June 18, 2019

From Refugees to Small Business Owners

The support and assistance to refugees and asylum seekers provided by The Mercy House of Welcome in the north of Adelaide has been the catalyst for some great success stories.

Wajahat Ali's Family

Moving across the world in search of a better life has been a fundamental feature of human history, bringing with it incredible diversity in ethnicities, languages and culture. In Australia, we are fortunate that our society has been so enriched by this multiculturalism.

Wajahat Ali, his wife Saiqa and their three children, Komail (20), Abbas (16) and Aniga (12), arrived in Australia from Quetta, Pakistan in 2013. In spite of the danger and difficulties in uprooting their entire family to flee from their homeland, the prospect of a safer life and a better future for their children in Australia filled them with the hope they needed to make that journey. In 2017, with the assistance of Sr Mary Symonds’ pro bono work at the Mercy House of Welcome, the family received Five Year Protection Visas (as asylum seekers they are only entitled to Temporary Protection Visas).

For Wajahat and his family the Mercy House of Welcome has been an invaluable asset in settling into the Australian community and a different way of life. The assistance and support received at the House of Welcome was a lifeline – helping the family to improve their English language skills, utilising their strengths, becoming financially independent and setting themselves up for the future. These are among the most important benefits that the House of Welcome aims to pass on to all refugees and asylum seekers who come through its doors.

The result is a more cohesive and culturally vibrant Australian society, where effective cross-cultural communication is one of the foundations. We can communicate in so many unique and wonderful ways. Sharing a meal brings people together in an intimate experience, opening the way for dialogue to exchange views and communicate our feelings.

Wahajat Ali's famous Butter Chicken

Wajahat and Saiqa’s experience at the House of Welcome has enabled them to build a thriving catering business after arriving in Australia with nothing but “the clothes on their back”. This hardworking and entrepreneurial couple started their catering business three years ago. They began with a small food stall at Adelaide’s Plant 4 Bowden Festival preparing traditional Pakistani food – butter chicken, lamb curry, biryani and samosas. Their menu has expanded rapidly to keep pace with demand and the ever-changing culinary landscape. For example, in response to the growing vegan market, they have created a number of hugely successful vegan options, which are now signature dishes on their menu.

Earlier this year, Wajahat and Saiqa took a stall at the opening night of the Adelaide Fringe Festival, serving more than 400 people over three very busy hours and further building on their already growing reputation. Next year in March, they plan to have a stall at the much-anticipated WOMADelaide Festival. This event offers a wide variety of music, arts and dance in four days of non-stop entertainment, highlighting the enormous value of a multicultural society and its potential to contribute to the Adelaide community.

The Mercy House of Welcome held a Christmas party last year to celebrate with the many refugees and asylum seekers whose lives and futures had been enhanced throughout the year. The catering for this event was  supplied by Wajahat, Saiqa and the children. How appropriate that food should bring this family back to where they began their new life in Australia, giving them an opportunity to talk about their challenges, and how far they have come, with those who gave them support when they needed it most.

About the Mercy House of Welcome

The Mercy House of Welcome is a Mercy Works project located in the northern Adelaide suburb of Kilburn. The centre offers a number of services to help asylum seekers adjust to life in Australia through settlement and visa support, English lessons, budget counselling, assistance with accommodation, bills, food and clothing.

Without the right to work, welfare support or any legal rights, waiting for the outcome of their application results in immense strain on the physical and mental health of asylum seekers. Perhaps the most important part of the connection at the Mercy House of Welcome is the sense of hope in a better future it provides, knowing they have a safe space where they can go – a place where they belong.

Over 400 asylum seekers have come through the Mercy House of Welcome seeking visa application support since the centre opened in 2013. The temporary protection visa application process is a complex and lengthy one, and with pro-bono legal support from the House of Welcome, more than 250 applications have been filed. As a consequence, 104 visas have been granted. Twenty asylum seekers have also been denied visas, but are currently being assisted with the appeal process. Changes to the Government’s asylum seeker policy have resulted in a decreasing number of immigration interviews being conducted for clients at the centre in recent months.

This story was first published in Mercy Works 'Bilum Magazine', June 2019. Read this latest issue here.

Messages to: Lauren Stariha - Communications Officer Mercy Works

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