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Asylum Solutions: we need a sponsorship register for refugees

The people of Armidale, a NSW country town which benefits from the cosmopolitanism associated with the presence of the University of New England, are tolerant and open-hearted. They might well appear as…

Each adult Australian citizen would have the right to sponsor one person selected from the register every five years. DFID UK Department for International Development

The people of Armidale, a NSW country town which benefits from the cosmopolitanism associated with the presence of the University of New England, are tolerant and open-hearted. They might well appear as typical redneck ute drivers to outsiders, but they will raffle tickets for a load of their wood to raise money so that local Sudanese boys can travel interstate for basketball competitions.

Armidale and Canberra are also the only towns in Australia where Nelson Mandela Day is officially celebrated. Many other rural towns have their own ethnic communities and celebrations.

In Armidale, a local non-sectarian NGO has operated a rotating credit fund to pay airfares so that humanitarian entrants who have been living in African refugee camps can resettle and then save up to bring out their relatives.

Now, owing to a government decision which ensures that settlement places for refugees and humanitarian entrants are dribbled out from the same limited quota as for asylum seekers arriving by boat or plane, there have been no recent arrivals from the refugee camps.

One possible solution to Australia’s asylum seeker crisis is to take Armidale’s lead and establish a register for refugees wanting to come to Australia.

How would it work?

The idea is that the Australian government would pay the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to run registration offices for refugee applicants in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, for example. The UNHCR would be given clear guidelines to distinguish between individuals at risk of persecution and members of disadvantaged groups, not all of whom are persecuted.

Once registered, these refugees would go on a database which would be publicly available on the web with a photograph and 200-word description of the individual (with sketches and pseudonyms where necessary).

Each adult Australian citizen would have the right to sponsor one person selected from the register every five years upon payment of a A$5,000 fee as earnest of their seriousness in sponsorship. Families, NGOs, churches and non-Christian groups would be able to co-ordinate together to fundraise and bring in family groups.

Once provisionally sponsored, Australian health and security checks would be carried out before boarding the plane to Australia.

On arrival, the sponsored persons would have the right to work, to become tax-payers and to access Australian benefits. The cost of this would be balanced by the massive savings made by closing down detention centres in Australia and on Pacific Islands.

The number of asylum seekers coming under the scheme would be a direct measure of Australians’ generosity of spirit. AAP/Paul Miller

Fairness and generosity

Almost inevitably, English speakers and members of groups with receptive communities already established here in Australia would have an advantage, but no scheme will ever be 100% fair. The biases in this scheme would be in favour of attributes helpful in later settlement.

Except for non-refugees, this register would beat the people smugglers by offering a kinder alternative. No-one would be able to say that Australians had not chosen these new residents.

Furthermore, if all Australians, even the one in four born overseas, are as stony-hearted as our politicians allege the much-maligned residents of western Sydney to be, then there would be very few entrants under such a scheme. The numbers coming would be a direct measure of Australians’ generosity of spirit which I would rank much higher than that of the politicians currently so keenly racing each other to the bottom.

In any case, each and every arriving refugee would have at least one Australian to sincerely welcome them. Even Japan, with its xenophobic past, used to have a scheme under which each Japanese aid worker abroad had the right to bring back with them one local to be trained in Japan.

What about those who are left out?

If a register scheme were to be implemented, it would leave two outstanding questions. What would happen to refugees on the register whom no Australian wants to sponsor? What also would happen to asylum seekers who are found not to be refugees: members of unpopular minorities who aren’t at risk of persecution if returned home, as is currently the case with some Sri Lankan Tamils and better-off Iranians?

As to the “unwanted”, hope springs eternal, and at least they would be no worse off than before. As to the asylum seekers found to be self-selected economic migrants (as opposed to the 190,000 officially selected economic migrants and family members welcomed in Australia by our government last year), they would be flown home with a folder of information on the qualifications and other requirements necessary before they could be accepted as visaed immigrants.

Meanwhile, we in the bush can only dream that the next government might have the vision, as did former prime minister Malcolm Fraser with the Vietnamese, to let digger hospitality to those down on their luck shine through. By definition asylum seekers are brave and enterprising individuals – why not welcome them?

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19 Comments sorted by

  1. David Thompson

    Marketing Research

    Helen, your complaint is that a government decision has frustrated an Armidale-based NGO's fund to personally pay for individuals in African refugee camps to be resettled in Australia. You say "Now, owing to a government decision..." I had not heard of this new government decision. So I clicked on your link expecting to arrive at a DIMIA (or similar) site, with a press release, or perhaps a newspaper story announcement. Instead, you have linked not only to an advocacy group (Refugee Council of Australia), but to an advocacy group's report of 112 pages, and even then it was published in February 2008. FIVE years ago. That's five minutes I'll never get back.

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    1. Mike Brisco

      Scientist at Flinders University of South Australia

      In reply to David Thompson

      Helen is correct.

      Australian Parliament votes annually, on the number of humanitarian visas Australia will issue that year .

      When there is a humanitarian crisis (as with say Syria) - and people are on the move - some refugees make their own way here.

      Parliament could respond to that crisis, by offering extra visas. It has consistenly refused to do this.

      The politicians choice, is the reason why, if refugees turn up by boat, others in camps are made to wait.

      Hence, the chaos Helen talks about.

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    2. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Mike Brisco

      Mike, not sure why you posted that to me. It's got nothing to do with what I posted.

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    3. Mike Brisco

      Scientist at Flinders University of South Australia

      In reply to David Thompson

      Unless I misunderstood you, your point was that you could not verify helen's assertion.

