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A new model for community refugee sponsorship in Australia

This position paper is published by the Community Refugee Sponsorship (‘CRSI’), an independent organisation established by the Refugee Council of Australia, Save the Children Australia, Amnesty International Australia, Welcoming Australia, Rural Australians for Refugees and the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce.

It aims to secure an improved and expanded scheme that would allow ordinary Australian people and community groups to join together to financially sponsor the permanent migration of a refugee or refugee family to Australia and then provide them with practical support during their first year in Australia.  CRSI’s vision is inspired by the success of the Canadian refugee sponsorship program that has seen more than 300,000 refugees resettled in Canada since the late 1970s, in addition to those arriving under government-funded programs, through harnessing the generosity and time of ordinary citizens and groups.

Right now there are 25.4 million refugees living in danger or limbo around the world and the number is rising. 1.4 million of these people are currently identified by UNHCR as in need of urgent resettlement with the number of resettlement places grossly inadequate to meet the demand. In 2018, only 81,300 (4.7 per cent) refugees who prioritised for resettlement were provided with safety through resettlement, a number significantly lower than in prior years, largely due to dramatic cuts made to the US resettlement intake under the Trump administration.

Community sponsorship could be used to expand Australia’s national response.  Sponsors would help refugees with things like finding and setting up a home, enrolling children in school, opening bank accounts, accessing medical treatment, gaining a driver’s license, learning English, securing qualifications and finding work or starting a business. Sponsorship often evolves into long-lasting friendships, with sponsors providing emotional support as well.

In May 2017 a group of Labor, Liberal and National MPs moved a parliamentary motion for the introduction of an expanded and improved community sponsorship scheme in Australia, spurring civil society groups to work together to realise this goal.

Australia currently has a small private sponsorship scheme, the ‘Community Support Program’ or ‘CSP’. Despite its promising name, there is an emerging recognition that this program does not deliver the wide range of benefits that could be achieved through a well-designed scheme. It is extremely expensive, has very selective criteria that excludes many of those refugees most in need of resettlement (as identified by long-standing UNHCR mechanisms) and is not designed to ensure genuine community engagement with the sponsored individual(s) upon arrival. It also draws on the visa quota made available under the government-funded program, and consequently the efforts of private sponsors do not expand the number of refugees who come to Australia but merely offset the costs of their resettlement that would otherwise be borne by government.

The Community Support Program

This position paper sets out our vision for a community sponsorship program. The key policy reforms that CRSI recommends are as follows:

  • Introducing sponsor criteria to ensure that each sponsor group offers the practical support and mentorship of multiple individuals including some long-standing members of the local community.
  • Taking the visa quota for sponsorship under CSP outside of the traditional government-funded humanitarian intake, so that community sponsorship expands refugee protection in Australia, rather than simply privatising it.
  • Creating mechanisms to allow sponsorship of UNHCR-referred refugees (those in most urgent need) and quarantine at least 50% of visa places for this group.
  • Ensuring that the program is focussed on humanitarian outcomes by removing eligibility rules that do not relate to the person’s protection needs.
  • Eliminating high government visa fees and fees charged by professional intermediaries to make sponsorship more affordable and attractive to sponsors.

Read the position paper: A new model for community refugee sponsorship in Australia

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