REFUGEE SERIES: Dandenong hailed as an example of the contribution refugees making to Australia

Published: November 23, 2012

KATIE DEROSA
TIMES COLONIST

When two migrant ships carrying 568 Tamils arrived off Victoria’s shores, the federal government cracked down, bringing in a tough refugee law that will throw boat people into mandatory detention in provincial jails. The plan is modelled on the one used by Australia — a system that studies say has cost huge amounts of money and has failed. Times Colonist reporter Katie DeRosa, funded by the inaugural the R. James Travers Foreign Corresponding fellowship, travelled to Australia to examine the system and what it could mean for Canada and Canadian taxpayers.

Reza Akbari, a refugee from Afghanistan, runs a busy kebab shop in Greater Dandenong, a city 36 kilometres east of Melbourne, which has a strong Afghan population. Submitted photo

Twenty years ago, Dandenong was struggling to survive. The landlocked city 30 kilometres southeast of Melbourne was dilapidated. Storefronts were vacant. It was almost impossible to rent or sell a home.

Cheap rent attracted a wave of refugees who were eager to find homes for their families and open businesses, but had limited funds.

The influx has revitalized Dandenong in the last decade, making it the most culturally diverse area in the state of Victoria and Melbourne’s only recognized Afghan precinct.

Refugee advocates in Australia say it’s an example of the contribution refugees are making to the community. It also leads critics to question whether detention conditions for asylum seekers who arrive by boat are making it harder for refugees to become contributing members of society.

During a windy afternoon in October, the sidewalks along Thomas Street are filled with people coming and going from the Halal grocery shores, Afghan restaurants, Persian rug stores and shops selling traditional Middle Eastern clothing. Pashto and Dari are heard more often than English, and Afghan music blares from cars as men socialize on the street.

Aman Nigimi, who owns the Afghan Masala Restaurant, has the air of an experienced businessman, though he’s only 27. He’s quick to greet regulars and make them feel at home. A Caucasian woman comes in and asks about a particular type of biscuit. Nigimi gives her the whole biscuit to sample.

The scent of the aromatic spices he uses to flavour his kebabs and tandoori chicken wafts through the restaurant and onto the street.

Nigimi has come a long way since arriving in Australia as a refugee on a boat in 2001, speaking barely any English.

He had a relatively quick journey through the immigration detention system, spending just four months in Darwin before being released on a temporary protection visa.

Nigimi settled in Dandenong, following many other Afghans.

He took English classes and, with the help of friends, scraped together enough money to open the restaurant in 2005. He has been successful enough to expand to a second location.

Now Nigimi tries to help new refugees get settled, showing them where to take English classes or giving them work.

“I help them a lot because I know that most of them, they come here and they can’t speak English,” he said.

Refugees like NIgimi have helped turn Dandenong into a flourishing multicultural community, a transformation Timur Sarwar has watched with interest.

Sarwar was one of the early Afghans settlers to the Dandenong area, arriving in 1987, and now runs an interpretation and translation service called TSG Australia that helps refugees across the country.

“Twenty-five years ago, Dandenong was a dead area. No one was keen to buy a property or rent a shop. Ever since the new arrivals, the good thing is, business has been booming here. It’s creating more jobs for people.”

Sarwar said it also provides an easier transition for refugees, who can find shops, restaurants and clothes from their home countries.

The City of Greater Dandenong has not only embraced multiculturalism, it promotes it as an attraction. Thomas Street was dubbed the Afghan Bazaar in 2009 and is the centre of a monthly cultural tour introduced by the city last year in hopes of drawing tourists.

The tours take visitors through Little India and the Afghan Bazaar, where they can meet the owners, hear their stories and learn about their products.

Grissel Walmaggia, the city’s cultural planning officer, said the tours are a great way to introduce the community to the rich culture of the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

“Council has recognized how important the cultural diversity is to the city. I always say, we don’t have a gorgeous shoreline, we don’t have mountain ranges, but we have our people.”

