Refugee Support and Advice Program

Hou, a Burmese Refugee being assisted by Peter Hallam, CEO.

Hou, a Burmese Refugee being assisted by Peter Hallam, CEO.

Sanctuary Australia Foundation runs a very busy Refugee Support and Advice Program, for refugees wishing to sponsor their family members to come to Australia through the humanitarian program.

Refugees that have direct family in Australia are given sponsorship assistance, as we know that they have the best chance of success.

Sponsorship is a very long process and requires communication between Sanctuary, the refugee applicant and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP). Sanctuary is also often in communication with the relevant overseas post regarding the success of refugees interviews, medical examinations, and issuing of visas.

After refugees arrive, they are welcomed and assisted and linked with various services according to their needs.

Many agencies across the country also approach Sanctuary for assistance with cases.

Interest-free Travel Loan Program

Congolese family arriving in Australia, after sponsorship by SAF

Congolese family arriving in Australia, after sponsorship by SAF

Sanctuary set up a ‘revolving’ travel loan fund in 1996 for refugees who are accepted by the Australian Government under the Special Humanitarian 202 Visa Program. Unlike other classes of visa such as the 200 visas, the 202 visa holders receive no assistance with their travel to Australia. After waiting for years, going through interviews, medicals, etc, many refugees who finally receive visa approval lose their only chance for a hopeful future because they can’t fund their travel to Australia! As one Sanctuary worker put it, “It’s like winning the lotto and not having the bus fare to collect it.”

When we agree to help with an interest-free airfare loan, and the visa is finally approved, we go ahead and make travel arrangements for the refugee family, through the International Organisation for Migration (I.O.M) office, and liaise with DIBP (the Department of Immigration and Border Protection) overseas on their behalf.

“Sanctuary Australia Foundation is a community-based organisation that receives no Government funding and provides valuable services to refugees seeking to resettle to Australia. This type of work is rare and incredibly important in the broader context of refugee protection and resettlement support in Australia.”

Steph Cousins, Acting Humanitarian Advocacy Coordinator, Oxfam Australia, 2008

Once settled, each family gradually repays their interest-free airfare loan back (over two or more years) into the fund and the money is then ‘recycled’ to assist the next needy refugee family.

Sanctuary provides assistance with finding housing for new arrivals and making arrangements with all the local service providers as outlined below.

Sanctuary Sponsorship Program

Peter Hallam working with a client formerly from Sudan.

Settlement Support

Caring and supportive face-to-face services are available in our Coffs Harbour office during working hours – 10am to 4pm weekdays, (closed Wednesdays) and by phone and via the Internet.

Our service provides new entrants to Australia with advice and support in regards to using the following services:

  • Family Sponsorship assistance
  • Education referral and information
  • Business start-up advice
  • Banking and personal finance assistance and advice
  • Police and law services available
  • Children’s services and how to access them
  • Interpreter and document translation referral and advice
  • Medical services available
  • Dealing with homelessness, rental/lease problems
  • Driving/License information referral
Hau and his family reunited again with sponsorship help from Sanctuary.

Hau and his family reunited again with sponsorship help from Sanctuary.

The need for an advisory service which covers all of the areas mentioned above is great because often refugees lack the information, guidance, and assistance that they need to allow them to become independent citizens, quickly and confidently. Schools and health services are often very stretched trying to deal with large numbers, and many refugees who enter Australia each year have suffered severe psychological trauma, and are in need of intense and ongoing assistance over an extended period of time, to help in their adjustment to a new society.

It takes time to adjust to their new environment here, and due to a lack of local knowledge, problems can occur through misunderstanding. By providing a service that addresses these issues, refugees will be more self-empowered and better able to handle difficulties. The Australian community will benefit, through having happier, well-adjusted and more self-reliant members of the community.

One of the benefits is that many are eager to help other new arrivals when they themselves have full understanding of the relevant processes and help available.

Peter Hallam, OAM, is founder and CEO, and has over 25 years of direct experience with Sanctuary, working in all aspects of refugee assistance, settlement and education, as well as giving individual mentoring and working in an advisory capacity to other agencies on refugee issues.