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Australian Jewish groups’ campaign helps ten refugees to resettle in Canada

Anne Susskind
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PLUS61J 53 (3)

Published: 24 December 2021

Last updated: 4 March 2024

ANNE SUSSKIND: The Jewish Independent, B’nai Brith and Stand Up raised $106k, which will help up to ten refugees in Nauru and PNG apply to resettle in Canada, and support them there

IN THE SHORT WINDOW between when Covid restrictions were eased and the Omicron panic, when Australians had time to think about other things, three Jewish organisations – The Jewish Independent, B’nai Brith, and Stand Up – raised $106,500 for Operation #NotForgotten, to enable up to ten refugees stranded in Nauru and PNG to apply to Canada, and help support them in their first year there.

The donations came from private individuals, said Ilona Lee, who is General Manager of The Jewish Independent, and ranged from $20 to several thousand. The fund-raising campaign, which had been delayed because of Covid – during which time anyone with spare money was using it to support people here – was evidence of the Jewish community’s “obligation to look outside ourselves… as a refugee people, we are looking after the strangers”, she said.

Once in Canada, the new arrivals will be supported by settlement teams recruited by Ads Up Canada, founded by Dr Laura Beth Bugg and Dr Juliet Donald, both Australian expats who now live in Toronto, and by MOSAIC, a refugee settlement agency in Vancouver. The settlement teams provide emotional and social support for newcomers for the first year they are in Canada.

The Jewish community has an obligation to look outside ourselves… as a refugee people, we are looking after strangers - ILONA LEE

Bugg, who has been raising money in Canada for those trapped in the Australian system, said she was “blown away” by the effort. “We are so grateful that this will allow us to submit more applications.”

Paul Power, the CEO of the Refugee Council of Australia (#NotForgotten is their program), said the resettlement, which was organised under the auspices of Canada’s Private Sponsorship of Refugees scheme, can cost anywhere between $21,500 for an individual and $36,500 for a family of five, averaging out at about $16,500 per person. The money is used for basic expenses in the first year, after which most have found employment or can go on government income support.

So far, 308 people have had applications lodged under the program – 173 refugees and the others their family members from other countries, since Canada’s program guarantees family reunion for a spouse and children. This has cost about $4 million, donated by “ordinary Australians” looking for a proactive way to intervene over Government policy they found completely unacceptable, Power said.

The Refugee Council was determined to assist any refugees in limbo in Nauru and PNG, all of whom have been there for over eight years, he said. “The numbers are small, but significant. There are 105 in the care of the PNG government… it’s such a confusing mess, and there are exceptions to exceptions…”

Based on advice from the UNHCR, he said there are also about 65 people in detention in hotels and detention centres in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, in appalling circumstances, many needing physical and mental health treatment. In Australia, too, there are more than 1000 people out of detention who will never be allowed to remain here.

While the Refugee Council had started out arguing on policy, and would continue to do so, it has come to the realisation that the Government was immoveable and so there is no option but to help the stranded individuals, genuine refugees who had sought sanctuary after escaping oppression in their homelands, but who instead found themselves in detention.

We can argue all we like about politics, but after eight and half years, we have to intervene to let people get on with their lives - PAUL POWER.

“It took us some years to get to this point. We tried to get government policy changed but even a change of government to ALP wouldn’t change anything,” Paul Power said.

“We can argue all we like about politics and policy, but after eight and half years, we have to intervene to let people get on with their lives. They are talented people with a lot to offer, many in their teens and twenties when they arrived.

“When the law changed on July 19, 2013, some of them were on the seas already and unaware, and quite a number arrived in months following, completely unaware.”

Evidence of the Australian government’s intransigence was its refusal even to pay the airfares of those approved by Canada. The Canadian system pays but requires refugees to repay travel expenses through interest-free loans.

“We did ask the Department of Home Affairs if they could cover the travel expenses so people didn’t start their new lives with debt but they refused,” Power said.

“They were concerned about equity, they said, that some people could have travel covered while others wouldn’t. They were never concerned about equity before.”

On the Canadian end, applications were quite complicated. Among the volunteers in Canada and Australia, Power said, were retired public servants, diplomats and people who have worked “at all sorts of levels”.

For 2022, Power said the Jewish Immigrant Aid Society in Toronto has allocated 22 places for refugees coming from the Australian offshore or onshore system and was seeking further donations to put forward applications.

Donations can still be made via the Refugee Council. CLICK HERE

Photo: Syrian refugees being greeted at Saskatoon Airport, Canada, March 2016 (AAP/Humanity First Canada, Rashid Ahmeds)

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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