In times of crises
Diaspora engagement takes on a multitude of forms and one of them is crisis response, where the communities play an important role in assisting their compatriots, usually at a local or regional level. But how can they be supported to conduct their work as efficiently and effectively as possible?
The second of three Diaspora Learning Network (DLN) seminars was committed to this question. Convened by the DLN, an initiative of Diaspora Action Australia, the seminar took place at the Western Sydney University in Parramatta and included representatives from diaspora organisations such as South Sudanese Voices of Salvation, the Nuba Mountains Association of South Australia Inc, the Assyrian Aid Society and the Akademos Society.
The seminar aimed at gathering insights which will then be applied to develop a policy brief that will be made available to the public. It will outline practical measures to enhance support to peace processes through diaspora engagement.
The lively discussions were based on personal experience as participants and guest-speakers provided examples of the challenges they face. Nora Michael, from the Assyrian Aid Society of Australia (AAS-AU), said that besides supporting education, they provide continued relief and humanitarian aid during times of crisis. She emphasised that banding together with humanitarian organisations is crucial to respond adequately to basic needs.
Apajok Biar, from South Sudan Voices of Salvation (SSVS) also stressed the importance of providing a platform to create awareness for disasters and crises, which ideally translates into more funds. SSVS activities take place all across Australia and include providing capacity through training, advocating for the community and raising money for livelihood initiatives for internally displaced persons in South Sudan. An example of the organisation’s work were their activities during the South Sudanese famine last year, “…we didn’t want to be another organisation that provides [just] aid, we wanted to train them to support themselves.” Thankfully, the famine has been downgraded but there is an ongoing need for assistance.
Crucial during crises is also communication. As Nora Michael explained: “We are in direct contact with people on the ground. This gives us an advantage because we know exactly what they need and where they need it. That’s how we know what the most effective and efficient response to a crisis is.” Speaking of communication, Shukufa Tahiri from the Refugee Council of Australia and the Akademos Society, noted that community-led initiatives like the Hazara Enlightenment Movement is a prime example of the usefulness of social media to raise awareness and garner support. With over 380,000 twitter posts about issues of equality, peace and democracy, Shukufa considers this proof of the community’s desire for change and their dedication to place those topics firmly on the public agenda.
The round-table discussions soon moved on to the challenges faced by diaspora organisations when trying to assist their communities. Red tape they agreed on, is one barrier which often prevents an effective and timely response. “When you are dealing with people that have had to flee their homes in the middle of the night … you need to get the funds to them as soon as possible, without the holdup of paperwork” says Nora Michael. Also, as Abdullah Teia from the Nuba Mountains Association of South Australia Inc adds, “logistics is often a problem as it’s very costly and often difficult to send basic goods to refugee camps, where people are located”.
Forums such as the DLN seminars provide a valuable opportunity to broaden connections between diaspora groups and to increase knowledge of the significant contribution made by diaspora groups in times of crises. We thank all the participants, our facilitator, Louise Olliff, Senior Advisor, Refugee Council of Australia and DLN committee member; Professor Andre Renzaho, Western Sydney University and Dr. Nichole Georgeou, Director, Humanitarian & Development Research Institute (HADRI) Western Sydney University for their contributions and ongoing support.
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Save the date:
Diasporas in Action conference
26 – 27 September, Old Arts, The University of Melbourne