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Newcastle as a Welcome Town

Novacastrians make a presentation to the Council

Newcastle Action for Refugee Rights (NARR) worked hard and presented an excellent proposal to the City of Newcastle Council, persuading them to adopt their model for their newly endorsed status as a "Welcome Town" for refugees. Below is the entire paper.

Photo: They're "ordinary Australians" who moved mountains, lobbied their local members, councils and who went into the community, telling people a better story about refugees. Here are some of the Novacastrians who were connected to Newcastle Action for Refugee Rights (NARR), having their lunch at a Conference by Rural Australians for Refugees in Mudgee: Margaret Clarke, Ruth Boydell and Steve Georgopoulos.

Related pages:

15 September 2002: Newcastle and Bega become Two Welcome Cities - Thanks to the local government lobbying of many refugee advocates, both from Rural Australians for Refugees and Newcastle Action for Refugee Rights (NARR), the City of Newcastle as well as the Bega Valley Shire recently tabled motions that were endorsed and carried, endorsing the concept of Welcome Towns, formulated by RAR.

25 February 2002: The Refugee Welcome Towns: RAR (Rural Australians for Refugees) developed the model of Welcome Towns as an alternative to detention. We're lobbying local government in Western Australia to adopt this model.

Newcastle as a Welcome Town

Presented at Public Voice Hearing

Newcastle City Council

8 October 2002

by

Newcastle Action for Refugee Rights (NARR)

Submission prepared by

Annie Rooke-Frizell, Steve Georgopoulos, Anne McLaughlin and Tony McLaughlin

Presented by Steve Georgopoulos and Anne McLaughlin

1. What is Newcastle Action for Refugee Rights?

  • Newcastle Action for Refugee Rights was formed in January of this year by a group of local people who had become alarmed and concerned at the plight of refugees seeking asylum in Australia.

  • NARR has a broad scope of participants including health workers, members of church and welfare groups, students, retirees, lecturers, teachers, trade unionists, miners, artists and clerical workers. The group is apolitical and united on this single issue - the current policy and treatment of refugees and asylum seekers arriving in Australia.

  • As a group we have had weekly meetings, arranged community forums, public rallies and raised funds for assistance to refugees. NARR has engaged a range of speakers who have had first hand experience with either the process of detention themselves or in dealing with the effects and ramifications of detention on the individuals.

  • The growth of NARR and its supporters over the past months reflects the growing and developing community concern, unease and questioning of the current treatment of asylum seekers in Australia today.

  • The rationale behind NARR activities has always been to establish the truth and reality of the refugee experience in Australia today that exists behind the language of government institutions and media reporting.

2. Context

  • We are not asking NCC to provide a political solution to the asylum seeker dilemma. As a group we realise that immigration to Australia can't be open slather and as the Honourable Justice Marcus Einfeld, AO QC, former Judge of the Federal Court of Australia, said recently in Newcastle what is needed in fact is:

    "indeed the very opposite, which is due process, the application to each asylum seeker of traditional Australian standards of justice, law and decency which are given to everyone else in our country."

  • We as a group, feel that what is possible is a productive culture of compassion through leadership. This means that the basic core Australian beliefs of decency, compassion and a fair go can be given validation in a simple action - the declaration of Newcastle as a Welcome Town for Refugees, that would foster constructive and positive social attitudes towards new arrivals.

What is a Refugee?1

  • A refugee is:

  • someone who has suffered human rights abuses and has been forced to flee their home;

  • someone who has crossed into another country to seek safety from persecution;

  • someone who cannot return home because that would mean death, torture or imprisonment.

Australia was the sixth country to sign the Geneva Convention on Refugees in 1951, which establishes the right of people to seek asylum if they have a well-founded fear of persecution. Refugees are not migrants. Migrants make a conscious and planned decision to come to Australia and apply through existing channels to enter the country. They are able to prepare for their re-location and of course if they wish, they can return to their country of origin. Currently Australia accepts 90,000 migrants and up to 12,000 refugees per year. 1See Appendix B for current statistics

What is an Asylum Seeker?2

An asylum seeker is a person who applies for recognition as a refugee. Some asylum seekers enter Australia with visas, others arrive without documentation. Asylum seekers who arrive in Australia without documentation are detained in one of 5 Immigration detention centres until their status is determined. 2See Appendix A for full explanation of terms

Newcastle has a tradition of compassion for newcomers - in some ways Newcastle has historically been a Welcome Town for Refugees.

