A WIMMERA couple whose work with Karen refugees from Myanmar transformed Nhill and its economy will talk in Beechworth on November 30 about the dramatic effects of such collaboration.
Margaret and John Millington, who had a 30-year association with what became a highly successful poultry processing and marketing business known as Luv-A-Duck, will speak at a Beechworth Rural Australians for Refugees’ forum about the experience.
Mr Millington was the company’s general manager in 2009 when he became instrumental in driving a Karen resettlement program.
Luv-A-Duck first offered jobs to five Karen – who had fled persecution in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma).
By 2015 more than 160 had settled in Nhill, attracted by Luv-A-Duck’s job opportunities but in the process aiding the social and economic development of the Wimmera community.
A study released the same year by Deloitte Access Economics and resettlement agency AMES Australia – which offers a humanitarian resettlement program – said the Millington initiative had added $40 million and 70 jobs to the local economy.
AMES researcher Jenny Blencowe told the ABC that Nhill’s welcoming approach had been “characterised by the local community working together – not just the neighbourhood house doing their bit, the Millingtons doing their bit or the Wimmera Development Association doing their bit”.
“Everybody worked together which I think is probably what happens in small communities,” she said.
AMES’ chief executive Catherine Scarth said other success factors included leadership in the Nhill and Karen communities.
“The…people who worked for Luv-a-Duck at the time were instrumental in being able to talk with the community in Nhill and explain what would happen, the Karen themselves had leaders who were able to liaise and work with the Karen community and then I suppose the settlement agency – just being able to bring all those parties together,” she told the ABC.
Indigo Shire has been an official ‘Refugee welcome zone’ since June 2015, when now-mayor Jenny O’Connor and the late Don Chambers argued that North East communities should opt into the Commonwealth’s then-safe haven enterprise visa scheme.
“As we have seen in Nhill, the contribution that refugees can make to rural towns in enormous, including both economic and cultural benefits that can come with an increase in population, enrolments in local schools, increasing demand for housing and workforces for agriculture and industry,” Cr O’Connor said at the time.
Some councillors opposed the move but Cr O’Connor’s proposition was carried by majority, making Indigo one of 15 Victorian councils which had then become ‘Refugee welcome zones’.
Cr O’Connor said many members of the Indigo community had expressed their wish to support refugees and welcome them to the shire.
“The public commitment to becoming a ‘Refugee welcome zone’ is an acknowledgement of the contributions refugees make to Australian society in the fields of medicine, science, engineering, sport, food, education and the arts,” she said.
The forum at which the Millingtons will speak will be held in Rotary Hall (former Guide hall) in Queen Victoria Park, off Sydney Road, on Thursday, November 30, at 7.30 for 8pm.
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