Could a cup of coffee and a conversation in Arabic help find Australia’s missing people?
That’s the hope driving a new community initiative, launched this week to help Australia’s Middle Eastern community assist in the search for people who have been deemed missing by the Australian Federal Police (AFP), some of whom have not been seen in decades.
A restaurant based in Sydney’s southwest has partnered with a not-for-profit community organisation to translate information about 50 missing people in the Arabic language and place it on coffee cups at the restaurant. Thousands of cups are sold each day.
The initiative, launched during National Missing Persons Week, which runs until 6 August, is the first time information about missing people in Australia has been provided in a language other than English.
In light of National Missing Persons week, a local initiative has translated 50 missing people’s information into Arabic to bridge the gap in communication with Australia’s Middle Eastern communities. Source: Supplied
The restaurant, Eighteen 22, is based in Punchbowl, where more than a third of the area’s population speaks Arabic – the most commonly spoken language, even before English.
Its partner in the initiative, Community Care Kitchen, helps vulnerable groups in southwest Sydney with food relief and insecurity.
Community Care Kitchen co-founder, Sana Karanouh, said her team chose 50 people who have been deemed long-term missing persons by the AFP – that is, missing for more than three months.
Ms Karanouh said the chosen missing persons were last seen within a 40-minute drive of southwestern Sydney, in the hope that older Arab-speaking migrants are granted an opportunity to contribute to the police’s campaign.
We feel like we owe this to our community, to our parents, and of course, to the people who are missing … if our community can help in any way, we want to be a part of that.
“We chose specifically historic disappearances because we know that that 10 years ago, 15 years ago, 20 years ago, there wouldn’t have been a lot of resources for our own parents to see who’s missing,” she said.
“We know that they wouldn’t have been able to understand any of that information.
“We feel like we owe this to our community, to our parents, and of course, to the people who are missing … if our community can help in any way, we want to be a part of that.”
Eighteen 22 director Bashar Krayem says he sells 2,000 coffees a day that could spark discussions about information that wasn’t previously accessible among Sydney’s Middle Eastern community.
More than 50,000 coffee cups will be distributed this month with translated information on missing persons. Source: Supplied / Bashar Krayem
“That’s 2,000 different people looking at a photo and actually just creating a conversation about them. I think that’s important,” Mr Krayem said.
While Mr Krayem said he understood the chances of finding a missing person from the campaign might be slim, the aim was all about starting a conversation that never would have been had in the first place.
“It’s a long shot … to actually find the missing person through our coffee cups … but what we’re aiming to do is to just create awareness. We’re a part of the Arabic-speaking community, we want to get involved.”
The AFP’s National Missing Persons Coordination Centre (NMPCC) has been running an annual weekly campaign for 34 years to raise awareness about missing persons.
Emily Hall from the NMPCC said in a statement to SBS News that the NMPCC has “a number of publications including factsheets” on its website that can be translated into up to seven languages if requested.
“The public are able to request copies translated in Chinese, Greek, Italian, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org,” Ms Hall said.
“Acknowledging the importance of effective communication with CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse) groups, we will continue to consider and improve how we include this in our campaigns.”
Mr Krayem described the NMPCC’s attempt at providing accessible information to CALD communities as “absolutely ridiculous”, citing the difficulties of requesting the information translated.
“No one’s going to go out of the way and ask for a translation from their website,” Mr Krayem said.
While she gave credit to the AFP’s successful missing persons campaigns, Ms Karanouh shared her “disappointment” that “multicultural Australia” wasn’t included in enough national initiatives.
“People have a tendency to underestimate multicultural Australia. And I think if we’re going to be an inclusive society, it should really include everybody and language should never be a barrier when it comes to these sorts of campaigns.
In 2021, more than 53,000 people were reported missing and there remain 2,500 long-term missing persons in Australia, according to the AFP.
The community initiative at Eighteen 22 will continue until the end of the month.
If you have any information on missing persons, call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.