Fair go for settlers with special needs

Media Releases, Opinion article written on the 16 Oct 2007

It’s time to speak out loudly and clearly for an Australian refugee policy which is non discriminatory and firmly based on the actual humanitarian needs of those seeking to resettle to this country. African-Australians have done absolutely nothing to deserve to be singled out for having apparently failed to integrate in their new home, Australia. They are no different from other vulnerable groups such as South Americans, Cambodians, and Vietnamese refugees who have previously looked to Australia for protection from persecution.
Immigration Minister Andrews has the right to determine who does and doesn’t come to Australia. But there is no substantive evidence to support the view that African refugees and humanitarian entrants are having more difficulty in resettling than others. Police forces in a number of States have evidence that crime rates among the Sudanese community are no higher than those for the rest of Australia – in fact, there are suggestions that Sudanese people are less likely to commit crime than other Australians.
The fact is that many of the refugees settled here from Africa have fled the most appalling horrors of war. In the Darfur region of Sudan, a bloody and protracted conflict has seen some 200,000 people killed, while others have been raped and mutilated. Refugees settled here from places like Sierra Leone in West Africa have also witnessed similar unspeakable atrocities.
On top of all the challenges they have faced before and after arriving in Australia, many African refugees also live with the difficulty of being separated from family and loved ones. The Government’s decision to halt the processing of African refugees will particularly impact those who are waiting to be reunited with family members. For this reason the current approach to cut numbers should be reviewed.
Oxfam Australia joined nearly 70 organisations that have come together to voice their support for the African communities in Australia and to insist that decisions regarding Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program should not be made on the basis of perceptions or assumptions about any refugee group’s ability to integrate. As an international aid agency used to working in countries affected by conflict and war from which refugees flee, we are intimately aware of the threats faced by many of them. It is vital that they be given fair resettlement options.
The international refugee system depends on collective responsibility and all governments must share the load to ensure people are able to find asylum or refuge during times of crisis. The situation for most displaced people is increasingly desperate. Many refugees live in temporary camps for more than ten years before being able to find a “permanent” home. The average length of stay for a refugee in a camp is now 17 years. And any suggestion that refugees would be better off in these environments than resettling into a community with social services, support networks and overall safety is simply not true.
Australia’s offshore humanitarian program allows around 14,000 refugees and humanitarian entrants to be resettled in Australia. This is generous, but if put into perspective, many developing countries play a disproportionate role in hosting refugees. For example, according to the UN, in 2005 Tanzania provided safe haven to 548,824 people.
Humanitarian agencies such as Oxfam would like to see the Australian refuge program working to assist those with the greatest humanitarian need. In the past Australia has been commended for its compassion, but if we are to help people, then we should provide sufficient funding for the services they need to settle successfully in Australia. We call on all Australian politicians to continue to give a ‘fair go’ not just to our newest and most vulnerable Australians already here, but also those seeking to come here and rebuild their shattered lives. All that refugees want, be they African, Asian or Middle eastern, is for Australians to accept them. Integration is, after all, a two way street.
Andrew Hewett
Executive Director
Oxfam Australia
This opnion piece was published in The Courier Mail on 23 October 2007.