The successful resettlement of Karen refugees in Nhill features prominently in a new book published this week, in which refugees tell their stories on starting a new life in Australia.
Refugee employment and settlement service AMES Australia has published the book Refugee Stories: In their own words, after playing an important early role in bringing the Karen to the Wimmera in 2009.
Author and AMES Public Affairs Manager Laurie Nowell said the book is a collection of stories about refugees who fled their homelands and found safety and security in Australia.
“(The Karen chapter) is an extraordinary story that has had a lot of resonance around the country regarding the conversation around refugee settlement,” he said.
Mr Nowell said the process, started by former Luv-a-Duck General Manager John Millington, is detailed in the book.
“We started collecting these stories a few years ago for our website, and when they got to a critical mass, I realised we had enough for a book. It’s really aimed at informing ordinary Australians why it is people flee their countries, their loved ones, their jobs,” he said.
“And also to explain to people why Australia needs a significant and generous refugee settlement system, which we do have.”
Mr Nowell said Nhill had plenty to be proud of in its embracing of the Karen community, and that AMES had used lessons learned from the success in the Wimmera when assisting in the settlement of Karen, Afghani and Sudanese refugees in Bendigo.
“We’ve actually done a study on its success, and it was all about having both sides understand where the other was coming from,” he said.
“We introduced the Karen to the town very systematically, and talked to the people living in Nhill about who these people were, why they were coming and what the benefits were.”
From an initial settlement of five families, there are now about 260 people of Karen ethnicity living in Nhill, out of a total of 2200 people in town.