The horrors of Nazi Germany, the destruction of parts of Europe during WW2 and the ensuing division of East and West in the Cold War caused millions of refugees who had no home to return to and needed a new start. In 1945 Arthur Calwell, Australia's first Minister for Immigration, signed an agreement with the International Refugee Organization under which Australia agreed to take 12,000 then amended to 20,000 refugees per year. But these levels were abandoned due to the crisis in Europe and the inflow to Australia reached 75,500 in 1949, and 70,200 in 1950.

Between 1947-51 a total of 170,000 refugees reached Australia, which then had a population of approximately 8 million.

Newcastle's first experience of accommodating refugees occurred when over 1800 of these people disembarked from the Fairsea, which docked in Newcastle Harbour in 1949.

Individual and voluntary kindnesses and help for Newcastle's refugees were many as they grappled with a totally new language and cugees in Australia today.

This tradition of compassion began in the 1920s with the New Settler Leagues and developed into the Newcastle Good Neighbour Council, formalised in 1961, all run by volunteers. Novocastrians took it upon themselves to visit the camps at Greta and Mayfield, to volunteer a range of services including language classes, counselling, job assistance, accessing services, compiling case histories, home tutors (180), and translating etc.

Despite broader community reservations and uncertainties about the foreignness of these newcomers, with time, government support and community leadership at all levels, the realisation that these people shared the same hopes and aspirations for the future allowed for a new Australia and a new Newcastle to emerge.

Today we have new wars, new conflicts, new victims, new refugees and a new challenge for how we in Australia, and Newcastle respond.

This proposal is being made because of local concern at government policies that are impacting on refugees in Australia today.

Just as there were initially no services for the WW2 refugees, once more we find ourselves in another stage of refugee history in Australia.

Current asylum seekers, fleeing persecution and desperate circumstances without the time and ability to make official application for entry, arrive in Australia with limited access to the agencies that are in place for the traditional migrant re-locating to Australia. Support services for those detained in Detention Centres and those who are granted Temporary Protection Visas are minimal. See Appendix C on Temporary Protection Visas

This situation has led to the formation of numerous voluntary community groups with the aim of assisting these people. Groups such as Rural Australians for Refugees, ChilOut (Children out of detention), House of Welcome (NSW Eucumenical Council), Mercy Refugee Service (Sisters of Mercy), Spare Rooms for Refugees, Asylum Seekers Welcome Centre (Good Shepherd Sisters) are just a few of more than one hundred separate groups across Australia formed to provide tangible support within a positive and caring culture of compassion. See Appendix D: Refugee settlement and Appendix E: Myths about Refugees

Newcastle Action for Refugee Rights embodies a local response to this nationwide concern and proposes that Newcastle City Council, as the representative leadership of the city, endorse and promote Newcastle as a Welcome Town for Refugees.

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3. What could Newcastle City Council do if the city was declared a Welcome Town?

  • Be an on-going partner in a wide community forum that discusses the needs and treatment of refugees, detainees and asylum-seekers as well as the possible contribution of existing agencies and groups within Newcastle.

  • Endorse and promote the development of a community strategy to identify, support and welcome refugees and asylum seekers within the Newcastle community.

  • Encourage the development of a framework that enables relevant groups to liase, unite and reach out to those on Temporary Protection Visas, and detainees, who have only limited access to Commonwealth support. See Appendix D: Refugee Settlement

  • Support a tangible policy of welcome, acceptance and hope to all people classed as refugees. This could take the form of signage, letterheads, and continuing support of multi-cultural festivals such as Fiesta.

  • Symbolically demonstrate and promote civic tolerance, inclusion and a fair go for those whose lives have been radically altered by war, persecution and human rights abuses.

4. Why be a Welcome Town?

1. Why should Newcastle City Council become a Welcome Town in 2002?


Community

holistic triangle

Services Council


This is a holistic diagram showing how the three sectors of Community, Newcastle City Council and Services are all part of one entity - Newcastle - our town. Together the three elements create a synergy - our place within the larger community of our State, our country and the global community of our planet.

