21st June 2018

Villawood’s Letters Stand With Refugees

THE latest message on Villawood Properties’ giant letters overlooking the Geelong Ring Road spells out a message of support during Refugee Week.

The corten characters now read #withrefugees, in line with the United Nations Human Rights Council global campaign calling for a better system to help the world’s refugees.

To show their support for the humanitarian cause, Villawood staff last week met with Diversitat chief executive officer Michael Martinez and some asylum seekers who have settled in Geelong, including Moshtagh Heidari and the Habash family.

Villawood Properties executive director Rory Costelloe said the letters at the Wandana estate aimed to help engage the community on important issues, and this was no exception.

“A new group to emerge locally is Greater Geelong Youth with Refugees, a group of young advocates working to create change for young asylum-seekers in our community.

“These issues include cuts to life-saving support services for some of the most vulnerable people waiting for their visa applications to be processed.

“These include families with small children and students, and their visa applications can take years. Many people are not allowed to work and face very hard times.

“This means thousands of people are unable to afford rent or put food on the table. How are they supposed to survive?”

Najeeb Habash and his family fled their home in Iraq an hour before ISIS forces arrived.

“It was terrifying, we left absolutely everything behind,” he said.

“I just took my family – my wife and my four children – and travelled 70 kilometres in eight hours to get over the border to Kyrgyzstan.” He and his family moved on to Jordan and, two years ago, to Australia and Geelong.

“Australia has been good to me,” he said.

“I have found the people in Geelong are like a big family. They are very friendly.”

Mr Martinez said Refugee Week was an, opportunity for Diversitat to celebrate its work and raise awareness, and he congratulated Villawood for its advocacy.

“It’s quite a bold thing to do… I don’t think there’s anything controversial around it. It has been our national policy for a long time; to welcome people.”

He said between 200 and 300 refugees came to Geelong each year.