Australia evacuated thousands of people from Kabul after Afghanistan’s capital fell to the Taliban last month. Seventy-six of those Afghan refugees arrived in Newcastle soon after.

Federal Member for Newcastle Sharon Claydon and Reverend Dr Rod Pattenden are encouraging the community to help donate to the new families in Newcastle. Photo source: Adamstown Uniting Church.

SSI (Settlement Services International) and NSS (Northern Settlement Services) have been facilitating the resettlement in Newcastle, and Reverend Doctor Rod Pattenden from Adamstown Uniting Church has also been playing a part in welcoming our new residents.

“We are helping to collect vouchers so they can purchase food and suitable clothing for their kids,” he said.

The community response has been heartening.

Afghan refugee and former coach of the Afghan women’s football team Khorsand Yousofzai said he was looking forward to the future here.

“Many thanks to the Newcastle community for your generous donations,” he said.

“I’m really looking forward to buying some much-needed essential items and start my new life here in Australia.”

Helen Larkin is the Regional Coordinator for the Newcastle and the Hunter Humanitarian Settlement Program division with SSI, who has been overseeing Afghan refugees settle in Newcastle after last month’s events.

“SSI Newcastle work with refugees for up to 18 months for their on-arrival needs,” she said.

“In the first week they arrive we work through initial needs – what do you need to live in Australia?

“We start the process with on-arrival accommodation, we help with opening bank accounts, applying to Medicare, a tax file number, linking to Australian services for benefits, enrolling children in schools, enrolling adults in English programs, further education whether that is a trade or university, money management skills.

“By teaching these skills it helps with the long-term goals.”

While Afghan refugees who fled Kabul last month are still in the early stages of settling in Newcastle, Larkin said things were going well.

“It is so rewarding watching families reunite, especially with family members who have been kept apart for such a long time with travel restrictions, the ones who returned to Afghanistan pre-COVID and were unable to return to Australia, permanent residents who are now back after all this time, it is so beautiful to see,” she said.

“The permanent residents and new arrivals who have seen the devastation in Kabul are concerned for the ones left behind and are wondering what will happen to them.”

Larkin said the response from the local community so far had been overwhelming. 

“I have received so many phone calls offering support, accommodation and a ‘how can we help?’ approach,” she said.

“I believe this situation has really tugged on the heartstrings of our local community.”

The Newcastle community has donated thousands of dollars worth of vouchers
for Afghan refugees but more help is needed.

Adamstown Uniting Church has been accepting donations and “handing donations over to SSI to go into the hands of refugees,” Rev Dr Pattenden said.

“So far, we have had over $10,000 in vouchers given, but between 76 people that goes a little way to covering their basic needs so we are still looking for more donations.

“It’s a good way to express welcome to people who have literally just gotten off the plane from Kabul.

“They’ve got nothing, so it’s a great expression of Australian welcome and hospitality.”

What can Novocastrians do to help?

Now that the on-arrival needs have been met, SSI is moving on to wider goals for clients such as sports programs, swimming lessons, digital literacy and education.

“We are still appealing for monetary donations from the community, where people can donate through our website,” Helen Larkin said. 

“Rest assured, Novocastrian donations through our website will go directly to refugees settling in Newcastle.

“Locals can also volunteer with our organisation to help these people integrate into our community.”

To help donate visit the following websites below:

https://northern-settlement-services-limited-102624.square.site

https://app.betterimpact.com/PublicEnterprise/230cfbab-8da7-428d-9a01-38ca1f229067

Jayden Fennell and Maia O’Connor

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