From the CEO, 15 September 2020

15 September 2020
Office of CEO Good News Thought Leadership SDG

From the CEO

Cath Scarth, AMES Australia CEO

What we can learn from refugees, migrants in a pandemic

There has recently been some ugly commentary that has effectively blamed the second wave of COVID-19 cases on some of our diverse communities.

This is not only mean-spirited and divisive, it is also clearly wrong. And it risks isolating some of our emerging communities even more than has been the case because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Throughout this crisis, many members of these communities have felt that they’ve been left behind or ignored, even though they are among the most vulnerable to the negative health and economic effects of the pandemic.

And these vulnerabilities also include less obvious effects such as digital poverty and lack of access to services or training and education.

While we at AMES Australia have been working hard, along with community partners, to communicate important COVID-related messaging to communities and to support vulnerable families in terms of helping them access the things they need, there is clearly a need to rethink the way our diverse communities are engaged and included in times of crisis.

And, in times like these, we should look to what we can learn from our diverse communities – many of whom are refugees who have survived much more draconian lockdowns than the one we currently face; as well as conflict, persecution, trauma, torture and the loss of loved ones.

We know from our work in supporting them that refugees – and migrants for that matter – have amazing levels of resilience and resourcefulness.

They are desperate to work and contribute; they want to fit in and integrate into local communities and overwhelmingly they want to engage with the broader society. In short, they want to feel they belong here.

Surveys we have conducted show more than 60 per cent of migrants and refugees volunteer in their local communities; in schools, in sports clubs, in churches or places of worship and with community groups.

During last summer’s bushfires we saw several refugee and migrant organisations step up to provide meals to exhausted firefighters.

Refugees and migrants also have an optimistic view of Australia’s future. Another recent survey, conducted during the COVID-19 crisis, found that 72 per cent felt that things would return to normal soon – compared with just 18 per cent among Australian-born residents.

And the surveys found more than 90 per cent were following pandemic health advice

This speaks volumes about the resilience of refugees and migrants, many of whom have survived difficulties far beyond COVID-19 has foisted on most of us in Australia.

You’ll be able to see that resilience manifest in this year’s Heartlands 2020 arts project, which is themed ‘Stories from the Inside’.

We’ve put together a stunning exhibition of photography and digital work by five refugee and migrant artists giving an insight into the experiences of multicultural communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With a perfect storm of the largest refugee crisis in history and the most deadly infectious pandemic in a century, the Heartlands project gives insight into how some of the communities who have found a safe haven in Australia in recent years are coping in difficult times.

Despite the pandemic, the aim of Heartlands remains to try to transcend cultural barriers and reveal the hopes, dreams, challenges and everyday lives of people who make up our migrant and refugee communities

The images provide fascinating glimpses into the experiences of multicultural communities through the prism of life in lockdown.

One of the people contributing work this year is Bosnian-Australian artist Saidin Salkic. Saidin survived the horrors Srebrenica massacre and later saw his father shot dead in TV news report.

After arriving in Australia as a refugee, he has overcome trauma and rebuilt his life. He is now one of the nation’s leading contemporary artists.

If that’s not resilience, I don’t know what is…

Heartlands 2020: Stories from the inside launches on September 24. Don’t miss it!

15 September 2020