By becoming a Welcome Town, Newcastle can use the intangible symbolism to make something very real and tangible - a regional centre that has global connections and a global social conscience.

Compassion makes good business sense in a global community


Community

holistic triangle

Services Council


2. Community - Council

  1. Community is everybody in our town.

  2. Newcastle and the Hunter Valley have ALWAYS been a welcome zone for refugees and migrants.

  3. Newcastle City Council has supported community grass roots groups in showing the wider Australian community that Newcastle celebrates the cultural diversity and community harmony that exist in our town. One example is the support given to Cultures in Action (CIA) in putting on the Cultural Stomp in 1997 and since then. This event made national headlines and showed the rest of Australia that Newcastle is a city for all regardless of peoples' background.


Community

holistic triangle

Services Council


3. Services - Council

  1. Through the Ethnic Affairs Priority Statement, under the Charter of Principles for a Culturally Diverse Society the NSW Government ensures that all people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds have access to all state government services.

  2. To its credit, NCC has incorporated a similar access policy in its management plan. This was formulated with the assistance of the Newcastle Migrant Interagency.

  3. So, already within the NCC's strategic management plan there is an acknowledgment that services must be provided for ALL members of our town.


Community

holistic triangle

Services Council


4. Services - Community

  1. Through collaboration with State Government departments, non-government organisations and community grass roots groups such as NARR, Newcastle City Council can ensure that its strategic management priorities for access to its services can be fulfilled.

  2. Newcastle is large enough to have a functioning multicultural support infrastructure:

    1. Migrant Resource Centre;
    2. Ethnic Communities Council;
    3. Multicultural Neighbourhood Centre;
    4. Migrant Health Services;
    5. Community Relations Commission;
    6. STARTTS;
    7. DET - both Schools and TAFE have multicultural services.
  3. Together with the above organisations and agencies Newcastle City Council can demonstrate its commitment to social justice and principles of a fair go for all people.

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The Whole is larger than the sum of its parts


Community

holistic triangle

Services Council


5. Newcastle Steel City to What?

  1. As our town moves into a new world beyond just manufacturing steel we need to emphasise the attributes which high light our place in the global community.

  2. Increasingly our Federal Government is under national and international pressure to review the policy of mandatory detention, which is violating Australia's international treaty obligations regarding the treatment of asylum seekers.

  3. Newcastle needs to continue developing a cosmopolitan outlook to draw industries which emphasise the feeling that people, fellow humans and the sense of community which follows is our number one priority so that the city remains vital and outgoing.

  4. Education is the second largest export industry in Australia. Newcastle has the opportunity to expand its international student numbers substantially both for the University and Hunter Institute, TAFE NSW.

  5. Newcastle has more artists per head than any other centre in Australia.

  6. There are efforts being made through such bodies as the Hunter Production Network to build our own homegrown film making industry.

  7. Complementing this there is a proposal to have our own Community TV Station which will hopefully produce our own shows.

  8. It is crucial that Newcastle maintains and builds on the cosmopolitan nature of our community so that we have a place in the global business community. With BHP having disappeared it is important that Newcastle creates an ambience which will draw the service and entertainment industries.

Compassion and a genuine fair go for ALL people is good for global business


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Appendices


Appendix A - Definition of terms

Source: Refugee Council of Australia

Who are refugees?

The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (and its 1967 Protocol), to which Australia is a signatory, defines a refugee as:

Any person who owing to a well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his/her nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself/herself of the protection of that country.

The important parts of this definition are:

  • that the person has to be outside their country of origin;

  • the reason for their flight has to be a fear of persecution;

  • this fear of persecution has to be well founded (ie they have to have experienced it or be likely to experience it if they return);

  • the persecution has to result from one or more of the 5 grounds listed in the definition;

  • they have to be unwilling or unable to seek the protection of their country.

The United Nations body responsible for protecting refugees and overseeing adherence to the Convention is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The Convention Definition is used by the Australian Government to determine whether our country has protection obligations towards an individual. If a person is found to be a refugee, Australia is obliged under international law to offer support and to ensure that the person is not sent back unwillingly to the country of origin.

