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Former refugee elected to lead RCOA

Former refugee elected to lead RCOA

Refugee-led advocacy has been significantly boosted with the election of a former refugee from Bosnia-Herzegovina as head of Australia’s peak body on refugee policy.

Jasmina Bajraktarevic-Hayward, who was resettled in Australia in 1993, yesterday was elected President of the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA), the sixth person to lead the organisation in its 40-year history – and the first with lived refugee experience.

“People with lived experience have a unique and deep understanding of refugees’ lives, needs, strengths and challenges, making it imperative they are in positions that have a profound effect on the future of refugees,” Ms Bajraktarevic-Hayward said.

“RCOA recognises this, and has strived consistently for people with lived experience to be involved at the highest levels of advocacy and policy. So I am honoured and excited by this opportunity, but I am not surprised that RCOA would push to have someone with lived experience as President.”

A Social Worker and Community Services Coordinator with the NSW Service For The Treatment And Rehabilitation Of Torture And Trauma Survivors (STARTTS), who has nearly 30 years of experience working in the refugee field in Australia and overseas, Ms Bajraktarevic-Hayward said she would continue “supporting the excellent work of the Refugee Council staff and Board”.

“I will specifically continue working on refugee-led advocacy – giving the centre stage to people with lived experience,” she said.

Ms Bajraktarevic-Hayward said RCOA’s role was increasingly important in the context of overseas developments, primarily in Afghanistan, but also in Ethiopia, Myanmar, Sudan and other locations.

“Australia needs to increase its humanitarian intake overall, increase its intake from Afghanistan, and facilitate family reunion via providing permanent protection for temporary visa holders, particularly for those from Afghanistan,” she said.

“We also need ongoing and increasing support for refugee-led advocacy by creating spaces and amplifying voices, training and mentoring, and access to resources.

“One thing I won’t forget while doing this job, is that working in the refugee space is not about you and your life, your career or profile. It is about creating change as sought by those whose lives it impacts.”

Outgoing president Phil Glendenning said it was always the intention of RCOA to have people of lived experience at the highest levels possible and thus he was delighted by the election of Ms Bajraktarevic-Hayward. He also said her election was “an inspirational choice and a great step forward for the Council and its work”.

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