the COVID-19 pandemic, the organisation would support around 4000 refugees to settle here.

“With international borders closed, we have seen very few arrivals in the past 20 months. But in fifteen days around the end of September we welcomed almost 2000 people,” Ms Scarth said.

“Almost all of them needed housing, food, clothing, personal necessities, medical and mental health care, COVID vaccinations – and reassurance that things would be OK,” she said.

“So, as you can imagine, it was a massive piece of work confronting us. I’m proud of the way AMES staff and volunteers responded to the challenge; and I’m also impressed and grateful for the offers help and the tangible support we received from the broader community,” Ms Scarth said.

Afghan evacuee Atefa Ibrahimi says she feels safe and well supported in Melbourne after a dramatic escape from Kabul on August 21; and since arriving, her father has undergone life-saving brain surgery.

“We feel very lucky to be Australia. My father is recovering well and as a women, I am grateful to be able to study and work without any discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, religion or anything else,” Ms Ibrahim said.

“In my country this would now not be possible. But here in Australia, I can follow my dreams,” she said.