The term "refugee" is often used colloquially to refer to people who have been displaced due to a natural disaster (eg an earthquake or volcanic eruption) or environmental change. Such usage is not strictly correct.

Another term that one sometimes hears is "economic refugee". Again, this term is not correct. The accurate description of people who leave their country or place of residence because they want to seek a better life is "economic migrant".

Refugees are frequently confused with migrants. There are in fact many differences. They can also be confused with asylum seekers.

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Refugees and migrants

The terms "refugees" and "migrants" are frequently used either interchangeably or in close association. It is common to see, for example, reference to "migrants and refugees" in a policy statement. Rarely, however, is there any indication that there is recognition that the two words refer to very different groups of people.

Refugees:

Refugees are people who have been forced to leave their countries because they have been persecuted.

Rarely do refugees have the chance to make plans for their departure: to pack their belongings, to say farewell to their friends and families ... Some refugees have to flee with no notice, taking with them only the clothes on their backs. Others, like the family that pretends to be going on a weekend break, have to keep their plans a secret from all around them in case they are discovered.

Refugees often have little idea about where they are going. They are running away, not running to. Those who come to Australia often have scant understanding about our country and the nature of society here. They have had no opportunity to prepare themselves physically or psychologically for their new life in Australia.

A significant proportion of refugees have experienced severe trauma. Many have been tortured. Arrivals to Australia have included survivors of the Balkan internment centres and "rape camps" and prisoners of war from the Gulf War.

Migrants:

Migrants make a conscious choice to come to Australia. They are able to read about the country and learn about it from friends and families. They have time to study the language and explore employment opportunities before they make a final decision about whether to come.

One of the most significant differences is that migrants are able to pack their precious belongings and say good-bye to the important people in their lives.

Another very important distinction is that migrants can go home at any time if things do not work out as they had hoped or if they get homesick. They can also pick up a phone and talk to friends and relatives. Most refugees cannot.

Because refugees and migrants are different groups of people, with different prearrival experiences, it is important that the distinction be made in the services provided. Refugees have needs distinct from and additional to migrants, in particular in relation to torture and trauma counselling, secure housing and medical care.

Refugees and asylum seekers

The terms "refugees" and "asylum seekers" are often used interchangeably but they have quite distinct meanings.

Refugees:

Refugees are victims of persecution who have been recognised as fitting the definition of a refugee contained in the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, to which Australia is a signatory.

Refugees have certain rights as set out in this treaty. The most important is protection from refoulement, ie from being sent back to their country of origin against their will. Also included in the Convention are stipulations with regard to issues such as access to employment, education, the legal system and civil rights.

Refugees come to Australia in one of two ways. Most come under the Refugee and Special Humanitarian Program, which is the humanitarian component of the migration program. These people are selected overseas, usually after referral from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). They enter Australia with a visa that entitles them to permanent residency (and to apply for citizenship after the prescribed waiting period).

Other refugees have applied for asylum once in Australia. Depending upon their method of arrival, once they have been determined to be refugees, they either have the same rights and entitlements as refugees who have entered under the Refugee and Special Humanitarian Program or are granted a three year Temporary Protection Visa (Visa Subclass 785) which has very different entitlements.

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Asylum Seekers:

For some of the world's refugee population it is either impractical or impossible to go first to a neighbouring country and then to seek resettlement from there. This could be because the neighbouring countries are not signatories to the international laws that would ensure their protection in these countries (few countries in this region, for instance, are signatories to the Refugee Convention). It could also be because they would not be safe in a neighbouring country, in particular if that country was sympathetic to the persecutory regime. In these cases, individuals may choose to try to go directly to a country, such as Australia, where they can seek protection.

Such people are called asylum seekers. Those who come to Australia have usually entered with a visitors', student or other temporary visa. Some arrive with no documents or with false documents.

Arriving without appropriate papers should not be interpreted as an attempt to defraud the system. By definition, refugees are people who are at risk of persecution. In most cases, the agent of persecution is their government. Applying for a passport and/or an exit visa can be far too dangerous for some refugees; so too can be an approach to an Australian Embassy for a visa. These actions can put their lives, and those of their families, at risk. In such cases refugees may have to travel on forged documents or bypass regular migration channels and arrive without papers.

