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The strength within: the role of refugee community-led organisations

The second webinar of the new series explored the extent to which refugee community-led organisations are supporting people who are newly arrived in Australia, seeking asylum, or living as refugees elsewhere in the world, and how poorly understood and rarely acknowledged it is. The breadth and depth of assistance provided by mostly volunteer-run community-led organisations – as well as the unique challenges they face – can be invisible to those outside of refugee communities.

The strength within


Maya Cranitch, Chair Refugee Council of Australia


Nedhal Amir, Mandaean Women’s Union in Australia

Blond woman in peasant-style topNedhal Amir came to Australia from Iraq with her husband and four children in 2005, after applying for a humanitarian entrance visa. 

They fled Iraq “because of the religious discrimination,” she said. “My children, they were suffering persecution in school because of religion, because I am from the Mandaean community. Although Nedhal spoke English already, she said adjusting to Australian life was still difficult. “The lifestyle, the rules – all of it – it was a big challenge for us,” she said. 

Nedhal has worked in the resettlement of refugees shortly after her arrival in Australia, she began volunteering at the local community centre supporting individuals and assisting with supporting women’s groups. Shortly after she was employed by CORE Multicultural Services (formally knows and the Fairfield Migrant Resource Centre) as a settlement worker, supporting newly arrived refugees and humanitarian entrants from Iraq and continued her work with Settlement Services International in case management.  

Nedhal established the Mandaean Women’s Union in Australia in 2006 to help the newly-arrived women re-settle with support in the forms of information sessions and outreach courses from TAFE. She has also worked as a reporter at the AL-IRAQI Arabic-language newspaper since 2005 and ALAHAD newspaper for the Mandaean community since 2006. Nedhal continues to work in supporting her local community, empowering women and young people through capacity building and self-representation ensuring that the voices of refugees are at the centre of advocacy and policy.  The capacity to transform her own life and now help others is one reason Nedhal considers herself a proud Australian. “This is my country now,” she said. “It provides safety and a good life for me, my kids and grandkids.” 

Fatma Mohamed, Somali Welfare and Cultural Centre

Fatma is a community worker with qualifications in community development and social welfare. For over 25 years she has worked with the new and emerging communities in numerous roles in NGOS and both local and state government.  

As a volunteer, Fatma works tirelessly for the well-being of African women and children. She is the co-founder of Somali Welfare & Cultural Association (SWCA), a voluntary community organisation that works towards building community capacity for African refugee and migrants in Western Sydney.  

For Fatma working with refugees is a passion that has enriched her life fully.

Kateryna Argyrou, Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisations (AFUO and Australia-Ukraine Chamber of Commerce

Brown-haired woman in black jaketKateryna Argyrou is an investment analyst at Maple-Brown Abbott (MBA), a leading Australian fund manager with over $10bn in assets under management. Kateryna is responsible for the firm’s Real Estate portfolio. Prior to MBA, Kateryna was the Head of Australian Real Estate equities research at Credit Suisse.

Kateryna was born in Ukraine, spent her childhood in Canada, and moved to Australia 10 years ago. She graduated with honours from the George Washington University and the London School of Economics. In her volunteering capacity, Kateryna is Co-Chair of the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisations (AFUO) and a Co-Founder and NSW Representative of the Australia-Ukraine Chamber of Commerce (AUCC).

Jasmina Bajraktarevic-Hayward. President RCOA and Community Services Coordinator, NSW STARTTS 

Woman with long brown hair in red dress next to treeJasmina came to Australia in 1993 as a refugee from Bosnia-Herzegovina. She is a Social Worker (Hon 1, University Medal) and the Community Services Coordinator at STARTTS. Jasmina’s involvement in the refugee field dates back to 1991, when she became involved in work with Bosnian refugees in Croatia through “Suncokret-Centre for Grassroots Relief Work”, an implementing partner of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Jasmina commenced her work at STARTTS in the position of Counsellor/Project Officer (communities of former Yugoslavia) in 1994 and remained in the position until 1999 when she took on the role of a Team Leader at Singleton Safe Haven. She has been in the position of Community Services Coordinator since 2000. Her knowledge and expertise range from individual trauma counselling, through groupwork and community development to management and staff supervision.

Jasmina is the current president of the Refugee Council of Australia.