Figures showing another record year for global displacement emphasise the important role Australia can play in helping the world’s most vulnerable, according to one of Australia’s leading refugee settlement experts.
Every minute in 2018, 25 people were forced to flee their homes, according to UNHCR’s annual Global Trends report, released to mark World Refugee Day today. By the end of the year, 70.8 million people globally were forcibly displaced – representing the highest level since the UN Refugee Agency began 70 years ago and a year-on-year increase of 2.3 million people.
“These sobering figures show how important it is for Australia to accommodate the world’s most vulnerable people through a generous refugee intake in our humanitarian program,” said Violet Roumeliotis, who is the CEO of community organisation and social business Settlement Services International (SSI).
“Earlier this year, our federal government announced plans to freeze Australia’s humanitarian intake, which currently accounts for less than 5% of our annual migration program.
“A community sponsorship program like we see in Canada or the UK would be a great supplement to our current humanitarian program. It’s something that could really make a difference in the lives of people who are forcibly displaced. It would also provide opportunities for everyday Australians to change people’s lives. Australia currently has a similar program, but there are a number of key differences between our model and what is working overseas, which may hinder take up from community.”
Refugee settlement brings a multitude of benefits from an economic, social and cultural perspective, said Ms Roumeliotis.
“It’s something we at SSI see every day in our work resettling refugees and supporting them to live rich, independent lives in Australia.
“Refugees are the most entrepreneurial migrants in Australia ― nearly twice as likely to be entrepreneurs as Australian taxpayers, according to research released in March. If just 5% of the refugees Australia settles each year were to start a business, this would add $98 million to our economy in one year alone ― and nearly $1 billion over a 10-year period,” she said.
“Refugee settlement also brings with it cultural and social benefits that are harder to measure but no less valuable to our country.”
Ms Roumeliotis said it was only four years ago that the Australian government made the unprecedented decision to resettle an additional 12,000 people in response to the conflict in Syria and Iraq.
“With one action, we lived up to our reputation as a leading global citizen and helped thousands of children, women and men who were forced to leave behind their friends, family and everything they know in order to live a life that is free from war or persecution,” she said.
“SSI was involved in that resettlement on the frontline ― resettling 10,000 refugees in NSW in a single year ― and the results speak for themselves. Refugees from that intake are now well on the way to successful settlement ― forging friendships, engaging in education, starting businesses ― making economic, social and cultural contributions to their new homes.
“Last year Syria accounted for the highest proportion of refugees worldwide at 6.7 million people. Despite these high numbers, only 92,400 refugees from any country were resettled during 2018. We must do better by these individuals and families.”
UNHCR’s The Global Trends Report is published every year to analyse the changes in UNHCR’s populations of concern and deepen public understanding of ongoing crises.
Settlement Services International is a community organisation and social business that supports newcomers and other Australians to achieve their full potential. We work with all people who have experienced vulnerability, including refugees, people seeking asylum and culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities, to build capacity and enable them to overcome inequality.