Because boat arrivals receive much publicity, one could be forgiven for thinking that the number of asylum seekers entering Australia is increasing. This is not the case. The number of asylum seekers coming to Australia this year is not appreciably higher than the numbers for last year (8,257 to June 1999). The difference is in the profile of people seeking protection.

If a person enters Australia legally and applies for asylum, they are given a Bridging Visa that allows them to remain legally in the country while their application for refugee status is being considered. If their application was made within 45 days of arrival, they are also entitled:

  • to apply for a work permit; and
  • to receive Medicare assistance.

Welfare support is limited. After a 6 month waiting period, and only during the primary application stage, some receive income support equivalent to 89% of welfare benefits. Asylum seekers are not eligible for any other welfare assistance or state government support programs. A small proportion of asylum seekers receive application advice from government funded legal centres and agencies.

Once an asylum seeker has been determined to meet the definition of a refugee (and meet health and character requirements), they are granted permanent residence and, as explained above, have the same entitlements as refugees who have entered Australia under the Refugee Program.

If a person enters without a valid visa or passport, he/she is detained for the duration of the determination process in one of the five immigration detention centres: Sydney (Villawood), Melbourne (Maribyrnong), Perth (at the Airport), Woomera and Port Hedland. Provision for release exists only for children (but not their parent or caregiver), the elderly and victims of severe torture/trauma. Asylum seekers in detention receive assistance to lodge their claims for refugee status. These applications are given priority status by decision makers. If they arrived without a valid visa or passport after 20 October, 1999 an asylum seeker is not eligible for permanent residence and can only be granted a three year Temporary Protection Visa (Visa Subclass 785) which has the following entitlements:

  • access only to Special Benefits through Centrelink for which a range of eligibility criteria apply;

  • no family reunion rights (including reunion with spouse and children);

  • limited access to DIMA funded settlement services;

  • access to school education subject to state policy (full fees imposed for tertiary education);

  • permission to work, but ability to find employment influenced by temporary nature of visa;

  • no automatic right of return if the visa holder leaves the country.

The Refugee Council is strongly opposed to the imposition of this new three year Temporary Protection Visa as these new measures are contrary to our international obligations and will have a profound and lasting impact on the people concerned and the communities from which they came.

All refugees have at one time been asylum seekers but once their status is recognised, it is no is no longer appropriate to use this term.

Some asylum seekers are refugees. The act of recognition of refugee status does not make someone a refugee. He/she has been a refugee all along; the granting of status merely makes it official. This is why it is important to presume that asylum seekers are refugees until proven otherwise. Failure to do this can mean that a country does not meet its legal obligations to genuine refugees.


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Appendix B - Statistics on Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Detainees in Australia

Source: Refugee Council of Australia

1. Australia's Offshore Program Numbers from 1993/94-2000/01

This graph shows the total number of entrants to Australia through the resettlement program. It also shows the relative weight of the various components of the program.

Offshore Refugee and Humanitarian Program in Australia: Number of Entrants
SHP-Special Humanitarian Program SAC - Special Assistance Category

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2. Asylum Applicants in Australia Compared to Other like Countries, 1995/6-2000/1*

  1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000
Australia 7 11, 135 8, 128 8, 390 12, 185 13, 105
Canada 25, 600 25, 600 24, 300 24, 973 30, 124 36, 534
Denmark 5, 100 5, 900 5, 100 5, 699 6, 467 10, 077
Germany 127, 000 149, 200 151, 700 143, 429 138, 319 117, 648
Sweden 9, 000 5, 800 9, 700 12, 844 11, 231 16, 303
United Kingdom 55, 000 27, 900 32, 500 46, 020 71, 160 76, 040
United States 154, 500 128, 200 84, 800 54, 952 41, 377 48, 054

*These figures are based on DIMA figures as at June, 2001, as well as those contained in the 'World Refugee Survey 2001'.

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3. Number of Children and Adults held in Detention as at November 20, 2001

3a. Number of Residents in Remote Detention Centres*

  Curtin IRPC Port Hedland Woomera
Male 471 275 524
Female 43 67 176
Total Minors 79 117 293
Unaccompanied Minors 8 8 37
Total 601 467 1030

*The majority of boat arrivals are kept in remote detention centres while most airport arrivals are kept in the urban detention centres.

