Refugee Welcome March in London, September 2016. © Marie-Anne Ventoura/Amnesty International

Monash Council pushes for refugee sponsorship reform

A national campaign to improve the Federal Government’s Community Sponsorship Program for refugees moved a step closer towards success last night, after Monash City Council voted in favour of putting a motion to the floor of the Australian Local Government Association assembly in June asking for support from all 547 local governments in calling for reform.

The motion asks for the ALGA to write to the Federal Immigration Minister, seeking improvements to the existing model where ordinary members of the community are able to sponsor visas for refugees, who wish to rebuild their lives in safety in Australia. The current program is capped at only 1,000 places, is very expensive and for every privately sponsored refugee, the Federal Government takes a space away from the annual humanitarian intake of 18,750.

Amnesty International which, through its My New Neighbour campaign has been working for two years to push through significant reform, is thrilled with this move by Monash Council and asks for Acting Federal Minister, Alan Tudge, to implement the recommendations made in the Shergold Review in 2018, ensure that the intake of refugees under community sponsorship is in addition to any existing humanitarian or visa quotas, and lower the program’s prohibitive visa fees.

“Monash was one of the first councils to support our campaign to expand and improve the Community Sponsorship Program, so it’s fantastic to see them stepping up again and passing this motion,” said Shankar Kasynathan, Amnesty International’s campaign lead. “Refugees that are sponsored by the community they settle in contribute and form strong connections with local organisations and people. These connections help refugees fully integrate, bringing new skills, jobs and diversity to the community. Everyone benefits.”

The community sponsorship model has worked successfully in Canada for almost 40 years, welcoming over 280,000 refugees through the program, in addition to its humanitarian intake.

“We can see from Canada’s example that the kindness of neighbours can help people who have lost everything to start again. An expanded and improved community sponsorship program in Australia would allow more people seeking safety to rebuild their lives, and set up a home here where they can prosper and thrive as new arrivals,” said Shankar Kasynathan, whose own family was welcomed into the Monash community after being forced to flee Sri Lanka.

“We hope ALGA and all other councils around the country will support this motion when it is put forward by Monash Council at the Assembly in June. This is such an important step towards improving the existing programme.”