In the midst of the boom that has transformed Karratha and Port Hedland, the demand for migrant support services is also intensifying in the remote Pilbara mining towns.
With the influx of new people coming to work in the area, including migrants, the Frontier Services Community Migrant Service in Karratha is facing a growing demand for its service, with a 50% increase in clients since July last year. The Port Hedland Community Migrant Service, also operated by Frontier Services, faces a similar increase in demand.
Frontier Services Regional Manager WA Trish Thomson-Harry said staff stretched their time to ensure no one who needed assistance was turned away.
“Not everyone fits into the criteria that we are funded to support, however, we do not turn people away. If this is the case, we will refer them to the most appropriate other service to get the help they need,” Ms Thomson-Harry said.
The referral-based Service, funded by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, supports migrants to access information on English classes, translation services, legal rights, health services, housing issues, immigration support and other matters including domestic violence.
The Service is particularly significant in areas like Karratha to support migrants settling into remote communities who are isolated by distance as well as by culture and language.
“Because we are in a remote area, some of the services are not available here in town.”
With other service providers also under pressure to meet the demand, in some cases migrants can face long waits to access assistance such as legal services and counselling.
“The services and infrastructure in places like Karratha and Port Hedland are not keeping pace with the large volume of people coming into the town,” Ms Thomson-Harry said.
Soaring housing costs have also placed extra stress on migrants, particularly those who arrive on a spouse visa.
“Because the cost of living here is so high, these women feel compelled to work as soon as possible. Often they do not have the time to settle down and make contacts.”
The Community Migrant Service supports people from a wide variety of backgrounds, but the most common nationalities are Thai, Filipino and Indonesian.
The Service has also been involved in planning multicultural community events such as Harmony Day.
“These events bring migrants together to showcase their culture. It promotes a sense of belonging and makes them feel proud,” Ms Thomson-Harry said.
With a decrease in funding reducing the capacity of the service, staff have continued making these important links to the community in their own time, on a voluntary basis.