06 August 2014
4 min read

We think investing in activities that have a positive impact on the planet, people and animals goes beyond just investing in companies.

We want to support organisations and projects in our community that are leading the way in creating positive environmental and social change. To help us achieve this, each year we donate 10 per cent of our annual gross profits to charitable and benevolent causes and conservation projects via our Community Grants Program.

In 2013, the Asylum Seekers Centre in Sydney’s Newtown was chosen as one of ten not-for-profit and social organisations to receive money through the program.

Jo Morley caught up with the Asylum Seeker Centre’s CEO, Melanie Noden, to find out how the grant has helped provide employment opportunities and other assistance to asylum seekers.

What is the Asylum Seekers Centre?

The Asylum Seekers Centre provides practical and personal support for asylum seekers living in the community. Our services include casework, accommodation, financial relief, legal advice, health care and counselling, employment assistance, education, advocacy, food and recreational activities.

We are a not-for-profit organisation and rely on the generosity of individual donors and volunteers as well as foundations and trusts to undertake our work.

We are currently supporting over 1,300 women, men and children from over 52 countries who have had to flee conflict, persecution, war and terror. Many are survivors of torture and trauma. They are seeking protection in Australia and waiting on the outcome of their visa applications. Every day we support at least 50 people who are in need of help.

The Centre has 16 full-time equivalent staff who are supported by a corps of over 200 volunteers. Not only are they the first people asylum seekers meet when they arrive, but they enable us to provide a warm welcome and the supporting services our clients need as they start to build a new life in Australia.

What are you trying to achieve as an organisation?

On arrival at the Centre, 80% of asylum seekers are homeless and have no financial support, 70% receive absolutely no government support, 50% have no work rights and 98% need mental health counselling to help them recover from the trauma they have experienced.

Our immediate focus is on providing them with basic needs such as accommodation, financial relief, legal advice, health care, food, clothing and assistance with their protection applications. Once they are feeling safe and settled, we also help them to become more self sufficient and independent. This includes providing English and computer classes, employment assistance and social support.

What has support from the philanthropic community enabled you to do?

Our Employment Assistance Service (EAS) is entirely funded by philanthropic partners including Australian Ethical Investments and Gandel Philanthropy. This empowers us to increase our capacity to recruit and support a high calibre team of volunteers. These 25 volunteers who serve as one on one job advisors, employer relations specialists and research and administration specialists.

Philanthropic support also enabled us to reach out to more and larger employer partners.

What are you trying to achieve through the Employment Assistance Service?

Finding work is of utmost importance to asylum seekers. It restores their self-esteem, dignity and pride by providing them with the financial independence they so desperately need in order to start a new life.

We work with each person on an individual basis to help them find a job. This involves helping them to prepare their resumes, research job opportunities, interview practice and providing them with referrals to training programs if required. Once they have a job we continue to support them for three months to help them settle in and increase job retention. Our service runs programs aimed at helping them understand the Australian job market and work culture which is often very different to that in their home country.

We also provide a free recruitment service to employers. By working in partnership with businesses, we aim to understand their short and long-term workforce needs so that we can refer the right candidates to them. Not only does this help them diversify their workforce, but it also provides financial stability and dignity to somebody in need.

How has the EAS benefited the community?

Asylum seekers have much to offer Australian communities, especially through the workforce. Many of our clients are highly skilled dentists, doctors or engineers. They bring years of experience, professional expertise, international and multicultural perspectives, as well as a tremendous work ethic to the workplace. It is proven that the employment of asylum seekers helps foster diversity and harmony in the workplace. In our experience, asylum seekers don’t want to take charity – they want to get to work. With the services provided by the EAS, we can offer employers and the community highly motivated, work-ready candidates.

What’s next?

We need support from the philanthropic and business sector to engage more and larger employers for immediate job placements. Many of our clients need to engage in training and study courses to transfer their overseas qualifications to the Australian job market. With little or no government assistance, our clients must work to meet their immediate needs while preparing for a bright future.

With no federal government funding, most of the Centre’s support comes from individuals as well as foundations and trusts. We are always looking for new partners who are willing to employ asylum seekers while they are still on temporary visas. This is a real win-win way to support the Centre, as the vast majority of our clients will make Australia their home and provide you with years of loyal employment service.

If you are interested in supporting the Asylum Seekers Centre as a philanthropic partner or potentially employing asylum seekers via the Employment Assistance Service, contact Angela Keef (02) 9078 1920. 

For more information or to support the Asylum Seekers Centre visit asylumseekerscentre.org.au

To stay up to date and show your support, visit the centre on Facebook