Uniting Church supports a revised Community Refugee Sponsorship Initiative

What is community refugee sponsorship?*

Community refugee sponsorship is a practice that enables individuals in a local area to come together to form a sponsorship group, which commits to providing financial, emotional and settlement support to refugee newcomers over a 12-month period.

Sponsorship can help regional communities attract and retain migrants to boost their populations and expand their workforces. It can enable sustainable settlement in regional locations where professional settlement organisations are not present.

Community refugee sponsorship has been working successfully in Canada for more than 40 years. Ordinary community members have sponsored and welcomed more than 300,000 refugees since the late 1970s, in addition to those entering under the government-funded resettlement program.

How is the Uniting Church involved and what are the issues?

The Uniting Church (Rob Floyd, Assembly Resourcing Unit) chairs the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce (ACRT) within the National Council of Churches in Australia. ACRT is a member of the Community Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (CRSI), a group established to promote a revised program based more in line with the Canadian model.

There is general agreement among those in the sector and involved in refugee support that there are problems with the existing refugee community sponsorship program (CSP) in Australia.

  • The costs of the current program are prohibitive. A minimum of $19,000 is needed for the application alone and there are significant other costs as well. These high costs limit the extent to which the program can be taken up in the community.
  • The scope of the program should be broader- currently it is too narrow and focuses primarily on family reunion. This is undoubtedly important but there are other groups of refugees who could benefit and who would be supported by community groups, including churches.
  • Places in the program should be additional to our nation’s humanitarian intake of refugees. Currently, for every position filled in the existing CSP, one place is subtracted from the humanitarian program. A revised CSP should add to the total number of refugees we can welcome and so maximise the benefits for all concerned.

During COVID, when no refugees have been arriving, the CRSI has been involved in a trial mentoring program that pairs local community groups with refugee families. The aim of this was to demonstrate the willingness of community groups to get involved. Longer term, ACRT is thinking through how churches might work together to recruit, train and support groups interested in community sponsorship.

But all this depends on the support of the Minister, Alex Hawke MP, for a revised community sponsorship program, hence this appeal to write supportive letters (see overleaf).

* This information is taken from the CRSI document “What is community refugee sponsorship?”

Suggested draft letter. Please re-write this in your own words to reflect your concerns and what motivates you to care about this issue.

 

The Hon Alex Hawke MP

Minister for Immigration, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs

PO Box 6022

House of Representatives

Parliament House

Canberra ACT 2600

alex.hawke.mp@aph.gov.au

 

Dear Minister

I would like to express my support for a revised Community Sponsorship Program for refugees. (You could say something more about yourself here)

I congratulate the government for undertaking a review of the existing Community Sponsorship Program and thank you for your strong interest in an improved program. I believe that renewing the program could have great benefits for refugees themselves, as well as for Australian businesses and communities in the areas they settle. It’s a win/win situation.

My concern about this issue comes from…….

I understand that you are still considering possible changes to the program and will announce those in the near future. I strongly support making the program less expensive for local groups, communities and businesses to sponsor refugees. Currently the cost of sponsorship is prohibitive. A less expensive program would better tap into the goodwill that exists in so many communities towards refugees and enable more communities to benefit from an expanded program. I also support making the program criteria wider. I fully support the goal of family reunion, but I think the scope of the program could be expanded to include other categories of refugees. Finally, I would like to see a revised Community Sponsorship Program that is additional to our nation’s current humanitarian intake of refugees. In that way we are growing our contribution to what is a significant global challenge as well as the benefits to all concerned.

Thank you for the opportunity to share my views. I do hope that the concerns I have raised will be incorporated into the revised program when you come to announce it.

 

Your sincerely

 

(Insert your name and signature)

 

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