English, and the way Australians speak, is the biggest barrier for refugees, says Krishna Kirki, left. (ABC News: Emilie Gramenz)
Just north of Hobart, the city of Glenorchy is a melting pot of cultures and local priorities.
The ABC is often reporting on issues in the city, like the reset of a dysfunctional council and commuter frustration at what should be a short drive into Hobart.
But when the ABC visited for a grassroots election forum, multicultural issues were at the fore, with many locals talking about coming to live in Tasmania, trying to promote their cultures and the barriers they have faced to education and employment.
Local sports leagues are full to bursting, and Moonah’s Taste of the World Festival will put on its eighth event this year.
Maurine Riziki moved to Tasmania when she was young, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
She’s now a new recruit to Tasmania Police — a career path motivated by what’s happened in her home country.
“The social insecurity of the country and how people live,” she said.
“Police officers back at home will basically manipulate power at any stage and circumstance for their own good.
“For me, fighting crime was something that I’ve always wanted to do — I always wanted to be part of an organisation that is there to strive to keep the community safe.”
When she first moved to Tasmania, Constable Rizili struggled with the language barrier. Even buying a bus ticket was a difficult experience.
Maurine Riziki says most Tasmanians are welcoming but she has been on the receiving end of racist taunts. (ABC News: Emilie Gramenz)
“I would say settling in as a different person, especially your race, and the society you’re in before are totally different,” she said.
“Most Tasmanians are really welcoming [but] I did experience racism through sports.
“Even coming back from school, you’re walking, you’ll find a bunch of people who’ll call you a black sheep, or ‘Go back where you came from’, you know? Throw eggs at you.
“You think, am I in the right place? Am I really ever going to settle in?”
‘English is the biggest barrier for us’
Krishna Kirki and Bhim Gurung are Nepali-speaking Bhutanese from a group of refugees not recognised as citizens of Nepal.
Ms Kirki is studying aged care and ultimately wants to become a nurse.
“I have been here for six years but I haven’t had any job yet. I think maybe because of the past [work] experience, which I don’t have,” she said.
“To study, to know English is the first challenge, especially for young adults or maybe teenagers who have just come here.
“English is the biggest barrier for us to move forward.”
Mr Gurung was a teacher in Nepal but is now looking for different work.
“Back in my own country, I used to speak English, but still … Aussie people, they speak really quick. Even the accent is really, really tough,” he said.
“There are so many opportunities here in Tasmania, but I’m also deprived from the opportunities.
“We don’t have a lot of the factories and industries for the people to work there as an employee.”
Dr Benoj Varghese says, with some upskilling, qualified refugees could fill key positions Tasmania needs. (ABC News: Emilie Gramenz)
Qualified refugees underutilised
Dr Benoj Varghese works in the intensive care ward at the Royal Hobart Hospital and also assists with recruitment.
He believes there are too many hoops to jump through for qualified health workers who move to Australia as refugees.
Dr Varghese recently saw an application from a Syrian refugee who was a surgeon and had worked with Doctors Without Borders.
“He’s been in Australia for a year and a half looking for a job, and clearly really unfamiliar with the system, how to go about applying for a job,” he said.
“I thought it was really sad that somebody of his experience can’t find a position and is living on Centrelink benefits.”
He said Tasmania should be more proactive in recruiting qualified health workers.
“The Tasmanian health care system … we have a shortage of doctors in some cases. Places like the Mersey Hospital have to hire locum doctors and we pay them thousands of dollars for a fly-in, fly-out job,” he said.
“You have people sitting at home, unable to find a position, who if you train them and upskill them they could easily fill these positions.
“As a refugee who’s come to Australia with no roots at all, if they come to Burnie or Devonport or Hobart and live here for a few years, this is home to them and they’re more likely to settle and become part of the community.”
Dr Varghese is president of the Hobart Malayali Association, which promotes the Malayalam and Kerala culture from south India.
ABC Radio Hobart will next host a grassroots election forum in Scottsdale on Monday, February 19, then in Launceston on Tuesday, February 20, Burnie on Wednesday, February 21 and Rosebery on Thursday, February 22.
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