Census opens doors for those seeking refuge

Census form being completed

August 2016

Melbourne is a long way from Mogadishu, the capital of the east African nation of Somalia and Abdul’s home town. So his new role, conducting the Australian Census, is not only a foot in the door to the Australian workforce, it also offers a deeper insight into a very different culture.

Abdul is one of 31 people who have taken part in Brotherhood employment programs and were supported to attain work with the Australian Bureau of Statistics as Census field officers, knocking on doors and offering help to fill out the form for the August 9 Census.

This year Abdul joined our Given the Chance for Asylum Seekers program, which helps people seeking asylum who have work rights to find employment. His employment consultant assisted him to apply for this short term ABS role, and continues to support him as he seeks ongoing work. He is hopeful this job will lead to others in the business and administration area.

‘I have a background in administration and have a lot of skills in that area,’ he says.

Abdul arrived in Australia in 2013, seeking refuge from the conflict in Somalia. A stray bullet from crossfire between government forces and militia has left him with serious nerve damage, and he walks with the aid of crutches.

While Abdul waits to see if he will be accepted as a refugee, work is his main focus, and he is grateful for the support provided by our employment program.

‘My main target is finding a job and I want to study as well,’ he says. His role as a census field officer is a step in the right direction.

Creating a more inclusive economy by investing in refugees

Brotherhood of St Laurence, welcome refugees poster

June 2016

A UNHCR report predicting refugee resettlement states that in 2017, over 1.19 million displaced people globally will be in need of resettlement. Australia will accept at least 13,750 of these people through its offshore program, with an additional 12,000 people arriving from the Syria crisis—our largest refugee intake since World War II.

Research from the Brotherhood of St Laurence has shown that for new migrants and refugees, having a job that matches their skills and qualifications is critical for successful settlement. As well as providing income, employment can help migrants to develop social connections, language and cultural understandings, stability, self-reliance and confidence.

To learn more, read the Brotherhood of St Laurence Blog entry.

New beginnings

Richard, Immaculee and Unity, were welcomed into their new jobs at Benetas' Gladswood Lodge.

September 2015

With support and guidance from the Brotherhood of St Laurence, in September 2015 three aged care graduates started working at Benetas aged care home.

From left, Richard, Immaculee and Unity, were welcomed into their new jobs at a morning tea at Benetas' Gladswood Lodge in Brunswick West, Victoria. Richard and Immaculee completed their aged care course at VICSEG New Futures.

All three completed a Skills Gap training course at the Brotherhood of St Laurence.

In addition to their previous training, Richard, Immaculee and Unity - who are asylum seekers - received employment advice and support through the Given the Chance for Asylum Seekers program.

We wish them best of luck! 

Seeking asylum leads to rewarding job pathway

27 March 2015

A successful electrical engineer in Iran, Mohammed was forced to leave his wife and children behind and flee for his life. Political unrest saw him escape to Australia by boat.

Mohammed received casework support from AMES (Adult Multicultural Education Services) after he was released from detention, which included help to search for housing, as well as basic necessities. But he struggled to find employment or any training opportunities. 

In June 2014, Mohammed was referred to the Brotherhood of St Laurence's Given the Chance for Asylum Seekers program by his AMES case worker. Here, he received career coaching advice and was able to look into opportunities for his prior work as an electrical engineer to be recognised in Australia. 

Unfortunately, without being a permanent resident, it became clear this would be unlikely to happen.
We started working with Mohammed to find other work. His employment consultant at Given the Chance for Asylum Seekers suggested volunteering to gain more skills and experience in Australia and get more opportunities to get paid work. Mohammed agreed and began volunteering at the Brotherhood last August.

Mohammed really enjoyed volunteering for us and constantly thought up new ways he could further support the organisation. Soon, he not only volunteered in the Sunshine warehouse, but also in the new Hoppers Crossing community store.

In the meantime, we continued to support Mohammed to apply for paid work in warehousing and helped him with his job applications, including support with preparing resumes, cover letters and interview training. 
Last October, a role became available at the Brotherhood warehouse in Sunshine and Mohammed applied for it. As he was already volunteering at the warehouse it was a no-brainer and he got the job.

Whenever his employment consultant asks him how he is going, Mohammed never talks about how he is getting on with the job. He talks about how the business is going! Mohammed always knows exactly for how much the second-hand goods can be sold for and keeps a close eye on new opportunities. Whenever he can he will try to find ways to support the Brotherhood. 

He continues to be very grateful and thankful for the opportunities given to him. Working at the Brotherhood is a way for him to give back to the community, after the support he received when he was in need. 
After having worked at Sunshine for almost five months, Mohammed has proven his skill and his enthusiasm. His efforts saw him named Employee of the Month in February.

