Can the community do more to help refugees resettle in Australia?
3 July 2019 at 4:16 pm
A charity sector push to establish a Canadian-style community refugee sponsorship scheme in Australia has been backed by a major philanthropic fund.
The Sidney Myer Fund will provide significant anchor funding over the next three years to support the Community Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (CRSI), a campaign advocating to let people financially sponsor the permanent migration of a refugee or refugee family in Australia.
While Australia already has a private sponsorship initiative for refugees – the Community Support Program (CSP) – refugee advocates say this program fails to encourage widespread community participation in the welcoming and supporting of refugees.
CRSI’s vision is inspired by Canada’s private refugee sponsorship program, which has settled more than 300,000 refugees since the late 1970s by harnessing the generosity of ordinary citizens and community groups.
Lisa Button, the inaugural executive director of CRSI, said The Sidney Myer Fund’s support would be a game changer in terms of eliciting community and political support for such a scheme in Australia.
She said CSRI’s proposed model would allow ordinary Australians and community groups to sponsor and welcome refugees to Australian communities at minimal additional cost to the taxpayer.
“Community sponsorship is an idea that has appeal to many Australians across the political spectrum and delivers a wide range of benefits to Australian communities, including regional and rural communities, as well as to refugees beginning new lives in Australia,” Button said.
“This approach will ensure that refugees can participate fully in the social and economic lives of their new communities and provides a model for the future expansion of Australia’s response to the global refugee crisis.”
When Sidney Myer first arrived as a refugee in 1899, his brother helped him land on his feet. Today, the Sidney Myer Foundation honours that legacy with a grant to support the work of @AusCRSI to expand and improve community sponsorship of refugees. https://t.co/hEEVmswS1B pic.twitter.com/e6wf8vNOJU
— Community Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (@AusCRSI) July 1, 2019
CSRI is a joint venture between the Refugee Council of Australia, Save the Children Australia, Amnesty International Australia, Welcoming Australia, Rural Australians for Refugees and the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce.
These groups say the CSRI approach builds on previous Australian schemes whereby people around the country formed local groups to sponsor and provide wrap-around support to refugees in their first year in the country.
This support included helping refugees to register with Medicare, open bank accounts, find local services and public transport and connect with local community groups and activities.
CSRI propose the initial program should start at 1,000 places a year, growing to 10,000 places annually over the next five years – places that are additional to Australia’s humanitarian migration quota.
People wishing to sponsor refugees would do so as a collective “sponsor group” with the backing of a registered not-for-profit group.
Refugees would have costs for their first year living in Australia covered by their sponsor, but would also have access to government-funded social services.
Carrillo Gantner AC, chairman of the Sidney Myer Fund, said the fund’s support was inspired by the story of Sidney Myer himself, who fled poverty and the Jewish pogroms in Belarus.
“Many people know the story of my grandfather Sidney Myer… He arrived in Australia in 1899 as a penniless 21-year-old with no English before becoming the leading figure in the Australian retail industry and one of the era’s great philanthropists,” Gantner said.
“Fewer people know the important role played by Sidney’s older brother Elcon, who arrived in Australia three years before Sidney and played a pivotal role in helping his younger brother establish himself in Melbourne and Bendigo and go on to build the successful Myer retail business.”
Gantner said not everyone who came to Australia to escape persecution was lucky enough to have a family member who could help them in this way.
He said community sponsorship provided a framework through which ordinary members of Australian community could step in and mentor new arrivals in a similar manner.
“I’m also convinced that local communities can benefit enormously from the act of sponsoring – the act of rallying around a shared mission builds all sorts of positive relationships and capacities,” he said.
“I hope to have the opportunity to become a member of a local sponsorship group myself in the future.”