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Refugees welcome

Friday, 11 November 2022  | Rebecca Payne


Our house was empty and you filled it out with your kindness and brought happiness to my family. This has been a challenging time. You have no idea how much your help has meant. For all the little and big things you’ve pitched in … thank you. There was nothing random about your acts of kindness

- Feedback from a family receiving community-led support.


On a Friday night in August this year, two groups of people wait with anticipation at the arrivals gate of Sydney Airport. They are there to welcome refugees to Australia with open arms, under a new Federal government program.

Among them is Shayne Davy, who has signed up as part of the Gosford Anglican Support Group to help the Al Daoud family find its feet within her community. ‘We’ll be there really to help navigate all the various services’, she says. ‘Help them with enrolling the children into the local school, helping them find some long-term accommodation. But the essence of all of this really is about us helping, supporting, welcoming, embracing and allowing them to have a feeling and a sense of belonging.’

For Ms Davey, taking action at a local level has helped combat feelings of helplessness when confronted with the bigger picture. ‘Sometimes it can feel quite overwhelming when we see what’s happening worldwide’, she says. ‘But at this level it’s just something tangible. As a community group, just a group of ordinary Australians, we can make a difference.’

Addressing ‘grossly inadequate’ settlement numbers

Current worldwide refugee statistics make for grim reading, with around 100 million people currently forcibly displaced and fewer than 100,000 a year resettled worldwide. ‘That’s grossly inadequate’, says Lisa Button, CEO of Community Refugee Sponsorship Australia (CRSA).

For the past five years, CRSA has been spearheading efforts to see Australia follow in the footsteps of Canada by introducing a community sponsorship program. Established 40 years ago, the Canadian program has seen 325,000 refugees settled into local communities with support from volunteers.

Helping new arrivals thrive

Not only has the Canadian program resulted in more refugees finding a safe home in Canada, it has also helped them thrive on arrival. Refugee newcomers face significant challenges. In addition to having to start from scratch in a new country, there may be language barriers to overcome as well as challenges with respect to gaining employment, succeeding in education and having overseas qualifications recognised. On top of this, many refugees have had experiences that have left them with significant trauma as well as the ongoing stress of family members left behind.

The philosophy underpinning the Canadian approach is that groups bring their local knowledge and networks to the table and provide a ready-made support group, easing the transition to a new life. And the results of this program have been outstanding: refugees with community support are not only more likely to find employment more quickly, but they’re likely to still be earning more than those without similar support years later.

Enlarging Australia’s contribution

Earlier this year, the Australian government introduced a new program, based on the Canadian model, called the Community Refugee Integration and Settlement Pilot (CRISP). Over four years the program, introduced by the Coalition government, will see 1,500 refugees settled into Australia with community support. The Albanese government has voiced its plan to increase these numbers significantly, as well as making these numbers as additional to existing visa quotas. The program truly enjoys bipartisan support, along with other members of parliament including a range of independents and even Pauline Hanson.

How the program works

Refugees are referred into the program by the Federal government and are individuals identified by UNHCR as being in most urgent need of resettlement. They arrive in Australia as permanent residents, with full entitlements to Medicare and Centrelink support, as well as government-funded English classes. The government has partnered with CRSA to design and deliver the program.

A group of five or more adults can put their hands up to provide practical support to a refugee household over 12 months. Their location doesn’t matter - the program caters for regional Australians as well as their big city cousins.

Prior to arrival day, the group is responsible for preparing temporary housing and raising funds to cover basic needs and living expenses until earnings or government entitlements kick in. After meeting their matched household at the airport, the family takes them back to their local area to help them settle in. Over the next year, they work together to understand the household’s aspirations and help support them with anything from getting a driving licence to applying for TAFE.

Faith groups stepping up

According to CRISP program manager Romy Vitalien, many of the groups currently preparing to welcome refugees are drawn from churches and other faith-based groups. ‘These groups work really well’, says Romy. ‘They already know each other, have experience working together and they share a set of common values. They have a community network to fall back on for support and they’re really motivated to make a difference. We at CRSA are so grateful to have their support.’

Welcome home

Meanwhile, back at Sydney Airport, Ms Davy talks about the preparations her group has made.

‘I think we are as ready as we can be’, she says. ‘We work well together as a group, and we are passionate about this. We are ready to welcome this family into our community.’

‘We can’t solve the problems of the world but we can reach out to help a single refugee family where we can – and already it is bringing our local community even closer together.’

As she speaks, the first family has arrived, to be met by cries of ‘Welcome home!’ and tearful hugs. It’s an emotional moment for people who have only spoken over WhatsApp until now but are about to become an important part of each other’s lives.

New arrival Rouba Farrouh hugs her children as she thanks the groups. ‘Seeing you all here, I don’t feel like a stranger’, she says. ‘I feel like this is my country.’

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Rebecca Payne is the Marketing and Communications Manager at Community Refugee Sponsorship Australia.

Photo credits: Community Refugee Sponsorship Australia.


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