Mohammed is also starting to look to his future again. He is getting positive news from his lawyer and he is expecting to receive his permanent residency shortly. He is still very keen to further develop himself and wants to undertake a Master's degree. 

It is his dream to one day complete his PhD in Australia in electrical engineering - and to reunite with his family again.

Given the Chance marks 100th participant

BSL Executive Director Tony Nicholson, left, with the Given the Chance 100th participant, Joseph.
BSL Executive Director Tony Nicholson, left, with the Given the Chance 100th participant, Joseph.

20 February 2015

Our refugee employment initiative with ANZ, part of our broader Given the Chance program, has marked its 100th participant.

In February, Joseph was presented with a certificate of participation at an event that celebrated the program’s milestone.

The story of refugees in Australia is inspiring; it’s one of people who have to overcome many barriers, from the trauma of being forced out of homelands by conflicts, to, over here, language hurdles and having to adapt to new ways of doing things in a new home country.

At the Brotherhood of St Laurence we know one of the foundations of making a good life for yourself in this country – whoever you are – is to find paid work. But there need to be strong programs and social supports in place for disadvantaged job seekers to be able to find, be trained for and be retained in those jobs. This is especially so in a fast changing economy with its emphasis on skills, which means workplaces now demand more, not less of all workers. 

The Given the Chance program offers people an opportunity to learn skills on the job. Over the past 7 years, the program has supported Australians from refugee backgrounds with paid work placements at ANZ of four and six months duration, and many have gone on to flourish in careers at the bank. Asylum seekers who have the right to work here are also now eligible for the program.

Given the Chance taps into the huge potential that workers with a refugee background offer to Australian employers, and proves tapping into this valuable human resource is really good for business. 

First park ranger traineeship a refugee’s dream come true

Hsar Thein Ju, a young Burmese refugee who has become the first person to secure a paid Parks Victoria Ranger traineeship.

28 January 2015

A young Burmese refugee has become the first person to secure a paid Parks Victoria Ranger traineeship. Hsar Thein Ju has started a two-year traineeship supported by the Brotherhood of St Laurence.

Hsar arrived in Australia at the age of 16 from the Karen area, after growing up in a refugee camp on the Thailand-Burma border. He speaks four languages, including English, and has been volunteering at Werribee Park and Brimbank Park for the past year in preparation for his traineeship. During that time he has shown great enthusiasm and a strong work ethic in conservation land management and horticulture skills. When the opportunity arose for a paid traineeship funded by Parks Victoria and supported by the Brotherhood, Hsar jumped at the chance. 

The Brotherhood has facilitated Hsar’s traineeship which will require him to complete a Certificate III in Parks and Gardens. General Manager of Work and Learning, Katrina Currie, said the partnership with Parks Victoria's Working Beyond the Boundaries program has enabled Brotherhood staff to assist members of the local Karen community into employment and training. “The flow-on effects of greater self-esteem and financial independence are extremely important to this community; we hope that our continued involvement will help more people into work.”

Asylum seekers at the election front line

8 December 2014

Asylum seekers witnessed democracy in action on election day, Saturday November 29, when they supported new and emerging communities to vote at several inner-urban voting centres.

The Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) recruited 23 multilingual election staff as part of the Brotherhood of St Laurence's Given the Chance program, which supports asylum seekers with work rights to find paid employment.

Program manager Angus Blackburn said the staff were shortlisted based on the number of languages spoken as well as English, and their relevance to new communities within the local area. 

These languages include French, Spanish, Hindi, Swahili and Arabic as well as dialects including Cameroon, Swahili, Ethiopian and Gambian, Amharic, Yoruba, Persian, Dari, Hazaragi, Farsi, Pashto, Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi.

Asylum seekers worked at Atherton Gardens, Fitzroy Town Hall, Richmond Town Hall and in Elizabeth Street, Melbourne, in roles such as voting centre assistant, counting officer, queue control, ballot box guard, office assistant and a mobile voting officer.

"The asylum seekers that we help are very motivated to work and learn about working in Australia," Mr Blackburn says. "They are a diverse group with a whole range of experience from professional roles to skilled labour."

Electoral Commissioner Warwick Gately said that by recruiting these staff the VEC were able to support a large number of new citizens, many of whom voted in their first State election and so may lack confidence or knowledge. "To have someone assist them in their own language will banish the fear of struggling with language to ask for help," Mr Gately said.

Given the Chance - workforce solutions that matter is a free service available to businesses and employers to assist in the recruitment of skilled workers from diverse backgrounds.

Finding a job is hard enough – for a refugee the challenge is multiplied

I left because of the war and sectarian violence against Hazara people. I came by boat alone, leaving behind my family. I was 25." Ahmad Raza came to Australia as an asylum seeker in late 1999.