The city also rents out an Afghan tea trolley service, which employs Afghan refugees so they can learn English and gain work experience.

Jafar Mehri, an Afghan refugee who was able to sponsor his parents and three younger siblings after he was granted a refugee protection visa in 2009. Submitted photo

Jafar Mehri, who is in his early 20s, has been working the tea cart since 2010. The ornate blue and gold cart is stationed at festivals or community events, and Mehri offers a brief lesson in Afghan culture as he serves bitter tea.

“I earned a little bit of money. I helped my family, my parents,” said Mehri, who was granted a refugee protection visa in September 2009. “It helped me with my English as well, talking with different people from different countries.”

Mehri was held in immigration detention on Christmas Island for about four months before being released, and has been able to sponsor his parents, his 18-year-old sister Masooma, five-year-old brother Farman and two-year-old brother Farhan. They all live in a modest bungalow just outside Dandenong. The beige walls are bare, and there’s a mattress in the living room where Mehri sleeps. It’s a full house, but the family is just happy to be together.

Their biggest worry, however, is Mehri’s 16-year-old brother Asif, who is waiting for resettlement in Quetta, Pakistan. Mehri’s request to sponsor him was turned down, because immigration officials didn’t believe they were related. They asked for a DNA test, but Mehri didn’t have enough money. He’s slowly saving income from the tea trolley to have the test done. And so the family waits.

Mehri and Nigimi were processed through the immigration system relatively quickly.

Australia’s Department of Citizenship and immigration reduced the average time in detention to 83 days in September from 277 days in November 2011.

About 10 per cent of the more than 9,300 people in immigration detention have been detained for more than year. Medical studies have shown people are at risk of suffering psychologically after just three months in detention.

The vast majority of people who arrive in Australia by boat — dubbed irregular maritime arrivals — are eventually accepted as refugees. In 2010-11, almost 5,200 people arrived by boat asking for refugee protection.

While only 38 per cent of asylum seekers who arrived by sea were initially found to be refugees, three-quarters of the refused applicants whose claims were reviewed through the Independent Merit Review program were subsequently accepted.

Of the more than 6,300 asylum seekers who arrived by plane, only a quarter were accepted as legitimate refugees. Asylum seekers who arrive by boat are held in immigration detention while their refugee applications are being processed, while

those who arrive by plane are released immediately into the community.
Vancouver refugee lawyer Douglas Cannon says Canada’s new reforms under Bill C-31 will create a similar, two-tiered refugee system where asylum seekers are punished based on their mode of arrival.

“If you do believe Canada should be protecting refugees, punishing people for the manner in which they choose to get here doesn’t make sense at all,” Cannon said.

Jo Szwarc, manager of policy and research at Foundation House, an Australian organization that provides services to refugees who have survived torture and trauma, questions the logic of a regime that locks up genuine refugees and then expects them to be functioning members of society when they’re released.

Szwarc said immigration detention often results in more trauma to vulnerable people who have already suffered in their home countries.

“That you would retard people’s integration into society when they are very likely to be given a protection visa and become our citizens, from a society’s point of view, it’s very expensive and very silly. And from a humanitarian perspective, it’s pretty appalling.”


Tags: ,





Featured

TK

Wounded teen drives himself to Surrey hospital after being shot multiple times

NICK EAGLAND VANCOUVER DESI A 17-year-old male drove himself to hospital in Surrey after being shot multiple times in Newton on Sunday night, according to…
Continue Reading »

DEVGAN

Bollywood film that was to shoot in Alberta ‘indefinitely postponed’

ERIC VOLMERS CALGARY HERALD Don’t brush up your Bollywood dance moves yet, Alberta. Shivay, a Hindi film that was set to start filming in the Rocky Mountains…
Continue Reading »

File photo: The new Surrey City Hall in Surrey, B.C., December 29, 2014. Arlen Redekop/PNG

Surrey named one of top seven most intelligent communities in the world

AMY REID SURREY NOW SURREY — The City of Surrey has been named one of the Top 7 Intelligent Communities of 2015 by New York-based think…
Continue Reading »

