Australia’s stance on immigration and asylum seekers is a contentious debate.  The issue is fraught with conflicting messages of acceptance, regulation and deterrence, but despite this, our communities show tell-tale signs of visas being granted.

Illawarra based non-for profit organisation, SCARF (Strategic Community Assistance to refugee Families) is attempting to help refugee families settle into Australia.

As a self-professing multicultural nation it is easy to assume that settling in to assigned communities would be simple.  But language barriers, differing levels of computer literacy, and a lack of community contacts complicate the process.

SCARF is a community-based association that utilises mentoring and training grants to help empower refugee families. It acts as a complimentary program to established service providers, and seeks to provide solid foundations within the Illawarra.  The organisation has numerous partners, which include the University of Wollongong.

The university’s residential campus International House has previously used students to help teach computer literacy and practice conversation skills to SCARF participants.

Swati Dharmaraj, the Program Coordinator at UOW’s Centre for Student Engagement and previous SCARF mentor, believes the program is vital to Australia’s development as a multicultural nation.

“SCARF spreads awareness of refugee and immigration issues that Australia is involved with, and promotes and creates a multicultural, diverse and accepting Australia”, she said.

During her time at SCARF, Ms Dharmaraj was previously the Resident Program Coordinator (RPC) at International House and helped with homework for high school students, and did IT tutorials and mentoring sessions. She attributes her involvement to her passion for equality.

“Everyone deserves equal opportunity. I also loved learning about the cultures involved.”

The current RPC, Tessa Lumsden, says the program is in direct alliance with the college’s umbrella aims.

She said, “International House encourages our students to be intercultural leaders, and sometimes we need to focus our efforts on projects that are in our own backyards.”

As an established member of an international community, Ms Lumsden is well versed about intercultural issues.

“While International House is an idealistic cross section of an international community, it’s proof that cultural differences don’t have to divide the community”.

“We’ve had international students mentoring refugees, and domestic students taking on an active roll in the process as well. I’d certainly like to see more involvement in the future”, she said.

Words by: LEX GUIDER

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