Advocates say it's time to adopt a Canadian-style refugee program
16 June 2020 at 4:32 pm
Community leaders believe current programs fail to encourage widespread community participation in the welcoming and supporting of refugees
The Australian government is being urged to use the current hiatus in international migration to reshape its resettlement programs by introducing a Canadian-style community refugee sponsorship scheme.
To mark Refugee Week (14-20 June), almost 100 Australian community groups have pledged their support for the Community Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (CRSI) – which advocates to let people financially sponsor the permanent migration of a refugee or refugee family in Australia.
More than 35,000 people have also signed a petition calling on the government to implement a sponsorship program similar to one in Canada, which has welcomed more than 325,000 refugees in the past 40 years by harnessing the generosity of ordinary citizens and community groups.
Australia already has a private sponsorship initiative for refugees – the Community Support Program (CSP) – but advocates say this program fails to encourage widespread community participation in the welcoming and supporting of refugees.
Last year, a review of Australia’s integration and resettlement of humanitarian refugees, led by Peter Shergold AC, recommended the government introduce a new community sponsored visa pathway for refugees.
Shergold said while COVID-19 has seen a pause in Australia’s refugee settlement program and hurt the nation financially, the country remained in a relatively healthy position by global standards.
He renewed his call for the introduction of a community sponsored refugee visa program to supplement Australia’s traditional humanitarian migration program.
“I hope that this hiatus period can be used to good effect so that a community sponsorship scheme can be part of the landscape when it’s safe and practical for refugee resettlement to resume,” Shergold said.
“A community-oriented, affordable refugee sponsorship model such as that proposed by CRSI would be great for refugees and Australian communities.”
CRSI is a civil society initiative established by the Refugee Council of Australia, Save the Children Australia, Amnesty International and Welcoming Australia, and has been developing a detailed vision for a suitable program.
Lisa Button, CRSI’s executive director, said the Canadian model has been so successful because ordinary people were supported to help refugee families find things like housing, employment, education, and furniture.
She told Pro Bono News that as Australia emerged from the pandemic as one of the healthier nations, the need for new and innovative ways of being involved in the global refugee crisis was growing.
“The hiatus in international migration has given us a period to think and reflect on what the next chapter should look like in terms of Australia’s refugee resettlement program,” Button said.
“And so it’s a good opportunity to work towards the next stage.”
In its official response to the Shergold review, the federal government said it partly supported the recommendation for a community refugee sponsorship scheme, noting it was reviewing the CSP in 2020.
Button said she believed this review would find the program was not engaging the broader community in the refugee settlement program and was a bit of a missed opportunity.
She also said she was encouraged by a recent keynote speech from Alison Larkins, the Commonwealth’s coordinator-general for migrant services, which praised Canada’s model and indicated the government would “look further at those promising results” during the CSP review.
“So we’re confident that the government’s looking closely at this and that they know there’s so much more that could be done if you really harness the power of community, which is simply not being done effectively at the moment,” Button said.
Another supporter of the CSRI is Australian lawyer and human rights advocate Nyadol Nyuon, who was born in an Ethiopian refugee camp to South Sudanese parents, and came to Australia as a refugee at 19.
Nyuon recently joined the steering committee of CRSI, and said a program harnessing the goodwill of the community would be extremely beneficial for refugees coming to Australia.
“I was fortunate to have been able to come to Australia and build a life here, and to enjoy support from some wonderful Australians before becoming a citizen myself, including a lovely family in Ballarat who took my family under their wing when we arrived,” Nyuon said.
“However, there are so many refugees who are still stuck in camps who are not so lucky.
“I would love to see a program that can help harness the generosity of Australian communities to give more refugees in desperate need the opportunity to build a life here and then support them on their journey as future Australians.”