Settlement Services International (SSI) has joined humanitarian advocates, including the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) and the Settlement Council of Australia, in welcoming the Federal Government's 2022-23 Budget announcement of an additional 16,500 places over four years for Afghans fleeing their war-torn country.
SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis said the announcement would bring safety and security to many more people in peril in Afghanistan and relief and gratitude to Afghan communities and supporters in Australia as well as to those hoping for a more open-hearted response to the needs of other people who are being forced to leave their country.
While the 2022-23 Humanitarian Program will be maintained at the current ceiling of 13,750 places, the additional 16,500 places available for Afghan nationals will lift the combined annual total to 17,875 places (approaching the previous program level of 18,750 places).
In conjunction with other announcements it will also bring the total number of places available to Afghans across Australia’s Humanitarian and Migration Programs to 31,500 over the next four years.
SSI had joined Australia’s Afghan diaspora, supported by many organisations, faith groups, veterans and other individuals who felt Australia could do more to support Afghan citizens at risk after the Taliban takeover.
Earlier this month, community organisations representing former refugees from Myanmar, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Congo joined RCOA and other NGOs in an open letter calling for an additional 20,000 visas for Afghan refugees and an increase in the annual humanitarian program.
Ms Roumeliotis said SSI welcomed the government’s previous announcements concerning the transition of Ukrainians onto a temporary humanitarian visa and working with international partners to respond to global humanitarian needs, including Myanmar.
She said the budget announcement would create greater room for the resettlement of refugees displaced by persecution in other countries and provide options for the permanent protection of Ukrainians if the current conflict continued.
“I join all our refugee communities and humanitarian partners in thanking the government for making a significant contribution to international efforts by expanding our Afghan resettlement intake and making a more generous response to people displaced by conflict and persecution around the world.”
SSI now provides settlement services and case management support to refugees and humanitarian entrants in NSW, including Afghan arrivals, under the Australian Federal Government’s Humanitarian Settlement Program (HSP) on arrival, in hotel quarantine, and for up to 18 months in the community.
SSI began providing support to Afghan arrivals in August, while Greater Sydney was under strict COVID-19 lockdown and as families that fled Afghanistan with just the clothes on their back and under a mixture of visas began arriving in hotel quarantine in NSW and across the country.
Its Humanitarian Settlement Program team stepped up to support families during hotel quarantine by confirming support needs, establishing their preferred settlement location within Australia, providing clothing and necessities like mobile phones, and conducting daily wellbeing checks in-language.
Ms Roumeliotis said SSI and other humanitarian organisations had the capacity, flexibility and specialised staff ready to support the government as it prioritised the protection of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons.