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Byron Shire
May 23, 2024

Welcoming refugees into our community

Latest News

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Back row: Isabelle from OS4R, Essam (dad), Rahaf’s teacher Abelia Hissink from Brunswick Heads Public School, Rabiaa (grandmother), Kikki (OS4R), BHPS Principal Jodie Ridegeway. Front row: Kate (OS4R), seven-year-old Rahaf who moved here with her family from Syria, Douua (mum) and little brother Drgham. Photo Aslan Shand

Seven-year-old Kurdish refugee, Rahaf, moved to the area just over a year ago with her parents and younger brother. They are refugees from Syria and are supported by the Ocean Shores 4 Refugees (OS4R) group. 

Her grandmother, Rabiaa, was able to join them at the beginning of this year.

Isabelle Borrelli, who is a member of the OS4R group, and Vice President of the Ballina Region 4 Refugees speaking about welcoming refugees to Ocean Shores. Photo Aslan Shand

‘We were so excited to be the first group to welcome people here under CRISP (Community Refugee Sponsorship Program),’ said Isabelle Borrelli, who is a member of the OS4R group, and Vice President of the Ballina Region 4 Refugees (BR4R).

‘It started in our street, then went to our networks and we had up to nine women come on board,’ she told Monday’s gathering at the Lennox Head Cultural Centre. 

Governor General, David Hurley, was at the celebration of Refugee Week and World Refugee Day, reminding Australians that CRISP is about ‘helping people move from trauma to triumph’.

Isabelle Borrelli from OS4R, Jodie Ridgeway principal of BHPS, Gonenor General David Hurley, Rahaf’s teacher Abelia Hissink with Rahaf. Photo supplied

He said, ‘People have to reach out and connect people together. That is what CRISP is doing. Creating people-to-people links.’

The gathering heard from a number of refugees who had been welcomed to the region under the CRISP program who came from Syria and Venezuela.

Mary is a Syrian refugee living in Ballina who spoke to the audience in English having studied the language intensively since her arrival.

‘I don’t know every word,’ said Mary. ‘I have new friends and family in Australia. We share our culture and learn about Australian culture.’

Joanna Matricardi, who is one of the group that has helped support Mary, said that she had words stuck to ‘literally everything. Mary has literally learnt English in the last seven months.’

Mary from Sweet Mary Sweets speaking about coming to make her life in Australia. Photo Aslan Shand

As part of the support for Mary they identified a potential business opportunity with Mary’s cooking of traditional Syrian sweets and Sweet Mary Sweets was born. 

‘It’s not just the refugees that benefit, we feel like we have grown our family.’

So far there have been two families welcomed to Ballina, one Syrian and one  Venezuelan, and Rahaf’s family in Ocean Shores. 

‘All these groups are supported by the Ballina Region for Refugees,’ said Isabelle. 

‘There is a second Ocean Shores group that has been formed and they are preparing to welcome a new family in August, also from Syria.’

Rahaf with her teacher Abelia Hissink and mother Douua. Photo Aslan Shand

Settling in well

After just a year at Brunswick Heads Public School, Rahaf is already interpreting for her family, as they are supported to become an integral part of the local Ocean Shores and Brunswick Heads communities. 

‘It takes drive and organisation,’ said Isabelle. 

‘But we can do it. If you are thinking of setting up a group to assist with refugee settlement then get in touch. 

‘We have got so much from Essam, Douua and their family being here as part of our community.

‘We are a very privileged society, even after the flooding, we have a huge amount to give.’

You can find out more at: www.br4r.org.au.

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  1. Refugees from one US proxy war and another US economic sanction war.
    I welcome them a safe stay in Oz but when can we put a stop to the bloodshed and suffering inflicted by US empire?


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