19 November 2014

"I left because of the war and sectarian violence against Hazara people. I came by boat alone, leaving behind my family. I was 25." 

Ahmad Raza came to Australia as an asylum seeker in late 1999. Refugee and humanitarian arrivals to Australia in recent years are likely to have experienced greater instability and disruption in their lives before migrating compared with earlier arrivals. They are more likely to have spent more time in dangerous and disruptive environments. They are less likely to have worked in the year before arrival and less likely to have worked in skilled occupations in their former country. All these factors work against refugees’ chances of labour market success.

These refugees may have had little or no choice in migrating, had no choice in their country of resettlement and have little or no understanding of employment opportunities in the Australian context.

All of these, sometimes traumatic, uncertainties are likely to contribute to an individual’s feelings of vulnerability and disempowerment in relation to employment. The need to gain employment quickly is especially important for refugees as they attempt to achieve some security but that need can lead to them accepting less desirable jobs or foregoing opportunities to learn English.

As they compound, such experiences – combined with a pre-migration experience of interrupted employment – can have negative impacts on labour market prospects in the long term.

For the vast majority of recent refugees, unemployment means low income, which in turn can exacerbate health issues and present a barrier to well-being in a range of other ways. The ability to secure decent housing, for example, is dependent on income and in turn, sustainable employment.

The Brotherhood of St Laurence's Given the Chance - workforce solutions that matter program not only assists refugees, asylum seekers and other marginalised jobseekers find work, it also supports employers to grow and diversify their workplaces.

To read more, visit ANZ Blue Notes where this blog first appeared Click here.

Media inquiries

Please contact the communications team:
Phone: 0428 391 117 or 0499 300 982
Email: media(at)

Latest media

Brotherhood joins State Government’s Jobs Victoria Employment Network
The Brotherhood of St Laurence (BSL) will join the State Government’s new Jobs Victoria Employment Network to find long-term jobs for disadvantaged Victorians across Melbourne's north and south east.

Woolworths gives asylum seeker recruits powerful leg up into the retail industry
Almost 20 new asylum seekers have found new jobs with Woolworths and more than 60 gained valuable work experience, after the Australian supermarket chain connected with a life-changing program from the Brotherhood of St Laurence.

Refugees crucial to Australias success story
The refugee journey is part of Australia’s success story and has helped shape its multicultural society. There can be no argument the Australia we know today has been built on successive waves of migration. It's also indisputable some of our big contributors have refugee backgrounds.

Make love not war – three clever Australian initiatives that are bringing fringe-dwellers into the mainstream, 23 November 2015, The West Australian
The Given the Chance for Asylum Seekers program is extending a helping hand to asylum seekers with work rights and forging strong bonds within local communities.

Ready, willing and able, AGENDAS magazine, Spring 2015 (PDF)
Read about political refugee Kathy's journey through the Given the Chance for Asylum Seekers program.

Job link program a win-win for asylum seekers and employers, VECCI magazine, Spring 2015 (PDF)
'We are dealing with a group whose motivation is off the scale. At the same time, the employer gets skilled, loyal and motivated individuals to work with.' Read more about the Given the Chance program.

Work remains a mirage for skilled but stymied asylum seekers, The Conversation, 26 August 2015
Assisting asylum seekers to understand and navigate the Australian job market, recognising their skills and working with employers to reduce negative perceptions are key strategies to give them a chance in the workforce.

Business Administration: Heikma Siraj, Australian apprenticeships website
'I want to always learn and continue to improve.' Hear from Heikma who completed a Certificate III in Business Administration with the Brotherhood of St Laurence.

Activists' long haul to cafe dreams coming true, The Age, 21 June 2015
Read about the opening of North Richmond cafe Long Street Coffee, a social enterprise employing refugees referred by the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and Brotherhood of St Laurence.

‘Very loyal’ productive workers: the same people we fear as refugees, The Conversation, 19 June 2015
It's been two years since the Given the Chance program that assists asylum seekers and refugees with work rights into paid work was launched. Here, Andrea Carson explains how the program has exceeded its targets.

Bridging hospitality employment gaps by giving asylum seekers a chance, Hospitality Magazine, 24 March 2015
Given the Chance to Asylum Seekers’ employment engagement coordinator Brian Finnigan speaks to Hospitality Magazine about the innovative recruitment model that works intensively with employers and job seekers. 

Hsar Thein Ju from the Karen community of Burma, Radio Station 774 ABC Melbourne, 3 February 2015
Young refugee Hsar Thein Ju from Burma is the first person to secure a paid park-ranger traineeship with Parks Victoria, in an initiative supported by The Brotherhood of St Laurence. In this segment he talks to ABC Radio 774’s Richard Stubbs.

Find out more about the work of the Brotherhood