Carmen Garcia, who ran unsuccessfully against Labor’s Kate Ellis in 2013, is part of a delegation visiting Turkey and Lebanon, despite travel warnings after an Islamic State-attributed suicide bombing last week killed 10 tourists.
Garcia sits on the Federal Government-appointed Refugee Resettlement Advisory Council, whose charter aims to “strengthen social cohesion through the successful settlement of migrants and humanitarian entrants… through maximising social and economic participation”.
The council is focussed on achieving this outcome for the 12,000 additional Syrian refugees the Federal Government last year agreed to permanently resettle in Australia.
Garcia told InDaily the mission was designed to “see firsthand what’s happening on the frontline of the Syrian refugee crisis… and bring back a message to the business community”.
“We want to ensure these additional 12,000 refugees will have the right support and systems in place to enable them to integrate as quickly as possible.”
Garcia, a passionate refugee advocate, chairs the RRAC’s Corporate Engagement Working Group, and is a member of the Friendly Nation Initiative Committee.
The initiative was established by former Business Council president Tony Shepherd and the Migration Council to facilitate the rapid resettlement of the Syrian refugees.
Garcia said her work focused on “employment-led social cohesion… working alongside business and community organisations to tackle our country’s economic and social challenges”.
“Work is so critical to human dignity… it is a critical part of the settlement process we must address,” she said.
“We need to make sure people are at least on a path with vocational literacy and work experience.”
The mission is not Government-funded, but is being supported by the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees).
“They’re managing it, and getting full access,” said Garcia before her weekend departure.
“I’m the only community representative going – it’s very exciting.”
The delegates – around 10 in all – will be meeting with NGOs and UNHCR staff, as well as displaced Syrian families, assessing their command of English and employment attributes, to consider how best to settle them successfully.
“I think information around the previous experiences and skills of refugees is quite limited,” Garcia said.
“Unlike other humanitarian cases, the war (in Syria) is relatively new.”
The Friendly Nation Initiative is seeking business support to raise funds, and provide mentorship and on-the-job training.
But finding genuine opportunities is not that simple.
Garcia says more than half those displaced by the conflict are children, many of whom are aged under five.
Around 30 per cent of them arrive in families headed by females.
“Women and children obviously have a different set of needs,” she said.
“This is an opportunity to speak to families directly, to find out what some of their aspirations and needs are.”
The current Australian Government travel advisory for Turkey urges prospective visitors to “exercise a high degree of caution because of the high threat of terrorist attack”.
For Lebanon, it says visitors should “reconsider their need to travel overall”.
For both countries, visitors are warning not to travel within 5km of the Syrian border.
Only hours ago, rockets said to have been fired from across the Syrian border struck a school in southern Turkey, killing at least one female staff member.
“There have been official warnings, yes,” acknowledged Garcia.
“As a mum, I’ll be exercising caution … but it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.
“We have a role to play.”
She said she was heartened by the business community’s engagement, and desire to be “global citizens”.
“I think generally the [community] response is quite overwhelming in terms of the goodwill, the people asking how they can actually help in a meaningful way,” she said.
“There’s a lot of work to be done… this is about business leaders taking the initiative to get involved, to want to play a stronger advocacy role in this crisis, and how we as Australians can best support it in the most effective way for all of us.”
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