Refugee Council of Australia
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The strength within: The role of refugee community organisations in settlement

Case study: Sabean Mandean Association

Volunteer Bita Jayzan receiving an award for her services to the community from Rishema Salah Chohili, religious leader of the Mandaean Community in Australia.
Volunteer Bita Jayzan receiving an award for her services to the community from Rishema Salah Chohili, religious leader of the Mandaean Community in Australia. Photo: SM.A

Mandaeans are an ethnic minority primarily from Iraq practising a monotheistic belief system which recognises John the Baptist. Mandaeans started arriving in New South Wales in 1980 and the Sabean Mandaean Association (SMA) was established in 1982 to assist the settlement of Mandaeans mostly from Iraq and Iran. There are currently around 8,000 Mandaeans in Australia, mostly located in Sydney.

A Synod, Management Committee and eight subcommittees manage the SMA and its activities. The committees (Social and Sport; Entertainment; Community Centre; Youth; Media; Finance; Education and Grants) include people with expertise in financial management, casework, children, youth, event management, settlement of women, cultural issues and sport.

The governance structure of the Association includes annual elections of committees and regular renewal in leadership. SBA has ongoing relationships with settlement service providers and local community organisations (e.g. STARTTS, NSW Health, NSW Police). The Association has more than 100 volunteers and its physical assets include premises in Liverpool with a large modern church, community hall, modern kitchen and offices.

The Association has also acquired land to enable it to practice cultural and religious beliefs. Infrastructure activities and all services are conducted by volunteers and funded by the community itself. The Association has no paid staff and applications for SGP funding have been unsuccessful to date.

The activities of the SMA include:

  • Support for new arrivals (e.g. reception on arrival, filling in applications for financial support).
  • Information sessions coordinated by SMA with local service providers (e.g. NSW Police, Legal Aid, NSW Health and STARTTS).
  • Family casework support for new arrivals.
  • Monthly newsletter.
  • Religious services.
  • An immigration committee that has ongoing communication with Mandaeans in Syria and elsewhere and provides advice to the SMA Board on events affecting Mandaeans in the Middle East. A pro bono lawyer helps Mandaeans at risk overseas with applications for asylum.
  • Community sponsorship (under migration program) by Association members of a small number of Mandaeans at high risk.
  • Youth activities – youth group, soccer club, children’s band, Mandaean choir
  • Children’s playgroup.
  • Camps for Mandaean families.
  • Aramaic language classes (SMA receives some limited funding from NSW Government).

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