‘Refugees should be at the centre of discussions that relate to us’: BSL’s Joseph Youhana takes an empowering message to the UN

6 July 2018

Joseph Youhana brings a unique perspective to his work at the Brotherhood of St Laurence: he has been a refugee and has now stepped up to assist refugees to settle in Australia. This week he returned to work in Melbourne’s north after attending a major United Nations conference in Geneva, Switzerland, exploring the challenges experienced by refugees.


As a community leader, Joseph took part in the 2018 United Nations Annual Consultations with Non-Government Organisations, providing a professional and personal perspective on a key humanitarian challenge for our times.

In his day job with the Brotherhood, Joseph oversees several of our programs which assist people of refugee, migrant and asylum seeking backgrounds as Settlement, Youth and Families Programs Manager with our Multicultural Communities Team.

‘I was born and raised in Iraq and back in 2004, my family and I were forced to flee the country due to persecution against minorities, personal threats and lack of security,’ he says. ‘We sought asylum in Syria between 2004 and 2006 where we applied to the United Nations for a refugee visa. We would have been happy to be placed anywhere, as long as we could be secure and live in peace, with freedom and dignity.

‘After a few attempts, we were fortunate to receive Australian refugee visas and arrived in Melbourne on July 25th, 2006. I’ve made a great life for myself, and I’m really excited to have started work with the Brotherhood of St Laurence at the start of this year, working with people from diverse cultural backgrounds, many who arrived as refugees, migrants or as people seeking asylum.’

At the invitation of the Refugee Council of Australia peak body, Joseph has also participated in the conference in previous years, and sees it is a platform to raise significant questions with United Nations officials, including the High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi.

In addition to the UN conference, Joseph was one of 68 community leaders of refugee background to take part in the Global Summit of Refugees, also held in Geneva. The summit aims to develop more effective global refugee policy, and build a network of refugee-led organisations and advocates, to coordinate future activities and share best practices. This year’s theme was #NothingForUsWithoutUs.

The theme highlights that refugees should always be at the centre of discussions that relate to us,’ says Joseph.

The UN refugee agency’s annual Global Trends report shows the depth of the challenge with an average of one person displaced every two seconds in 2017, with developing countries most affected by these humanitarian emergencies.

The Brotherhood of St Laurence (BSL) acknowledges and understands its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and recognises that all children and young people have the right to be treated with respect and care, and to be safe from all forms of abuse. BSL has a zero tolerance towards child abuse.
Read the official statement signed by the Executive Director.

The Brotherhood recognises the harm that family violence causes and that freedom from violence is a basic human right.
We will support our staff, volunteers, clients and the community if they experience violence.

Find out more about the work of the Brotherhood
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The Brotherhood of St Laurence acknowledges and recognises the Traditional Owners of the land upon which we live and work, and we pay our respects to their Elders both past and present.

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