When Javed and Fahmida Khan first decided to flee Pakistan, they knew they were taking a risk as much as ameliorating one.
Javed was a clerk in the high court and Fahmida a school teacher, but in Australia that would count for little.
“In Pakistan we were persecuted because of Fahmida’s role, she was a school teacher,” Mr Khan said.
“I was a clerk in the high court and a deacon in my Christian church, as a minority we were thought of as against the majority.”
Mr Khan and his wife Fahmida arrived as refugees in Australia in 2012. By December last year, he had established a clothing business called Fury Comfort with the support provided by Community Commerce, a social enterprise initiative in Marrickville.
Run by Rosemount Good Shepherd, Community Commerce provides services, capital and networking to help refugees start their own businesses.
“We’re very grateful. We haven’t anything, but this program provides every kind of shelter to start our business – from [the] website, to legal help and money to help us get started,” Mr Khan told City Hub.
“Without this help, Fury Comfort would have remained a dream.”
Mr Khan said he and his wife enjoy being part of their local community. Fahmida has meanwhile commenced a Diploma of Community Service at TAFE.
“Life is pretty good here,” Mr Khan said.
Michael Katz, coordinator of Community Commerce, said the group of refugees he looks after meets once a fortnight at the Rosemount Good Shepherd offices in Marrickville.
“Rosemount Good Shepherd has been operating for just over 30 years in Marrickville. They have services including counseling, education and microfinance,” he said.
“Our program has been live for just over three months now. So we’ve had businesses actually contracted on and working, operating and selling to their clients.”
Mr Katz said the three main aims of the program are to provide financial independence for the refugees, combat social isolation and produce research that will influence the wider community.
“The first outcome is financial independence for the clients themselves. There are certainly early indications that are very positive,” Mr Katz said.
“The second…is to increase their social inclusion in the wider community, create connections between students from Sydney with refugees.”
Mr Katz said the refugees are from Iran, China and Pakistan and there is a variety of businesses being set up including a taxi service and an education program.
“We’ve got a woman from China who runs a cleaning business aimed at providing employment to migrants with children,” he said.
Lyn Harrison, CEO of Rosemount Good Shepherd, said Community Commerce helps refugees contribute to the economy through services and support that aren’t provided anywhere else.
“The current government’s policy is to provide the bare minimum in assistance to refugees and new migrants,” she said.
“This can set them up for a lifetime of welfare reliance with no regard for their previous skills and experience.”
Marrickville councillor Sylvie Ellsmore said Community Commerce is a program that provides help to refugees who have skills but need support in applying them.
“A lot of refugees and asylum seekers when they come to Australia have a range of skills and a range of professions,” she said.
“A lot of those are small business-related professions but they need assistance to do things like work out how the Australian tax system works.”
Ms Ellsmore said that council is supportive of refugee rights and has recently expanded their social entrepreneur support program.
“This year I’ll be doing a bit more work to assist this particular project to get more support from council,” she said.