Need lost in translation:

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Hume Leader | By Kate Swan

14th June 2011

THOUSANDS of Arabic refugees in Hume will lose vital language and social support when funding ends this month. The State Government has failed to renew $150,000 funding for an intake and referral service at Victorian Arabic Social Services (VASS).

It has helped about 10,000 people in two years with financial counselling, translation, independent living skills and referrals to social, health and employment services. Without funding, it will end on June 30.
The Leader is joining VASS and Broadmeadows state Labor MP Frank McGuire in calling for the State Government to reinstate the funding before the end of the month.

The Department of Community Services did not respond to the Leader before deadline, but in a letter to Mr McGuire, Minister Mary Wooldridge wrote that there would be no money available for VASS. VASS manager Leila Alloush has been seeking a meeting with Ms Wooldridge since December. She said the service was crucial and that many parents came straight to VASS with newborn babies from the hospital to get help filling out forms.

“For someone to pick up the people who fall through the net is a valuable service,” Ms Alloush said.
“For a demonstrated need and the size of the Arabic population, for the government to ignore it is disrespectful, cruel and irresponsible.”

Ms Alloush said VASS staff covered 10 languages and empathised with complex social and cultural issues that can affect Arabic families.

She said VASS work was essential to push people out of poverty. “They will end up in the justice system if we don’t support them,” she said. Broadmeadows resident Akhlas Kurkis said VASS had made her life easier since she arrived in 2006 as a refugee from Iraq with no English.

VASS had helped with financial counselling, filling in forms and support for her husband and four children aged from five months to 16 years.
“I love being in Australia but I was dead until I linked with VASS,” Mrs Kurkis said through a translator. “I depend on them completely.”

Mr McGuire said the need was beyond dispute. “We don’t need more guns and prisons, we need more investment in connecting people to opportunity,” he said.

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