The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) has welcomed the Federal Government’s new refugee sponsorship pilot, saying it is the model Australian communities have been seeking for more than a decade.
The Community Refugee Integration and Settlement Pilot (CRISP), announced today by Immigration Minister Alex Hawke, is a significant improvement on the unaffordable and flawed models of community sponsorship introduced by the Australian Government in 2013 and 2017.
RCOA chief executive officer Paul Power said that his organisation had first proposed a new model of community sponsorship in February 2010 and felt that the CRISP would provide the first reasonable opportunity for broader community involvement in refugee sponsorship.
“While CRISP is offering a modest start of just 1500 places over four years, we welcome this as an important step towards building an affordable and sustainable community sponsorship program. It has the framework for further improvements to enable Australians of all backgrounds to be involved in raising funds and supporting the settlement of new refugees in Australia.
“When we first made recommendations to the Australian Government for a community sponsorship program in February 2010, we stressed the need for a sponsorship program that is accessible, affordable and encourages widespread community involvement.
“The previous models fell short of creating a truly community-led program. Instead, the Community Pilot Program (introduced in 2013) and the subsequent Community Support Program (introduced in 2017) featured exorbitant fees, exclusionary and discriminatory criteria and focused on skilled refugees rather than those who are most vulnerable. Because of these issues, these programs failed to garner widespread community participation. The Refugee Council continued to express concerns with these models throughout their development and operation.”
However, Mr Power welcomed the new reforms that address a number of issues.
“The newly announced reforms demonstrate a positive step in developing a community sponsorship program that enables Australian community members to band together and support new refugees to settle in their community.”
The new program will be free for community members wishing to sponsor unlinked refugees who have been identified by the UNHCR as in need of resettlement. For family members wishing to sponsor relatives under the existing Community Support Program (CSP), the visa fees will be reduced to just under $8,000 for the primary applicant, and visa fees removed entirely for additional family members. These are significant reductions compared to the previous model. The CSP will also be increased to 1,900 places per annum by 2024-25.
“One key issue we have consistently raised is these places are not in addition to Australia’s existing resettlement commitment, but instead takes places from within the Humanitarian Program. While it is unfortunate that the new program continues this practice, the other reforms are a positive step in the right direction. We welcome the news that the Minister will consider additional humanitarian places in future program years.”
Community sponsorship in Australia has taken inspiration from Canada, which has seen Canadian citizens sponsor over 325,000 refugees since the 1970s. Some of Canada’s most recently sponsored refugees have been refugees held in offshore detention by Australia.
“The Refugee Council of Australia, together with our partners MOSIAC and Ads Up Canada, have raised $4 million to sponsor 163 refugees and 124 family members to Canada. Seven refugees have just arrived in the last few days, while another six have approval to travel.
“It is a shame that Australians have had to raise funds to support Canadians to sponsor refugees to their country in order to find solutions for refugees held indefinitely by our government.
“Hundreds of Australians would like to pay it forward now through sponsoring refugees in our own community sponsorship program.
“We also welcome the news that Community Refugee Sponsorship Australia (CRSA) will work with the government in the development of the new program. RCOA is a founding member of CRSA and supported the development of the organisation through providing auspicing support. We also acknowledge our partner organisations and the thousands of community members who got behind the idea of community sponsorship, who were also pivotal in raising this issue with members of the government.”