Governments and societies around the world are under sustained and increasing pressure to address one of the greatest challenges of our times: providing protection and assistance to the rising number of people displaced across the globe. Approximately 80 million people are now forcibly displaced – including more than 26 million refugees, 1.4 million of whom have been identified by the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).
The number of resettlement places available for refugees around the world is grossly inadequate to respond to the need. In 2019 only 4.5% of global resettlement needs were met. As a result, the responsibility for the vast majority of the world’s refugees continues to be borne by less wealthy nations of the world – typically those most proximate to refugee-producing countries.
United Nations declarations and expert bodies are calling for greater responsibility sharing – which means rich countries doing more in responding to the challenge of forced migration as well as encouraging the engagement of new stakeholders, including private individuals and organisations. At the same time, we know from experience that many Australians are willing and wanting to offer their own time, money and other resources to help refugees find safety and successfully integrate in Australia.
Community sponsorship of refugees is a tried and tested model for expanding and improving refugee settlement and protection. It’s an approach that encourages and enables individuals in a local area to come together to form a sponsor group, which then provides financial, emotional and settlement support to refugee newcomers during their early phase of settlement in a new country. This approach has been operating successfully in Canada for over 40 years, resulting in more than 325,000 refugees being offered a safe new home, in addition to those resettled under the government funded program. Similar programs are now being adopted by a growing number of countries around the world, including in the United Kingdom, Ireland and New Zealand, to name a few. And its not just the refugees who benefit – being involved in sponsorship is a very rewarding experience for the sponsors and offers a wide range of benefits to their local communities as well.
Australia has yet to introduce a program that excites and engages ordinary Australians in the rewarding task of sponsoring refugees. The Community Refugee Sponsorship Initiative is working to change. By drawing on the lessons of overseas programs and engaging with the government, community groups and compassionate Australians, we seek to encourage and support the introduction of a successful new program that will benefit refugees and the Australian community alike.