Refugee Support and Advice Program
Sanctuary Australia Foundation runs a very busy Refugee Support and Advice Program, which provides assistance to refugees approved by the Government to come to Australia.
Those who have received UNHCR Refugee status are given sponsorship advice and help, both before they come to Australia, as well as after their arrival. Many agencies across the country also approach Sanctuary for assistance with cases.
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 with settlement according to their needs.
Interest-free Travel Loan Program
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 DIAC (the Department of Immigration and Citizenship) overseas on their behalf.
“The 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.
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 advice and help
- Education referral and information
- Business startup 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 rental/lease problems
- Driving/License information referral and advice
- Citizenship advice
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.