      Your method of trying to verify it was following the link she had given. You complain that the link is not to an unbiassed source. Further that it is to a large document and the actual reference is not easy to obtain.

      I concluded, your point was, you thought her assertions unverifiable therefore doubtful.

      I have addressed that point, by explaining that what she says is correct. and why.

      I therefore think it relevant to post an assurance to you what she says is in fact correct.

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    4. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Mike Brisco

      Well, you have failed spectacularly. The document she links to was published in February, 2008 - FIVE years ago. If she wishes to clarify or explain, that would help her advocacy. As it is, it just looks suss.

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    5. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Mike Brisco

      Mike I suggest you have a look at the department of immigration web site for all sorts of wonderous information including what humanitarian visa numbers have been for a number of years with very little change or parliament voting annually.

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  2. David Thompson

    Marketing Research

    "can only dream that the next government might have the vision, as did former prime minister Malcolm Fraser with the Vietnamese"
    You mean like, only letting in 2,000 boat people over 7 years (we get that every few months nowadays), then starting a discourse about "queue jumpers" and 'economic migrants' to justify legislation banning boat people, before sending a team to Malaysia to find boats on their way to Australia, before sabotaging those boats, so they couldn't sail anywhere, and finally sending a team to various SE Asian refugee camps to hand-pick refugees for resettlement? Sounds exactly like the Howard years (minus the sabotaging of refugee boats midway).
    Ah, the good old days of "Life Wasn't Meant To Be Easy", eh, Helen?

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  3. R. Ambrose Raven

    none

    A different approach. Good.

    While brutality is obviously our preferred approach to refugees, and ignorance and arrogance is our preferred approach to our region, as the Robben (sorry, Manus) Island refugees won't be coming to Australia, we can also be less afraid of training and educating and employing them (and the equally poor locals) in suitable industry.

    Looming problems in the littoral States promise to quite satisfactorily rival the boat-people entertainment. Australia’s RAMSI mission…

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  4. Judith Olney

    Ms

    Thank you Helen, what a refreshing article, it gives hope where there is currently none on the political horizon.

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    1. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to David Thompson

      I'm a realist, and an idealist David, the world hasn't caved in, but that is only a matter of time unless there are some big changes.

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  5. Mary Mitchell

    Psychologist

    It is so good to see some positive solutions being aired. Some great thoughts, Helen.

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  6. Andrew Smith

    Education Consultant at Australian & International Education Centre

    Ironic that much of urban Australia, or the majority of the population, are on a media diet of "bush" Australia to feed and devlop our "identity" and "values".

    Meanwhile there appears to be much angst projected towards refugees from urban Australia through media and politicians, yet many regional communities are more than prepared to support refugees.

    Regional cities and towns have great potential with improved communications and lower property values, to be part of serious decentralisation in Australia, but the most significant barriers are those imposed, wittingly and unwittingly, by capital city centric state governments, and federal on top.

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    1. Mary Mitchell

      Psychologist

      In reply to Andrew Smith

      Agreed, Andrew.

      There are towns dying because there are no opportunities left for the young people. A number of towns have tried giving away land to try and get people from the cities to come and bring new blood. Refugees could fill these gaps. They have a wide variety of skills. They could be an asset to the country, if only we had the imagination to think of creative solutions.

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  7. Greg North

    Retired Engineer

    Helen, much of what you would want to achieve is already done via the Australian government humanitarian visas and for instance already 6000 p.a. fully taxpayer sponsored refugees are brought to Australia each year, that occurring for many years if you have a look at immigration department figures.
    http://www.immi.gov.au/media/fact-sheets/60refugee.htm and more info @
    http://www.immi.gov.au/media/publications/statistics/asylum/_files/asylum-trends-aus-annual-2011-12.pdf
    I have not actually seen…

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    1. Mary Mitchell

      Psychologist

      In reply to Greg North

      Greg, perhaps the reasons why unemployment figures for refugees is so high is that resettlement could be better thought through - better matching people's skills with areas of need for those skills rather than just putting more people in the big cities. Also, since we further traumatise already traumatised people with mandatory detention, we increase our own welfare burden.

      Can someone please tell me how people in Indonesia, Malaysia, etc are currently supposed to apply for humanitarian visas "correctly"? Are there places where people can go to get on a "queue"? If so how long is this queue and where are the people supposed to live (officially) while their applications are being processed? It seems to me that Australia funding processing centres would be a good idea.

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    2. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Mary Mitchell

      On the unemployment Mary, I suspect when you have people coming to Australia with limited english and skills not aligned with most of our employment, it will make it harder for such people to get employment, especially at times when unemployment goes up.
      It kind of begs the question of are western countries really doing the right thing in resettling people and before you condemm me as being a nasty harsh redneck or whatever as one of our absent regulars often likes to describe me, just hear me out…

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  8. Mary Mitchell

    Psychologist

    I applaud the people of Armidale and hope your article inspires people in other regional centres.

    It seems to me that there are too few receiving countries for the number of people who are fleeing persecution. Australia will never be able to take more than a small percentage of the world's refugees - and there will always be refugees from somewhere in the world.

    Perhaps we and the other receiving countries, and the UN itself, should be approaching nations who are trying to catch up with the…

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  9. Mary Mitchell

    Psychologist

    Last night I had a dream. There had been a global shift in how nation states thought about people displaced by conflict. No longer were they being looked upon as a problem, a burden to be passed on somewhere else like a hot potato, but as an opportunity.

    It all started in Australia. Right here. As one solution after another designed to stem the tide of asylum seekers trying to get the country failed, the nation's leaders had no choice but to listen to advice from people who understood the global…

    Read more