What happened to Tasmania's intake of Australia's 12,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees?

Australia welcomed thousands Syrian and Iraqi refugees in a one-off intake beginning in 2015, but finding affordable housing and the desire to join larger migrant communities on the mainland meant not all of those settled in Tasmania stayed.

The Matloob family together in their Hobart home

The Matloob family have fallen in love with Tasmania. Source: SBS News: Sarah Maunder

Nashwan Matloob and Naderah Shahsha fled Iraq with their three young daughters and Nashwan’s mother in 2014 when IS invaded the city of Mosul.

Naderah was working as a teacher and Nashwan left behind a metalwork business.

They travelled to Jordan as refugees and lived in the capital, Amman, for two years. It was there that they applied to enter Australia. 

The family of six were part of a group of 12,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees who were brought to Australia in a one-off intake by the-then Abbott government, granting them permanent residency.

The family were settled into Hobart in 2016 and their three daughters are now attending school in Hobart.

“At the beginning it was hard for [my daughters] because of the different language, but then they started school, and life is going step by step,” Nashwan told SBS News. 

“[The girls] have got good English and many friends, and they are happy at the school. We’ve got a lot of Australian friends.”

Nashwan Matloob with his mother, Victoria.
Source: SBS News: Sarah Maunder

During the year 2015-16, 568 refugee and humanitarian entrants were referred to Tasmania, according to figures from the Department of Home Affairs.

Of those, 136 were from the special intake from Syria and Iraq and 432 were from the base Humanitarian Program.

But many of them would soon leave Tasmania. 

Father Shammi Parera is the vicar general of the Catholic Archdiocese of Hobart and chaplain for migrants, refugees and asylum Seekers. 

“Initially there was quite an exodus of Syrian and Iraqi refugees,” he said.

“But most of them, after their initial one or two weeks, went to small pockets of Arabic speaking communities back on the mainland.”

Father Shammi Perera says many of the Syrian and Iraqi refugees that came in 2016 have since moved to mainland Australia.
Source: SBS News: Sarah Maunder

A spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs said: "humanitarian entrants, like other permanent residents of Australia, are free to determine their place of residence and can move to other locations after arrival".

During that time in Tasmania, the Archdiocese of Hobart Catholic Church settled the Syrian and Iraqi refugees into the state through its Humanitarian Settlement Service program. The program is no longer running because it lost the government contract. 

The Humanitarian Settlement Service was assisted by social services agency CatholicCare at the time, which helped with things such as banking, housing and healthcare.

Father Shammi says there are about 20 Syrian and Iraqi families that have remained in Hobart.

“The main challenge has been lack of housing, accommodation, [the families] are seeking some stability, but due to a lack of housing in Hobart some of them were attracted to the mainland,” he said.

Catherine Doran is the director of strategy and development at the Migrant Resource Centre in Hobart.

She said it’s not uncommon for refugees in regional areas and smaller cities to relocate to bigger centres such as Sydney or Melbourne. 

“Often when people first arrive here, they may actually have close contacts with family members or good friends that are located in other cities,” she said.

“There may also be limited community networks here, so people again may wish to move to a place where there are stronger community networks, and that could just be a cultural need or potentially faith-based as well.”

Catherine Doran from the Migrant Resource Centre in Hobart says it’s not uncommon for refugees to relocate to bigger cities like Sydney or Melbourne.
Source: SBS News: Sarah Maunder

But Nashwan and Naderah, who are both in their 40s, along with their three daughters, have fallen in love with Tasmania.

Nashwan initially found part-time work as a cleaner and then as a metalworker, but had to stop working because of his ankle surgery. He is hoping to find work again soon.

Naderah worked as a teacher in Iraq for 10 years. Her qualifications are not recognised by Australia but she has since been volunteering at a local language school teaching Arabic to young humanitarian entrants while studying at TAFE. She also hopes to one day return to teaching.

“My plan is to get a good job, and it’s important for me to buy a house,” Nashwan said.

“The girls are going well, and they will get a good life here.”

Father Shammi said the children of the Syrian and Iraqi families have picked up English quickly.

“Last year we did a language immersion program especially for the young Iraqi and Syrian children,” he said.

“They are fast picking up English, and slowly forgetting their mother tongue, so it was a bit of a concern for the parents.”

Naderah is proud to still call Tasmania home. 

“We like Tasmania, it’s a beautiful place. We are enjoying this place, [it's a] safe place and quiet,” she said. 

“I will make myself strong to be a good mother and my girls to be good in the future. All of them want to make a good life, happy life, and do a good job.”

Published 27 June 2020 at 8:35am
By Sarah Maunder