3b. Residents in Urban Detention Centres

  Maribyrnong IDC Perth IDC Villawood IDC
Male 71 22 272
Female 9 0 80
Total Minors 6 0 26
Unaccompanied Minors 0 0 0
Total 86 22 378

These figures are based on Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs figures as at November 20, 2001.


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Appendix C - Temporary Protection Visas currently issued in Australia

Source: Refugee Council of Australia

An asylum seeker arriving without a valid visa or passport after 20 October, 1999 is not eligible for permanent residence and can only be granted a three year Temporary Protection Visa (Visa Subclass 785) which has the following entitlements:

  • access only to Special Benefits through Centrelink for which a range of eligibility criteria apply;

  • no family reunion rights (including reunion with spouse and children);

  • limited access to DIMA funded settlement services;

  • access to school education subject to state policy (full fees imposed for tertiary education);

  • permission to work, but ability to find employment influenced by temporary nature of visa;

  • no automatic right of return if the visa holder leaves the country.

The Refugee Council is strongly opposed to the imposition of this new three year Temporary Protection Visa as these new measures are contrary to our international obligations and will have a profound and lasting impact on the people concerned and the communities from which they came.

All refugees have at one time been asylum seekers but once their status is recognised, it is no is no longer appropriate to use this term.

Some asylum seekers are refugees. The act of recognition of refugee status does not make someone a refugee. He/she has been a refugee all along; the granting of status merely makes it official. This is why it is important to presume that asylum seekers are refugees until proven otherwise. Failure to do this can mean that a country does not meet its legal obligations to genuine refugees.

Australia's Temporary Protection Visa Regime

Prior to 20 October 1999, all successful refugee claimants were granted a Permanent Protection Visa. After that date, asylum seekers who arrived without authorization or who were not immigration cleared, were only entitled to a Temporary Protection Visa (TPV). This visa differs in many ways from the Permanent Protection Visas previously granted (and still granted to asylum seekers who have been immigration cleared).

When first introduced, the TPVs were granted for 3 years. At the end of this time, the TPV holder could lodge a further application for refugee status and, if this was granted, he/she would be eligible for a permanent protection visa.

In September 2001 new legislation was introduced which, inter alia:

  • determined that all TPV holders who had not lodged their application for a permanent protection visa as at the date the legislation was introduced, would be unlikely ever to be eligible for the grant of a permanent visa;

  • introduced two new temporary visa classes (subclasses 447 and 451) for people outside Australia who had moved from the country of first asylum, ie for people granted visas in Indonesia, the Pacific States or one of Australia's excised zones. Entitlements are essentially the same as for TPVs granted onshore.

As at 3 May 2002, 8,355 TPVs have been issued. Over 90% of the recipients have been Iraqis (47.85%) and Afghans (41.93%).

Useful background material includes:

  1. Associate Professor William Maley (2000): Australia's New Afghan Refugees: Context and Challenges. presented at the RCOA AGM 2000.

  2. RCOA's Position Paper on Temporary Protection Visas and the exerpt from our submission to the 2002-2003 Refugee and Humanitarian Program.

  3. Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper (2002) entitled "Not for Export: Why the International Community Should Reject Australia's Refugee Policies", which documents a number of aspects of people smuggling.

  4. Multicultural Affairs Queensland Report (2001) on the impact of the 785 Visa Temporary Protection Visa Holders in Queensland. Available on-line.

  5. Deakin University and the Victorian Arabic Social Services Research Report (2002) Politics of Social Exclusion: Refugees on Temporary Protection Visas in Victoria. To order a copy of this comprehensive report or for a preview see http://www.vass.org.au/

  6. Fernandes, P (2002), Trauma strikes the soul: An attempt to explore and understand the impact of the temporary protection visa on clients in New South Wales. An analysis of the psychological impact of the TPV on survivors of torture and trauma.

  7. Esmaeili, H & Wells, B (2000) The 'Temporary' Refugees: Australia's Legal Response to the Arrival of Iraqi and Afghan Boat-People, University of NSW Law Journal: The Refugee Issue, v 23 (3).

