Fairfield struggles to cope after threefold increase in refugee arrivals

Old family photo of Aida, Anyoun and their children in Syria

Fairfield in Western Sydney is struggling to resettle refugees after a huge influx of new arrivals, mostly from Iraq and Syria.

Over 3,000 refugees were resettled in Fairfield in 2016 — three times more than the local government area typically accepts in a year.

Fairfield is tipped to take in roughly half of Australia's special intake of Syrian and Iraqi refugees, granted asylum under the Federal Government's special humanitarian intake.

Local government officials said a recent briefing indicated the trend was unlikely to slow anytime soon, because of the need for humanitarian asylum.

Aida Kerfarkes, her husband Anyoun Abdal and their four children arrived in Fairfield seven months ago.

Ms Kerfarkes said they had a good life before the conflict; their eldest son was about to graduate from medical school, and their eldest daughter was just two years away from becoming a pharmacist.

She now has hope for their future in Australia.

"We knew when we got here that this was the place we were going to call home and this was going to be our country," Ms Kerfarkes said.

"Therefore, sitting at home waiting for things to happen wasn't going to make us fit in.

"We decided English is the top of our priority, but also any settlement services available to us we would attend to learn more about this country."

The family are Assyrian, a persecuted Christian minority which has been targeted by the so-called Islamic State.

Their village came under sustained attack and one of their daughters was lucky to survive one of many bombings.

Eventually, they were forced to flee their home and were granted asylum in Australia.

Mr Abdal said it was a confronting time, and the fear of the unknown was very real.

"The feeling was really overwhelming. It was going into a life that we didn't know what to expect," he said.

"It was really sad to be leaving our country because we loved our country.

"I remember being on the aeroplane [to Australia] and thinking 'where are we going? This long 24-hour plane ride!'

"I just kept looking at my wife and my kids and I couldn't stop the tears coming down my face because I didn't know what I was going into."

Ms Kerfarkes and Mr Abdal said they had been overwhelmed by the support they had received since arriving in Australia.

They said they were looking forward to being able to give back to the country that provided them with safety.

'The pressure is on'

Deena Yako is a community development worker at the Parents Cafe Fairfield, which provides assistance to adult refugees, mostly through social outings.

"Fairfield is known to be a community hub, a refugee community hub that does settlement really well," Ms Yako said.

"It has put a bit of pressure on the local schools, local community organisations."

Ms Yako said some outlets were stretched.

"Especially for the smaller not-for-profit organisations that rely on one to two workers," she said.

"There's been a great amount of ethno-specific organisations and religious organisations that have come on board and have been wanting to help and assist.

"The pressure is on."

Fairfield City Mayor Frank Carbone has written to Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to call for more money for refugee resettlement services.

He said a more localised approach was needed, as community groups and services struggled to cope.

"I think that the funding could either be increased or better allocated — it could be put in place in a localised area rather than a regional one, so that it can have a better impact if you will.

"There is a recognition now that a large proportion of refugees are resettling in the Fairfield local government area. It is very difficult when you first arrive, with housing, English language learning and employment services all needed."

He said that many service providers funded by the Federal Government were not located in the actual Fairfield local area.

"While Liverpool or Bankstown might be reasonably close, it is too far for locals struggling to integrate into the Australian system," he said.

"I don't believe the funding is being used as wisely as possible. We have great local service providers, they know how to resettle people. Let them do their work."

Fairfield council is currently working to develop a plan to deal with the surge in new arrivals and anticipates it will be finalised by March.

They hope government assistance will be forthcoming to help ease pressure.

Aida Kefarkes and Anyoun Abdal


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