Statement by Paul Power CEO of the Refugee Council of Australia
Ten refugees currently held in Australia’s cruel offshore detention system will be able to restart their lives in Canada before Christmas, thanks to an impressive collective effort of donors, volunteers and organisations in Australia and Canada.
Eight individuals and a family group of two have been approved by the Canadian Government to resettle in Vancouver and Toronto, the first approvals for refugees being sponsored by the Operation #NotForgotten partnership.
For the past two years, the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) has been working with Vancouver-based migrant and refugee settlement service MOSAIC and volunteer network Ads Up Canada to offer a way out of the never-ending limbo experienced by refugees first sent to detention in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Nauru in 2013.
Australians have donated $3.26 million through RCOA while MOSAIC and Ads Up Canada have worked together to lodge sponsorship applications and to organise volunteer settlement teams ready to support refugees after arrival.
Since November 2019, applications for 150 refugees and 96 separated family members have been lodged through Operation #NotForgotten but the Canadian Government’s assessment process has been significantly delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
We at RCOA are delighted to hear news of the first 10 approvals and to know that 10 people who have suffered so much over more than eight years can now look to starting a new life of freedom in Canada.
Of the group, six are currently in PNG after years of detention on Manus Island and four are in Australia, having been medically transferred from PNG and Nauru.
The generosity of the Canadian Government and the donors and volunteers in Australia and Canada who are part of Operation #NotForgotten is in stark contrast to the actions of successive Australian governments.
The Rudd Labor Government introduced the current version of offshore detention in 2013 and this policy has been continued under three Coalition Prime Ministers. Of the 3129 people sent to detention in Nauru and PNG in 2013 and 2014, more than 2250 were recognised as needing refugee protection but left with nowhere to go, barred from being settled in Australia.
In doing this, the Australian Government turned its back on the commitments Australia made when the Menzies Coalition Government signed the Refugee Convention in 1954.
Other nations with a greater sense of decency and compassion have been left to step in. The United States, under the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations, has resettled 977 refugees. Operation #NotForgotten has focused on providing a lifeline to Canada for refugees excluded from the US process.
Under Canada’s refugee sponsorship scheme, sponsors are responsible for providing income support for refugees for the first year after arrival and must have raised the designated levels of income support before an application can be lodged. Around $19,000 AUD is required for an individual and around $32,000 AUD for a family of five.
The Canadian sponsorship process also enables families separated by displacement to be reunited, with any spouse or child trapped in another country given 12 months to travel to Canada after the principal applicant arrives.
The good news of the first 10 sponsorship approvals will spur RCOA on to keep raising funds to free more refugees from Australia’s oppressive offshore processing regime.
There is even more urgency now to do this given Australia’s announcement last week that it is withdrawing from its agreement with PNG, leaving the 124 refugees and asylum seekers remaining there fearing they will be abandoned.
Another 107 people remain in Nauru. Of those transferred to Australia for medical reasons, 88 are still in locked detention, despite regular appeals being made to Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews for their release.
As MOSAIC can get access to 30 more sponsorship spots this calendar year if the needed funds are available, RCOA is currently trying to raise $500,000 before Christmas to ensure that refugees stuck in PNG, Nauru or locked detention can secure these positions.
More information about how to support Operation #NotForgotten is at www.refugeecouncil.org.au/canada