General

Refugee report shows fewer visas given

VANESSA COSTANZO

A NEW report by the Australian Refugee Council reveals that the intake of humanitarian visas is at its lowest number in eight years.

Last year 13,770 people came to Australia through the Humanitarian Program with about 1,400 settling in Western Australia annually.

Australia’s share in international terms of support, however, remains modest. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, Australia hosts 0.22 per cent of the world’s refugees and received 0.53 per cent of asylum applications in 2009.

The Department of Immigration showed the majority of refugees in Australia are Burmese, closely followed by Iraq, Bhutan, Afghanistan and multiple African countries.

The recently released report, “Public discourse on Australia’s refugee policies”, focuses especially on the humanitarian program, its needs and challenges, as well as public opinions on refugees and asylum seekers.

It reveals that a majority of Australians support tough policies for asylum seekers. Yet of those polled, only 18 per cent knew the correct answer when asked for the number of asylum seekers who arrive by boat (1 per cent or less).

Hanan Abu-laban, Community Development Coordinator at the Metropolitan Resource Centre in Mirrabooka, helps many families settle into life in Australia.

She says there is a lot of misunderstanding on the subject of refugees.

“There is a lot of anger and hatred towards the refugees because people think they get public housing straight away, which is not the case. We rent houses privately for them.”

On arrival refugees must partake in a six-month settlement program in which they are assigned a case worker to help them adjust to Australian life. They are linked with services such as Centrelink and Medicare, given 510 hours of English classes and are added to the Homeswest waiting list.

Although given a one to two week leeway for rent, families then must be able to begin payments — a fairly hard feat when they are often unable to speak English and have in many cases endured severe hardships and witnessed brutalities in their homeland.

“A lot are victims of trauma; 90% will have gone through some or witnessed it … they need more services and probably more time … how much information can you give them (in a six-month period)?” Ms. Abu-laban said.

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