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1000+ people supported through SSI’s Humanitarian award-winning, Welcome-2-Sydney Program By Gulnur Guzel

Welcome2Sydney: vital support for those struggling with COVID

No matter where you are in the world, being a refugee or an immigrant is not easy. Being away from your home and country and being forced to do so is not something to be envied. First of all, you become the “other” in the country you go to. Because you don’t know the language and lifestyle over there, you are lagging behind regardless of your age and professional experience.

As migrants and refugees are often pushed to work in precarious forms of employment, many families have lost their only income due to the COVID lockdowns.

In a pulse survey of temporary residents in NSW carried out SSI during this period: 

• More than 80% of people who received temporary visas in the first two months of the shutdowns lost their jobs or had reduced working hours.

• 76% of individuals on temporary visas who have sought support from SSI during the pandemic indicated they could not pay the rent or mortgage on time.

This is far higher than the job loss rate in the wider NSW economy. 

Settlement Services International (SSI) launched a Care Package Initiative as part of the Welcome2Sydney project to help this vulnerable group address their hardships and help them survive after the first shutdowns began. And it has helped more than a thousand individuals/families get through this process with less loss. 

SSI was awarded the 13th NSW Humanitarian Awards for this project developed to assist temporary visa holders and refugees in Australia who are most deeply impacted by the shutdowns, and for their extraordinary efforts to help these people survive.  

On behalf of SSI’s welcome2Sydney project, project leader Paula Ben David received the award presented by the NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS) and the Refugee Council  of Australia (RCOA). 

I sat down to discuss the award and the project with Paula Ben David, who also shared SSI’s pulse survey and the data I’ve shared above.

Could you please tell us a little about yourself? 

I am a Community Engagement practitioner at SSI, I lead the Welcome2Sydney project, SSI Allianz Scholarships, and I am also part of Work+Stay’s implementation team. My role with Work+Stay revolves around our Settling In framework. To ensure that people relocating to the regions find the community connections they need to make them feel at home and are able to stay for the long term.

How did you feel while receiving this award? What meaning does it have for you and SSI? 

I felt very honoured to have been part of a project that could deliver such significant necessities in such uncertain times. To have accepted the award on behalf of the SSI Care Package team was a proud moment for me, this means that the issues facing the people we work with are also being seen.

Could you tell us a little about this award-winning project by Welcome2Sydney?

This SSI Care Package Initiative was a whole of organisation approach that involved our Community Engagement program, The Staples Bag, SRSS program, Fundraising and Bilingual Guides. It was established in early March 2020 following COVID-19 shutdowns. These shutdowns had a particularly devastating impact on individuals and families seeking asylum and/or living in Australia on temporary visas. 62% of individuals have gone without meals during this time. Additionally, many of the individuals needing support were physically or mentally unwell, in such a dire financial position that they were unable to pay the cost of public transport to pick up the package from SSI’s offices.  

As a result, SSI quickly developed a method to deliver packages to individuals from all around the Sydney region, averaging five deliveries a day so that these vulnerable people did not go hungry and 1,600 households have been provided with care packages, including single adults, young families and women at risk since 4 May 2020.

The impressive spirit of solidarity of Australian society

Another remarkable aspect of this program is that it was fuelled by monetary and/or in-kind donations from individuals and organizations. The Care Package Program is a great example of the whole community, cross-sector collaboration, and generosity in times of great need. We could not have done it the way we did without their support

What has been the impact for these SSI clients who accessed the Welcome2Sydney support? 

Many individuals and families who sort support through the Care Package program had several compounding and additional challenges. We provided assistance with matters such as ERAS (Emergency Relief for Asylum Seekers) administration. When we were not able to provide the support they needed in-house, our staff and caseworkers went above and beyond to put them in contact with organizations or informal support systems where they could get the support they needed.

It was not uncommon for us to receive text and phone calls, after Care Package deliveries, expressing gratitude. One man called to say “Thank you, brother, the delivery of food was very kind and much needed. It has helped us a lot. We are sharing the food bag with one of our neighbours. It has really helped in these hard times”.

You can read a series of stories of some of the many individuals and families who accessed support through the SSI Care Package Program here:

Refugees often come to Australia with multiple barriers, for example, many challenges in re-starting their lives, recovery from traumatic experiences, and language. How does an organisation like SSI prepare staff to respond? Did you receive any special training for this? 

That is what is great about SSI. We are well set up in terms of having bilingual guides and specialists in just about every aspect of social services, and everyone is willing to jump in and lend a hand to help the people we work with to reach their potential. 

I have received many culturally responsive practice and trauma-informed care training from a few different organizations, and my degree had a few psychology and counselling units.  Most importantly, I also turn to community members for guidance, and this is really important.

Do awards like this have a wider impact on your opinion?

To be honest, it is the people, not the awards, that inspire us at SSI. The great thing about receiving awards and recognition for the work we do is how our work can be shared with a broader audience. The wider the audience, the more understanding we can get out about the needs of the people in our communities. My hope is that people will see how one small act can create a positive impact. When we work together to pool our resources big or small, we can make a positive difference.

How long have you personally been working in support services for refugees? What is your motivation? 

I have been working directly with people in this area for over six years. I have always worked with people, my background is in alternative health, and I have always been interested in people, cultures, and countries. I travelled a bit and moved from Australia to Israel 13 years ago. I was there for 10 years and volunteered in advocacy and supported drop-in centres for people seeking asylum in Israel and began assisting with submissions for resettlement. 

Whenever I am asked why this job. I say that once you understand the difficulties people are facing, it is really hard to turn you back on that knowledge. Now I find it hard to see myself in any other sector. When I moved back home, I saw an opportunity at SSI for the Welcome2Sydney project and thought yes! That’s what I want, to be on the other side of the resettlement journey, to welcome people the way they should be welcomed.

Quick links: 

Settlement Services International SSI:

The NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS): 

STARTTS’s Humanitarian Awards:

STARTTS Programs with Children and Young People videos:

The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA): 

The Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS) program

About SSI

SSI is a community organisation and social business that supports newcomers and other Australians to achieve their full potential. Work+Stay is powered by Settlement Services International (SSI). SSI brings 20+ years of experience in successfully delivering settlement and employment programs in regional NSW and Sydney.

About Welcome2Sydney

A new project co-designed by City of Sydney and SSI. The project aims to encourage newcomers to explore and develop a sense of belonging in the City of Sydney. Hosted by volunteer Ambassadors who reside in the City of Sydney, welcome activities include social, cultural and recreational activities that match individual interests such as excursions to the Yabun festival, Australia day celebrations, Lunar New year events and Mardi Gras celebrations.


STARTTS is the NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors. STARTTS is a specialist, non-profit organisation that for over 30 years has provided culturally relevant psychological treatment and support, and community interventions, to help people and communities heal the scars of torture and refugee trauma and rebuild their lives in Australia. STARTTS also fosters a positive recovery environment through the provision of training to services, advocacy and policy work.

About the Refugee Council of Australia

The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) is the national umbrella body for refugees and people seeking asylum and those who support them. They have around 200 organisational and over 1,000 individual members. They are a non-profit organisation which is completely independent of the government.

[*Gulnur Guzel is the Researcher + Media Support at Work+Stay, an initiative of Settlement Services International [SSI]. Work+Stay is a social enterprise wholly focused on making it easy for regional employers to attract and secure the workforce they need and supporting those newcomers to stay for the long term.] 

You can find Gulnur on LinkedIn here:


Gulnur Guzel

About the Author

Gulnur Guzel is the Researcher + Media Support at Work+Stay, an initiative of Settlement Services International [SSI].