|Issue No 85||23 February 2001|
Refugee Plight Focus of NESB Network
By Mark Morey
A new network of unionists from non-English speaking backgrounds has set the plight of refugees on temporary protection visas as its first priority.
The non-English Speaking Background (NESB) Union Network will work with the Asylum Seekers Centre and the NSW Refugee Health Service to improve the transition of refugees in Australia on Temporary Protection Visas from detention into the community.
At their first meeting this month, the network resolved to investigate of providing work experience to people leaving detention. .
The NESB Union Network has been established to provide an opportunity for unions working with non-English speaking background (NESB) workers to meet bi-monthly and share information, discuss issues relevant to current and potential NESB members, and to identify opportunities to work collaboratively on small projects that will benefit both NESB workers and NSW Unions.
Sylvia Winton Director of the Sydney based Asylum Seekers Centre and Dr Mitchell Smith, Director of the NSW Refugee Health Service addressed the inaugural and outlined how Australia's detention centres are worse then prison. Stories about abuses of human rights within Australia's detention centres are numerous and Sylvia Winton provided her personal experiences with refugees and asylum seekers who had been subjected to solitary confinement, excessive physical force and beatings. One asylum seeker stated to her "I'd rather have died in my country than go through this and put my family through the treatment here.
One of the biggest issues for refugees and asylum seekers leaving detention is their ability to secure work and being able to demonstrate they have local work experience and knowledge of local industries. Both speakers at the meeting stressed that the refugees and asylum seekers have very strong desires to work. Many are not use to being in positions where they are not working and for many, they are certainly not used to accepting money from the government. Many refugees and asylum seekers did not trust governments in their own countries and were fearful of accepting money there. These sentiments continue to be strong even in Australia where they would rather be working and remain self-sufficient
In order to facilitate the progress of developing strategies to address this issue, the Network has undertaken to look into the feasibility of developing and implementing work based mentoring programs within unions for refugees and asylum seekers. The Network is also planning to organise a follow up forum that will invite key ALP politicians to discuss how the current ALP approach to immigration and refugees and how it varies current Coalition policies and practices.
The Network is open to anyone in the union movement interested in issues effecting NESB workers in NSW. For more information contact Labor Council's Special Project Officer Mark Morey on 9264 1691
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