Helping hands to start anew

by | Jun 27, 2024 | Posted to: Case studies | Tags: , ,

“I did not know this much joy would be unlocked,” beamed Maggie Patterson, a CRISP supporter group coordinator based in Goulburn, NSW.

This joy came from welcoming and supporting a Syrian refugee family back in August 2022. The Alkhusi’s had arrived with only a few possessions, no English, and a lot of hope. The father, Mazin, had a simple ask: “We just need a place to have a safe life, because we went through a very difficult
life in the past.”

The Alkhusi’s were among the first of a group of refugees to resettle in Australia under the CRISP (Community Refugee Integration and Settlement Pilot), an initiative that matches a refugee household with a local volunteer group for 12 months. The group welcome the new arrivals at the airport then provide support with things like finding housing, employment, enrolling children in schools and dealing with health and transport needs. The CRISP is modelled on the Canadian community sponsorship scheme which has been in operation since the 1970s and has now been adopted by about a dozen other countries around the globe.

For Maggie, the legacy of Mazin’s previous life was all too evident, “Mazin had been through so much. I can’t believe he survived what he had been through, at the hands of ISIS,” she said. He was kidnapped twice – held and tortured – the first time for 10 days and the second for 10 months, after which they fled to Iraq. Following their arrival to Australia, the family began to embrace their new life in Goulburn, and Mazin, his wife Rouba, and sons Elyas and George, soon became like family to Maggie and the other supporter group members.

Maggie, who has a background in nursing, said she and her group saw themselves as “providing a soft landing” for the refugee family. She had a small, one-bedroom house which the Alkhusi’s stayed in temporarily until they found a more permanent living arrangement.

“There were other people in the community coming out of the woodwork in a whole of community effort to help,” said Maggie. Community support was extensive. Local schools donated tuition, uniforms and even brought in extra resources to support the boys. The local Men’s Shed provided bicycles. Local churches offered welcoming support including offers of conversational language practice. Rotary members offered driving lessons, and a local Arabic speaking couple even donated a car.

“Mazin didn’t expect to feel joy ever again after what he went through. To see him and Rouba and the boys experience joy again, having a safe and supportive space, it’s been so life giving,” Maggie reflected. She believes the CRISP offers ordinary Australians an opportunity to “access a sense of dignity in being part of a solution that can make a difference in refugee settlement.”

“It’s been one of the great highlights of my life,” Maggie expressed. “And for us, by serving one family we feel we’re addressing the ache that we all carry when we see what’s happening in the world.”