Refugee Week 2021: a focus on unity
With more people than ever now claiming refugee status across the globe, the importance of Refugee Week 2021 (June 20-26) has never been more pronounced, especially as it helps to shine a light on and celebrate refugee communities in Australia.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, despite the pandemic, the number of people fleeing wars, violence, persecution and human rights violations in 2020 rose to nearly 82.4 million people. That’s a four percent increase on top of the already record-high 79.5 million at the end of 2019. Of these people, 26 million are refugees.
Refugee Week is an annual event that aims to educate the public about refugees and celebrate the positive contributions made by refugees to Australian society. The week is particularly poignant for the trainees at The Bread & Butter Project, Australia’s first social enterprise bakery, which invests 100 percent of its profits into training and employment pathways in the baking industry for people seeking refuge and asylum.
Changing lives for the better
This year’s Refugee Week theme is unity. It focuses on building a more cohesive community by working together to allow all people to thrive and progress. This is a sentiment that’s very close to the hearts of the team behind The Bread & Butter Project.
“We are committed to improving the refugee and asylum seeker experience in Australia,” says Bread & Butter Project Chairperson, Cindy Carpenter. “We believe a vitally important way of doing this is through the provision of gainful employment and English language skills.”
The project offers a six-month paid training program that includes completion of a TAFE qualification, hands-on training, English tutoring and work placements. All of this has a significant impact on the lives of the trainees.
Before joining The Bread & Butter Project, many trainees tick multiple boxes on the Centre for Policy Development’s indicators of employment disadvantage. These include metro-based, female, over 45, poor English language skills and subject to off-shore processing.
“Usually, when we have the opportunity to bring trainees on board, it’s their first paid job in Australia,” Carpenter says. “They often have no formal qualifications, or have qualifications earned overseas that are not recognised in Australia.”
Baking a difference
Since launching in 2013, the program has graduated 55 professional artisan bakers into employment in the hospitality sector. However, Carpenter says outcomes achieved by The Bread & Butter Project are in stark contrast to the typical experience for refugees here.
“The Centre For Policy Development’s Settling Better report identified that three years after arrival, refugees are usually three times less likely to be employed,” she says.
“Indeed, Federal Minister for Education and Youth Alan Tudge recently confirmed that 38 percent of refugees remain unemployed in the first three years after their arrival.”
The vast majority of Bread & Butter Project graduates are now working sustainably and no longer need government assistance. Research has also found that all Bread & Butter Project graduates’ children are either at school or university or in paid employment. This demonstrates a positive intergenerational impact.
Stories of success
Recognising the importance of the refugee journey, The Bread & Butter Project has released two videos to coincide with Refugee Week. The videos honour the trainees who join the program and highlight the courage it takes to start a new life in a new country.
The videos profile Somprasong from Thailand and Tseten from Tibet. They chronicle their lives before The Bread & Butter Project and how the program has changed their prospects since arriving here. Both graduates are now employed full-time, thanks to the training they’ve received. Together they manage The Bread & Butter Project’s concession store within Sydney’s Woolworths Metro Redfern. Here, they carry out on-site mixing, proving, shaping and baking of artisan sourdough breads every day.
Unique tales to tell
“Our trainees come from all corners of the world,” Carpenter says. “They all have unique stories to tell about their experiences before coming to Australia, and about their lives since arriving. We’re hoping to share just a small piece of that through these videos.
“At the same time, we’re encouraging other businesses to share stories of their team members who come from refugee backgrounds. Particularly with the important attention that Refugee Week brings to the issue.”