    Resources for working with refugees with a TPV:

  8. Refugees: A Temporary Protection (2002) is a multidisciplinary guide for health professionals, service providers and volunteers who offer assistance to refugees with TPV holders, published by Michelle Harris, available for $11 from "Protection', PO Box 567, Jamison ACT 2614.


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Appendix D - Refugee Settlement

Source: Refugee Council of Australia

Refugee settlement

Refugees and migrants have had very different pre-arrival experiences. As a result, refugees have settlement needs additional to and distinct from those of migrants.

There is a perception in certain parts of the community that refugees have everything handed to them on a platter after arrival ... that they are given free housing, extra benefits etc. Most of the stories that are circulating have little basis in truth, and where special concessions are made, it is in recognition of the particular needs of refugees and others who come under the humanitarian program (hereafter humanitarian entrants).

One of the great challenges that is is ensuring that services provided for humanitarian entrants are comprehensive and fully integrated. This requires all relevant government departments to recognise humanitarian entrants as a separate client group and to ensure that their services meet the entrants' needs and are consistent with the services provided by other departments.

Current entitlements are as follows:

Income Support:

All humanitarian entrants are eligible for consideration for the full range of Social Security benefits immediately on arrival. They do not have to wait for two years as do migrants. This concession is because unlike migrants, humanitarian entrants have been unable to make provision to support themselves during the initial period after arrival.

Housing:

People who enter under the refugee component of the humanitarian program and those who are granted refugee status after having been held in immigration detention centres are eligible for consideration for On Arrival Accommodation in government leased flats. The refugees are eligible to stay in these flats for 13 weeks, during which time they pay rent. Temporary protection visa holders are not eligible for On Arrival Accommodation. Special settlement officers from the Department of Immigration visit the new arrivals and assist them with all the various formalities that must be attended to (opening a bank account, registering with Centrelink, obtaining a tax file number, enrolling children in school etc).

Some refugee entrants are referred to one of DIMA's Community Refugee Settlement Scheme (CRSS) groups. These are groups of volunteers from the community (often linked to an ethnic community or church) who undertake to assist a newly arrived family for the first 6 months.

It is expected that humanitarian entrants from the other components of the program (SHP and SAC) will be assisted to find accommodation by the person who sponsored their application. Sometimes this is the case but many new arrivals experience great difficulty in finding affordable rental accommodation, especially in the larger cities.

Humanitarian entrants are not considered priority clients by the Departments of Housing in most states and therefore have to wait in the same lengthy queue as do all low income earners.

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Medical Assistance:

Humanitarian entrants are eligible to receive a Medicare Card on arrival. This entitles them to basic hospital and medical cover.

In some centres there are special health screening orientation programs for new arrivals. Even though humanitarian entrants have had to undergo rigorous health screening prior to arrival, this screening focuses primarily on detecting any ailments that could cause a risk to public health. It is considered important that humanitarian entrants receive a full check-up and also advice about the special health care services in Australia that may be very different to those they are used to (in particular women's health services and ante-natal care).

Access to dental health care is a major problem for newly arrived humanitarian entrants. Many of these people have pressing dental needs because of torture they have been subjected to or because of long periods with inadequate diet. In some states, however, they are not considered priority cases and thus have to wait for lengthy periods on the waiting lists of public dental hospitals.

Torture and Trauma Counselling:

All states and territories have specialist centres for counselling victims of torture and trauma. Such counselling is considered critical if humanitarian entrants are to come to terms with their grief and loss and begin to rebuild their lives. The existing centres are finding it difficult to cope with the demand for their services and no specialist services exist for torture/trauma survivors who settle in rural areas.

English Language Instruction:

In recognition of the fact that humanitarian entrants have not been able to plan for their settlement in Australia, provision is made for them to have up to 510 hours of English language instruction at no cost. This is considered an important investment in the future of these people. If they are competent in English they are better equipped to participate in all facets of Australian life.

Employment:

Finding appropriate employment is another of the major hurdles encountered by humanitarian entrants. In many cases their qualifications obtained in their country of origin are not recognised in Australia. Even if they are, their lack of local work experience and often lack of proficiency in English, present many barriers to their finding employment is a saturated job market.

Specialist Migrant Placement Officers assist refugees by providing specialist orientation to the Australian workplace.

