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Australia considering aspects of Canadian-style community sponsorship model for refugees

The federal government is actively considering parts of a Canadian-style model which allows refugees to be resettled if they are sponsored by community members.

Canada has welcomed more than 300,000 refugees under the community sponsorship scheme since the 1970s, in addition to those arriving under government-funded programs.

Australia’s government is looking favourably at some elements similar to Canada’s community scheme, SBS News has confirmed.

Commonwealth coordinator-general for migrant services Alison Larkins last week handed the findings of a review into Australia’s current refugee support arrangements to Immigration Minister Alex Hawke.    

The review was based off feedback from local stakeholders, international counterparts in Canada, as well as the United Kingdom and Ireland, who have adopted similar models, and the UNHCR.

In 2017, the government introduced a “community support program” designed to allow individuals, businesses or community groups to provide financial support to resettle refugees with employment prospects in Australia.  

But refugee advocates have raised concerns Australia’s current model is cost-prohibitive and the places it offers come – in contrast to Canada’s model – at the expense of other government-funded resettlement programs. 

Mr Hawke said he would be considering possible changes to the resettlement pathway in Australia. 

“I look forward to ensuring the program becomes a genuine, successful partnership between community, business and the Government, to provide beneficial outcomes to our refugee and humanitarian arrivals in Australia,” he said.  

A previous review by former senior official Peter Shergold recommended Australia overhaul its current approach to the “shared cost model” and introduce three complementary pathways focusing on community, employment and university sponsorship pathways.   

“Concerns have been expressed that the cost of the program – and, in particular, the visa application charges – are too high,” the Shergold report found.  

“It distorts the intent of the program. Smaller and regional communities do not have the resources to meet the requirements of the program.” 

Refugee Council of Australia CEO Paul Power said the government’s current community support pathway required much-needed reform. 

“The government’s current government program is definitely the most ineffective model in the world of sponsoring refugees,” he told SBS News.  

He pointed to the Canadian sponsorship model as a program that more effectively manages the cost burden and support requirements of community groups to assist in the intake of refugees. 

“If those principles are kept in mind in the implementation of a new sponsorship program – Australia can actually develop a community sponsorship program that is equal to any in the world,” he told SBS News. 

“There is a lot of interest within the Australian community in contributing more to supporting refugees – there are many people who like to get involved and see opportunities within their own communities.”  

In a speech last year to an online forum organised by Welcoming Australia, Ms Larkins herself touted the success of the Canadian program.  

“In Canada, you can directly see the importance of community in creating economic participation for refugees through their community sponsorship model,” she said.

“70 per cent of privately sponsored refugees in Canada declared employment earnings within their first year of arrival compared to 40 per cent of government-assisted refugees.” 

The government will consider the findings of Ms Larkin’s report before providing a response. 

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