One of the elements of QPASTT’s success early on was that making our services available to people across Queensland was a key priority.”
Paula Peterson, QPASTT Director (1995-2007)
Ensuring trauma recovery services are available to survivors across Queensland has driven QPASTT’s regional expansion. After establishing early outreach services across Greater Brisbane, Toowoomba, Gatton and the Gold Coast, by 2013 QPASTT was providing counselling and group programs, advocacy, community development and support services throughout Queensland, including Cairns, Townsville, Rockhampton, Toowoomba, Logan, Gold Coast and Ipswich. A key focus of QPASTT’s regional work is increasing the capacity of local services to work with refugee survivors, with our regional services team providing support and training to mainstream services to be trauma-informed and culturally competent.
In 2020, 26% of our clients were from regional Queensland (Toowoomba, Cairns and Townsville).
The Toowoomba Multicultural Centre
QPASTT in Toowoomba
QPASTT has had an outreach presence in Toowoomba since 1998. By 2007, QPASTT was an established agency and service provider in the region, with a permanent office and team of four staff providing counselling and group work, advocacy, community development and education, working closely with local settlement agencies, schools and primary health care agencies and the broader service sector to support the successful settlement of refugees.
In 2017/18, settlement in Toowoomba increased by 300%. To support this growth, QPASTT increased our counselling and community engagement staff and purchased and refurbished a new office space, launching the Toowoomba Multicultural Centre in August 2019. The Centre at 15 Snell Street houses offices for QPASTT and Multicultural Australia, and provides a large community space for groups, events and activities. Toowoomba is home to diverse communities from refugee backgrounds, including from Sudan and South Sudan, Congo, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2018, QPASTT conducted a needs assessment with these communities which highlighted that established communities were experiencing significant trauma symptoms, isolation and disconnection, family breakdown and prolonged periods of depression and anxiety. Working with clients and communities to address this need is a focus for QPASTT and demonstrates that the experience of refugee trauma can continue to impact people well beyond early settlement.
Supporting the Êzidî community
Over 1500 refugees have been settled in Toowoomba since 2017, with over 1000 of those being from the Êzidî community. The Êzidî community has experienced persecution and genocide and, as the only specialist torture and trauma and culturally appropriate mental health agency in Toowoomba, supporting the healing and recovery of the Êzidî community has been a strong focus for QPASTT. QPASTT has a specialised bicultural worker and certified interpreter on staff to support QPASTT’s engagement with the Êzidî community and advocacy with the local service sector. With the community having moved past their early stage of settlement, QPASTT is now focused on supporting the longer term recovery goals that the community has identified, particularly around creating opportunities for connection through group work and reducing social isolation for women.
The Êzidî religion has been practiced in Northern Iraq for thousands of years. While Êzidî followers are peaceful, they have endured persecution for much of that time, driving their religious practices underground. This has alienated religious neighbours and caused misunderstandings. With the rise of ISIS, Êzidî people were subjected to genocide.
In 2014, thousands of Êzidî people fled to Mount Sinjar in Northern Iraq. They were surrounded and trapped by ISIS without food, water or shelter. ISIS took possession of them as slaves and war trophies. Zina was able to find refuge in Australia. She shared her story with QPASTT’s ‘Where the Heart Is’ exhibition as part of our 2018 Healing in Exile Symposium.
“ISIS took us from the mountain to the centre of Shingal and then they moved us to Mosul. They started doing whatever violence you can think about – beating, raping the girls, killing the boys in front of them. Nothing can describe how this feels. Even after a thousand years, I could not forget it because it really happened. Human beings just cannot take it. Originally, I came from the city of Shingal in Iraq. Shingal was very beautiful and I was very comfortable there. They had many religions, nationalities, and multiple languages.
ISIS attacked Mosul near Shingal. The people from Mosul fled to Shingal. And a very big betrayal happened from the neighbours of the Êzidî. They thought we were not supposed to stay alive. This was religious. We knew it was not safe to stay so we decided to run. When we left Shingal, ISIS kidnapped us. We were with them for two months. Then we found someone to take us from Mosul to Kurdistan. We stayed for three and a half years in Kurdistan, in a house. We were still not feeling safe. ISIS was coming from Turkey from the Syrian border. And we were always feeling that something might happen – even in Kurdistan – because all of Iraq was like fire, just about to explode, like a bomb. But Kurdistan was the only option.
We were living a simple life in Kurdistan. Then we had a phone call from the UN saying that you might get a chance to travel to another country, but we didn’t know where. Then we had a phone call saying we could go to Australia or Canada. My father decided Australia because it was the safest place to be. We started to prepare. And now here we are. It took about one year. I have been here now for about eight months.
Back in Iraq, no matter how you study, how you work, there is always a fear of the future, like you cannot have a future that you are aiming for. Especially for Êzidî people. Generally, in Iraq, because of the war, people usually cannot get their goals. But especially Êzidîs because they are under control. We can’t feel free – we can’t share our ideas. We are an oppressed people. After coming here, I can build my future, I can be whoever I want. My life has changed very much from when I was back at home. No one can tell me ‘why you’re doing this or that,’ or ‘who are you?’ I’m free here. I enjoy this life. But my mind is going straight away to the people who are still there who cannot feel what I feel. I’m just wishing that everyone can have what I’m having now. It’s a weird feeling when you feel comfortable, when you feel free and happy. And you remember straight away there are still people suffering, because I had the same experience, the same life that many people are having there now and I wish I could do something about it and take them out of this miserable life there.
It’s hard to forget everything and start a new life because the old life always comes to your mind. I’m trying to build a new life by trying to help myself and help others, to plan to build my future here and try to help whoever is back in Iraq to show them what sort of life is here.”
Home is always in my heart. It’s still Iraq.