LOCAL NEWS

TK

Wounded teen drives himself to Surrey hospital after being shot multiple times

NICK EAGLAND VANCOUVER DESI A 17-year-old male drove himself to hospital in Surrey after being shot multiple times in Newton on Sunday night, according to…
Continue Reading »

DEVGAN

Bollywood film that was to shoot in Alberta ‘indefinitely postponed’

ERIC VOLMERS CALGARY HERALD Don’t brush up your Bollywood dance moves yet, Alberta. Shivay, a Hindi film that was set to start filming in the Rocky Mountains…
Continue Reading »

File photo: The new Surrey City Hall in Surrey, B.C., December 29, 2014. Arlen Redekop/PNG

Surrey named one of top seven most intelligent communities in the world

AMY REID SURREY NOW SURREY — The City of Surrey has been named one of the Top 7 Intelligent Communities of 2015 by New York-based think…
Continue Reading »

Don't Miss...

Vancouver-BC

Raise your hand, send us a selfie and make a statement against racism (with video)

VANCOUVER DESI Vancouver Desi’s digital anti-racism campaign, Raise Your Hands Against Racism, officially kicked off Thursday, with people across the Lower Mainland sending in selfies…
Continue Reading »

miss canada

Miss Universe Canada scores big buzz online with outlandish hockey costume (w/ photos)

THE CANADIAN PRESS MIAMI — Chanel Beckenlehner is hoping to take home the crown at the Miss Universe pageant, but win or lose, she’s scored…
Continue Reading »

A herd of wild elephants from the nearby Amsung reserve forest roam in a paddy field in search of food, in Hajong Bori village, about 35 kilometers (22 miles) east of Gauhati, India, Thursday, March 22, 2007. AP Photo/ Anupam Nath

Tourists trampled to death in India after flash of camera sends elephant in ‘mad frenzy’

VANCOUVER DESI An Indian couple has been trampled to death and a tour guide injured after the flash of a camera sent an elephant in…
Continue Reading »

shiamak

Bollywood dance guru Shiamak Davar gets Canadian dignitaries grooving with a dance lesson

VANCOUVER DESI A number of Canadian dignitaries got their very own personal dance lesson from the guru of Bollywood dance himself, Shiamak Davar, while attending…
Continue Reading »

FILE PHOTO: A nine-year-old Palestinian girl  suffering from scoliosis sits as her mother shows her back x-ray as she is treated by U.S. pediatric orthopedic surgeon Hugh Watts (L) February 18, 2004 at Al-Quds hospital, in Gaza City. Abid Katib/Getty Images

Seven-year-old Scoliosis patient in Western India cured by revolutionary surgery

IANS Mumbai  – A seven-year-old girl in Mumbai suffering from Scoliosis is the first in Western India to successfully undergo a new and revolutionary procedure…
Continue Reading »


Bollywood Latest

PK-Bollywood sex-desi boobs

Anushka Sharma refuses body double, performs her own stunts in upcoming thriller

JIGAR SHAH HINDUSTAN TIMES When actors don the hat of a producer they don’t mind going the extra mile for their own film. This is…
Continue Reading »

Messenger of God

India’s censor board clears controversial guru’s film MSG

HINDUSTAN TIMES The Censor Board has cleared Messenger of God, the controversial film by Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh – self-styled spiritual guru and chief of…
Continue Reading »

Trumpeters from the Indian Border Security Force's Camel Mounted Band play their instruments while riding their camels during the nation's Republic Day Parade in New Delhi on January 26, 2015. Rain failed to dampen spirits at India's Republic Day parade January 26 as US President Barack Obama became the first US president to attend the spectacular military and cultural display in a mark of the nations' growing closeness. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Bollywood celebs salute Republic Day parade

IANS Mumbai  – On the country’s 66th Republic Day on Monday, a host of film celebrities not just recounted their memories of watching the annual…
Continue Reading »