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Submission to DHA Discussion Paper: Next steps to improve Australia’s settlement and integration of refugees

NRAAG and RCOA are pleased to share this joint submission to the Department of Home Affairs discussion paper on Next Steps to Improve Australia’s Settlement and Integration of Refugees. The end of the current tender allows the Australian Government to re-design settlement services in order to achieve a holistic and integrated system. Settlement services need to be redesigned to be holistic, flexible, and able to be tailored to the individual needs of participants. Red-tape and unnecessary reporting obligations need to be reformed, in favour of an approach which trusts the expertise of settlement services, and measures successful settlement outcomes, rather than discreet tasks.

The vital role that refugee-led organisations play in the settlement journey needs to be recognised, supported and funded. Specific funding should be set aside to strengthen refugee-led organisations and to support the work they do. Likewise, further funding should be provided to enhance wider community involvement in the settlement journey in order to increase community awareness and support for the humanitarian program and achieve better integration outcomes.

Housing is currently facing a nationwide crisis, with newly arrived refugee communities hit hardest. We need to develop urgent and innovative responses to this crisis in order to support newly arrived communities into sustainable long-term accommodation. Health support is also vital, with people with complex health needs not being given adequate funded settlement support in order to address on-arrival issues and link in with mainstream health services. The complexity of our health system means that newly arrived refugees need support to navigate this system.

Finally, our submission reflects on the experience of the Afghan evacuation and subsequent settlement process, and highlights some lessons learnt for going forward. Together, these issues demonstrate a need to ensure long term, flexible and individualised funding for the refugee support sector to best meet the diverse needs of newly arrived refugee communities.

Settlement services discussion paper
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The Department of Home Affairs undertake a consultation and co-design process to re-design settlement services in Australia

The Department of Home Affairs should consult with and develop a co-design process with settlement services, refugee-led and community based organisations and peak bodies to re-design settlement services in Australia to better meet the needs of refugee communities.

Set aside specific and adequate funding for refugee-led organisations

The Department of Home Affairs should set aside a specific funding pool for refugee led organisations to apply for delivery of settlement support programs. Only refugee led organisations should be eligible to apply for this funding.

Fund capacity strengthening for refugee-led organisations

The Department of Home Affairs should fund independent capacity strengthening support for refugee led organisations to support their delivery of settlement services.

Enact the Refugee Participation Pledge

The Department of Home Affairs should enact the Refugee Participation Pledge to ensure refugees are meaningfully engaged in the development, delivery and review of settlement policy and services.

Remove time limit of access to settlement services, in favour of a needs-based approach

Eligibility for settlement services should not be bound by a time limit, but instead assessed on a need-based approach. This would see HSP services extend based the current 18 months, and SETS be extended passed the five-year time limit.

Extend eligibility to all people with refugee backgrounds

Eligibility for settlement services should be extended to all people from a refugee background, regardless of their visa status or visa subclass.

Broaden the types of support that settlement services provide to enable bespoke and individualised support

Funding for settlement services should be broadened to include a variety of settlement supports that newly arrived refugees need, to ensure settlement services can provide individualised and bespoke support on a needs-basis.

Ensure long-term sustainable funding for the sector

Funding for settlement services should be re-designed to provide ongoing, sustainable and long term contracts which give settlement services the ability to plan for and respond to emerging issues, and allow experienced and skilled staff to be retained.

Ensure timely and effective communication

The Department of Home Affairs should improve communication to settlement services, local council, states and other community services about settlement planning and arrivals, to ensure timely delivery of services on arrival.

Urgently review the regional settlement locations

The Department of Home Affairs should conduct an urgent review of the current regional settlement locations in consultation with the settlement sector. This review should assess whether those locations still have the factors to achieve successful settlement, including housing affordability and service capacity.

Enhancing community engagement capacity of service providers

The Department should allocate more resources to strengthening the community engagement capacity of the providers. This will enable them to form stronger relationships with housing providers (such as real estate agents and landlords) and the community leaders with local knowledge and connections.

Working with service providers to address the current issues around on-arrival accommodation

The Department should engage directly with settlement service providers about ideas and ways to address the issue of the shortage of on-arrival accommodation and make necessary changes to the length and requirements of the contracts based on their feedback.

Providing refugees with subsidies to assist with the cost of private rental in the initial settlement period

Rental subsidies should be provided to the refugees who rent privately in the first 12-24 months of their settlement in Australia. This will give new arrivals more time to work towards successful settlement and better capacity to compete in the rental market at the end of the period.

Undertake a review of settlement services for refugees with a disability

The Department of Home Affairs should undertake a review of the support that is provided to refugees with a disability to ensure there are no gaps between arrival and accessing the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Settlement services should be adequately funded to provided ongoing support until a person with a disability is able to access the NDIS.

Urgently address some of the most problematic refugee policies

A number of current refugee policies have had some of the most detrimental impacts on the health (especially mental health) of refugees. The most prominent ones are family reunion policies and punitive policies that deny full support to a great number of refugees based on their visas. On the issue of family reunion, our recommendations in our 2016 report on refugee family separation still stand. We also call for granting access to the full suite of settlement support services to all refugees, irrespective of their mode of arrival in Australia and the subclass of their refugee visas.

Establishing targeted programs for older refugees across the country

Targeted programs that involve older people in social and group settings should be established across the country to reduce the social isolation of this group. Refugees and service providers who are already delivering such programs in a small and local scale should be consulted in the design of these programs.

Embed refugee health nurse in the settlement services across the country

Appropriate funding should be allocated in the new contracts to embed refugee health nurses in the settlement services across the country. The refugee health nurses can improve the communication between settlement and health services and can triage, make referrals and provide information about healthcare system in Australia.

Establishing a National Refugee Health Framework

We endorse the recommendation of health experts that a National Refugee Health Framework is urgently needed. Such a framework can enhance the collaboration between health and settlement services at both service provision and policy levels.

Review Afghanistan evacuation response

The Department of Home Affairs should conduct a review of its response to the Afghanistan evacuation, to gain insight for future emergency responses.

Expand the Community Refugee Integration and Settlement Pilot

CRISP should be expanded on a long term basis, commensurate with community interest and involvement, and following ongoing monitoring and evaluations. The Department of Home Affairs should work with Community Refugee Sponsorship Australia to develop plans to extend the program to be additional to the humanitarian quota.

End the Community Support Program

The CSP should be closed down, with existing visa allocations merged into the CRISP and set aside as named applications.

Fund community development programs across all settlement services

All settlement services should be funded to facilitate community development programs to harness the goodwill of the community in terms of donations, volunteering, employment and accommodation.

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