ROCKHAMPTON has erased its reputation for racism - at least in the eyes of Refugee Resettlement Officer Liam Mayo.
Mr Mayo, who works to help refugees integrate into the community, said before starting his posting in Rockhampton friends warned he had a hard job ahead of him convincing the local population taking in refugees was a good idea. But Mr Mayo was pleasantly surprised to find the community 'overwhelmingly supportive' of his work.
Mr Mayo, who has worked in some of the most notorious detention centres in Australia, including Christmas Island and Woomera, said he was recently reassigned to Rockhampton as part of the Humanitarian Settlement Services program, and was impressed at how openly our small community had welcomed more than 500 asylum seekers with open arms.
"A lot of (the refugees) will tell you that the people in Rockhampton are extremely hospitable and really generous and are welcoming," Mr Mayo said.
He said sometimes it was the things we took for granted which could be the most shocking for people from other cultures and his role was to help refugees understand our quirky Australian ways.
"(Australians are) very relaxed in the way we deal with a lot of things, and to some cultures that can be really foreign to them. I just let them know that swearing and that sort of thing is fine, it's what we do in Australia," he said.
Mr Mayo said over the past seven months he had helped more than 100 refugees resettle in the region and all had been well accepted.
He said much of the fear surrounding refugees was based on a lack of understanding, and that these people were fundamentally the same as everyday Australians. He said many Australians who had made the step to become involved in the refugee community realised these were real people with common thoughts and feelings.
"Just by simply engaging with these people it's a really easy way to bridge the gap. (It's) a really easy way to discover that these people are human beings as well and they're just like you or me. They're people as well, and they have the same needs and wants as we all do," he said.
Mr Mayo said many of the refugees living in Rockhampton had escaped persecution and still bore the scares from years of war and detention. He said the Humanitarian Settlement Services program was crucial to ease the trauma of resettling.
"(In their homeland) they were constantly in threat, so we're trying to deal with that emotional trauma at the same time as settling in a whole new foreign country," he said.
Handeepan Balendra, from Sri Lanka, was given his refugee status about a year ago after spending two years on Christmas Island.
He said the settlement program helped him integrate.
"It's very important because refugee people don't know how to live in Australia, how to get their futures in Australia, it's very important to help them," he said.