While it is very true that humanitarian entrants require additional assistance in the early stages of their settlement, it has also been demonstrated that if they receive appropriate assistance at this time, they are more likely to become productive members of the Australian community who, through their labours and their commitment to Australia will repay the investment many times over.

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Appendix E: - Myths about Refugees

Source: Refugee Council of Australia

Myths about refugees

There is a lot of confusion about refugees: not just about who they are but also about the impact they have on Australian life. Here are just some of the myths:

Charity begins at home: we should help Aborigines and other disadvantaged groups in Australia first!

"Charity" is not something that should be considered in terms of "us" and "them". If we are being responsible members of the human community we should seek ways to assist all those in need.

Refugees take our jobs which is balanced by the contradictory myth: all refugees go on unemployment benefits

It is true that newly arrived refugees have higher unemployment rates than the community average. This is not unexpected. Amongst the refugee arrivals are people who have been tortured and deeply traumatised. This can interfere with employment. There are also a significant number of entrants whose qualifications are not recognised in Australia and they need time to make adjustments. There is also the issue of learning English. Refugees are entitled to 510 hours of free English language instruction which must be taken in the first 2 years - and it is beneficial that the entrants do this as they are unlikely to do this later.

The fact that refugees "come from behind" in the employment stakes highlights the need for specifically targeted intervention programs that recognise issues such as their trauma, their unrecognised qualifications and their lack of English. Targeted programs that do this have shown that they are very successful at placing refugees in the workforce. If we are to bring refugees to Australia (and it is Australia's decision that we do so) it is important that we recognise their specific needs and address these. If we do this, we will reap the benefits. Most refugees want to work, both to restore their damaged sense of self esteem and to repay what they see as their debt of gratitude to Australia for providing them with protection.

Whether "refugees take our jobs" is the sort of question that has no easy answer. Refugees do compete for jobs but they are also consumers. Because they arrive with nothing they have to purchase household goods, clothing etc, all of which provides jobs for the people who make and sell these commodities.

Refugees have no right to come here and expect us to help them

Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: "Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries freedom from persecution".

It is an accident of birth that we are born in a country where human rights are respected. Do we have a moral right to protect these at the expense of others? This does not mean that Australia alone must take the full burden for protecting the persecuted. It does mean that we have to play a part in an international response that includes a wide spectrum of initiatives from addressing root causes to providing asylum to people whose human rights have been violated.

Refugees are economic migrants who come here to get a better life

The distinction between refugees and migrants is outlined in Appendix A

Refugees get all sorts of handouts from the government

Refugees essentially have the same rights and entitlements as permanent residents. They are, however, exempt from the waiting period for Social Security benefits and they get 510 hours of free English language instruction and some get access to post-arrival assistance. These extra entitlements are in recognition of their particular needs.

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If we let one in, they will come in floods

Australia is one of the most difficult countries in the world to get to. We have no common borders and there are universal visa requirements and carrier sanctions. Because of this it is highly unlikely that we will ever see the large numbers of asylum seekers other countries experience.

There is also the erroneous perception in the public's mind that everyone in the world wants to come to Australia. We are little known in the total scheme of things and far less of an incentive than countries such as the United States.

It is realistic to expect that asylum seekers will keep coming to Australia but unlikely that there will be "floods" of people with the wherewithal and inclination to make the journey by irregular means.

The best way for Australia to deal with asylum seekers is to process their claims expeditiously. This way those in need of protection receive it and those whose claims are without merit can returned to their country of origin to "send a message" to others in similar circumstances that it is not so easy to get to Australia.

One of the things that is important to recognise in this debate is that any response a country makes must protect those in genuine need of protection ie there must be the presumption of a genuine claim until it is determined to be otherwise, not the presumption that the person is rorting the system.

Refugees cannot possibly contribute anything to us

It is a myth that all refugees are illiterate peasants. The majority that come to Australia are educated middle class people - whose education, profession or political opinions have drawn them to the attention of the authorities and resulted in their persecution.

By definition refugees are survivors. They have survived because they have the courage, ingenuity and creativity to have done so. These are qualities which we value in Australia. The challenge for Australia is to assist newly arrived refugees to process the experiences of their past and rebuild their lives in Australia. If we do this we will reap the benefits of the qualities and experiences they bring to Australia.

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