Arash Bordbar came to Australia as a young man having fled Iran and faced five long years of persecution in Malaysia as a refugee. He has consistently worked away at trying to help others throughout his life. Now settled in Parramatta in Western Sydney, he has devoted his time to helping people in his community navigate life and find their passion, especially for young people. Throughout COVID, his workload has nearly tripled, but he has found a way to continue to push through and help these young people navigate an immensely difficult period while working with Community Migrant Resource Centre.
I came to Australia about five years after fleeing from Iran. I got resettled to Australia through the humanitarian process of UNHCR but I'd been in Malaysia for about five years previously, living there until we got resettled to Australia. That's a snapshot of how we got here, but there have been lots of struggles on the way. In Malaysia, because they did not sign the refugee convention of 1951, they consider you an illegal immigrant. So you have no rights, you have no access to anything, no education, no employment or limited health. So that was quite difficult. I had to finish my high school online because I couldn't go to school in Malaysia.
But along the way, I kept myself busy and positive by doing a lot of work volunteering for the humanitarian sectors with refugees and with other migrants in Malaysia. It started with a health organisation called Health Equity Initiative. It was like case work and interpretation, consultation and support generally and I was also working with UNHCR Malaysia whilst also doing some case work, taking them to the courts and working with local organisations, gathering young people and sharing information. Finding some vocational training and employment opportunities in a cafe or elsewhere for them. So trying to lead and support them with their lives basically.
Then when I came to Australia, I continued the same way but also I had the privilege to start my study again. Once we got here, I think the first or second week that I started studying English at TAFE to get a certificate because that was something that I needed to be able to get into university here or other further qualifications. Whilst I was studying I started to volunteer with some of the settlement organisations and got involved in running youth symposiums and events and also sharing my experiences and skills with other young people who were newly arrived here.
Then for the last three years, I've been working as a settlement support worker at CMRC in Sydney. I've been helping some young people around employment and education, so I support their integration. Helping them to find a passion and pathway and to find out where they want to get and how to get there. But during COVID it has been tough. Especially when you are working with young people, especially people from CALD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse) backgrounds, they like to get together and meet people in person. But we haven't been able to do that. So it has been a big shock for a lot of people, but especially for those I work with because we had some support and programs we had to cancel which were face to face. So we had to do training to adjust to a virtual environment.
However, for me, the COVID experience has been interesting. Working in the humanitarian space in the community, it is possible rather than thinking about what you are doing and thinking of yourself and your problems; you are constantly reminded that you have to find ways to help others. So you know for the past five or six months, that's been the case, we have been thinking how do you reach and share information.
I have been running workshops, and international campaigns in terms of personal contributions and refugees, in general, called the #foryou campaign, engaging with refugee doctors to share information in the mother tongue, like in Arabic, Kurdish or Assyrian or the different languages we have. I'm also leading a campaign called Australian Universities Leading Inclusivity, which is with UNHCR and a few other organisations in our region. So that has kept me busy and has kept my mind off the challenges we are going through.