The Federal Government’s review Investing in Refugees: Investing in Australia is such a constructive contribution to improving refugee settlement that it is a mystery it took nine months to release, the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) says.
RCOA CEO Paul Power said “We were pleased that the Government undertook this much needed review, and invested the high level of expertise needed. This is a well-considered and thorough examination of refugee settlement.”
The reception to the review has largely centred around the increase to the proportion of people to be resettled in regional areas. However, said Mr. Power, this only represents a slight increase from the status quo: “The Government’s current goal is to resettle 40% of refugees in regional areas. Increasing this to 50%, therefore, would involve a relatively modest number of people in areas which together cover most of the country. It is extremely important, however, that the Government invest sufficient resources to support the regional resettlement of refugees. The Government cannot expect communities to take on the whole responsibility for ensuring successful regional settlement. It must provide much-needed investment into settlement services, employment support and other infrastructure if regional resettlement is to be viable in the long term.”
RCOA agreed with the authors’ recommendations that Australia’s refugee and humanitarian program should prioritise the resettlement of the most vulnerable people, as referred by the UNHCR. “However,” Mr. Power noted, “this is not the current practice. Only 23% of refugees resettled in Australia are currently taken from UNHCR referrals. This should represent a majority, given that they have been assessed as being most in need of resettlement.”
The review also recommends that the Government consider additional complementary pathways to resettlement, including community sponsorship. “A truly community-led sponsorship program has the potential to bring enormous benefits to both the people being sponsored as refugees, and the wider Australian community, including in regional areas” said Mr. Power. “Through such a model, people can raise funds to sponsor people to come to Australia as refugees. We can look to Canada as the leaders on this front, in addition to nascent models in the UK, Ireland, New Zealand and Germany.
”The current Australian Community Sponsorship (CSP) program should be considered a failure. It has not garnered widespread community participation, is prohibitively expensive and exploits refugee communities desperate to reunite with their loved ones. Importantly, any future program must represent an addition to the existing refugee quota in order to contribute meaningfully to resettling the world’s displaced people. We welcome the Government’s commitment to review this program and urge them to take these flaws into account.”
RCOA welcomed the Government’s commitment to bring in a Coordinator-General for Migrant Services, in response to the recommendations of the review. “It is important that we streamline and coordinate settlement services in order that people arriving in Australia are able to easily access the support they need. This has the potential to significantly improve their experience and the longer-term integration outcomes” said Mr. Power.
All in all, RCOA have praised the thorough and pertinent findings of the review, and commends the Government both for commissioning it and for being generally receptive to its recommendations. “We urge the Government to take heed of the recommendations in this review,” Mr Power said, “which, if implemented, have the potential to improve settlement outcomes, for refugees and the wider Australian community alike.”
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