View across the Spree to the Reichstagbuilding in Berlin

“We need to change the narrative around migration and mobility”

For the past 9 years, Violet Roumeliotis has been the CEO of Settlement Services International (SSI), an Australian community organisation and social enterprise that supports newcomers and other vulnerable individuals to achieve their full potential. Violet has been part of the International Metropolis Conferences for over 10 years and sits on the Metropolis International Steering Committee.

Violet was born and raised in Sydney, after her parents had migrated from Greece, like many migrant families, Violet’s parents had a small business – a corner shop. “Australia was a very different place then. Growing up, I considered Australia an inward-looking country in which diversity was treated with suspicion.”, she reflects.

Violet Roumeliotis

Violet Roumeliotis

CEO of Settlement Services International (SSI)

Social entrepreneur

Violet Roumeliotis

Mrs Roumeliotis, can you tell us a little bit about what led you to Metropolis International?

My journey with Metropolis started in 2007 when I attended the International Metropolis Conference held in Melbourne, and it made a lasting impression on me. My values aligned strongly with the vision of Metropolis International and I was delighted to join the International Metropolis Steering Committee in 2014. I was honoured that SSI was the lead organisation hosting the International Metropolis Conference in 2018 in Sydney, my hometown. So, there have been many milestones for me on the road to Berlin!

Backing up a little – what was your way into the professional field of migration, even before your work with Metropolis International?

I grew up in a migrant family on the outer fringes of Sydney, Australia's largest city. I have, from a young age, been committed to achieving equity, and advancing diversity and inclusion in all forms. My upbringing has shaped both my personal and my professional lives - promoting diversity and inclusion is a passion for me.

What would you say are the most important themes for you within the field of international migration at the moment?

It's hard to encapsulate what are the important topics, given that the pandemic has created such upheavals and resulted in a mix of positive and negative outcomes for refugees and migrants globally. I was saddened during the pandemic to see border closures used beyond what was needed in many cases, and to see some categories of migrants excluded from government emergency support. But it was also heartening to see communities around the world understand in new ways the vital role that migrants play in our economies and societies. For many people it might have been the first time that they really understood how migrants working in supermarkets, transportation, construction, and of course as doctors and nurses at the frontline of health systems, played their part in response to the pandemic.

The International Metropolis Conference this year will be taking place in Berlin. What are your expectations?

Berlin offers us a critical opportunity to gather and reflect on what has transpired in migration and mobility during the pandemic. None of us could have foreseen in Ottawa in 2019 what was ahead of us. We know that international- and state-based responses to the pandemic have been varied, and we know that these responses have had profound impacts on migrants and refugees globally and regionally. Berlin will be a chance for dialogue between civil society, business, academia and government on what we can learn from the pandemic to enhance the lives of migrants and refugees.

What is your hope for the future, what’s your wish and take on the motto “Changing migration – migration in change”?

I am hoping for a change in the narrative around migration and mobility: from one that sees people who move as a threat and burden to the receiving societies, to a narrative that highlights the strength, contribution and benefit that newcomers bring.