In another gesture of support for the refugee community, Shepparton has joined Amnesty International in calling for the Federal Government to review and revise its “flawed” Community Support Program.
Established in 2016, the program aims to enable individuals, businesses or community organisations to sponsor visas for refugees looking to rebuild their lives in Australia.
However, Ethnic Council of Shepparton and District manager Chris Hazelman said the program, while a “welcome start”, was deeply flawed.
His was a perspective supported by Greater Shepparton City Council when it voted to back Amnesty International and write to federal representatives calling for CSP reform at its recent February meeting.
“At the time, (the CSP) was generally welcomed and people thought hey, this could be good,” Mr Hazelman said.
“But there were a couple of conditions.
“Firstly, the Federal Government limited the amount of sponsorships to 1000 refugees a year — and that’s not in addition to our normal humanitarian intake.
“So that’s 1000 that comes off Australia’s average annual humanitarian intake of 13 500.”
Mr Hazelman said the next major concern was cost.
Sponsorship fees would include a visa application fee of about $20 000 (with additional fees for family), a bond of $20 000, as well as airfare, medical screening and settlement costs.
“So for a family of five, you'd be talking about $80 000 to relocate and resettle,” Mr Hazelman said.
“A lot of people don't have that capacity.
“And there is the argument that it also transfers the cost of settlement from the government to the community — which is not a fair process.”
Refugees would also need reasonable English and the ability to secure a job immediately to be deemed eligible for the sponsorship program.
“That narrows down the pool significantly,” Mr Hazelman said.
“And it is also somewhat contradictory when the Federal Government funds 510 hours of English training for refugees.
“So they recognise that English for new arrivals is an issue.”
Amnesty International is calling for CSP places to be offered in addition to Australia’s existing humanitarian intake.
“This would ensure the government isn’t shifting their responsibility onto the community,” Mr Hazelman said.
“And it makes sure it's not an either-or situation. At the moment, if the 1000 doesn't get taken up, it doesn't necessarily mean the gap can be filled in the humanitarian program.
“So it needs to be revised and clearly differentiated between the two so it doesn't impact our traditional refugee intake.”
There are also calls for the government to limit the cost of applications and visas — Australia’s costs are currently three times that of equivalent programs in other countries.
Amnesty International is urging the government to increase the number of refugee places so the Australian community can support the sponsorship of about 10 000 refugees annually through the CSP.
However, Mr Hazelman argued that, as a matter of principle, settlement was a government responsibility.
“What communities can do is welcome and involve new arrivals in local activities, sporting clubs and so on,” he said.
“Communities like Shepparton make a very significant in-kind contribution to all the settlement processes. But to expect them to directly fund it — that's a bridge too far.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs said the CSP would be reviewed after it had been in place for a three-year period.
“The report of the evaluation will be presented to the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs in 2020,” the spokesperson said.
“The Australian Government will continue to examine additional ways to involve local community and businesses in the successful settlement of refugees and humanitarian entrants across Australia.
“For example, a small trial will be undertaken to bring in skilled refugees within the existing skilled visa framework.”
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