Thank you Premier Mike Baird. Your comments at a recent Australia Day function in support of refugees and asylum seekers were positive reinforcement for all of us who work to help these people make the most of their lives in Australia.
I had the pleasure of hearing Mr Baird say emphatically that NSW was in a position to support more refugees and asylum seekers and that the state would welcome them.
Among those in the room were Multicultural NSW Chair Dr G.K (Harry) Harinath and CEO Hakan Harman and Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane. Mr Baird spoke to us eloquently about NSW as a multicultural community with great diversity.
SSI provides a range of services including case management support to refugees and asylum seekers in NSW, and I think I can speak for my colleagues and say it can sometimes be a tough job. Public support from a Premier is always welcome.
The Premier congratulated the federal government for increasing Australia's humanitarian intake. While Australia’s intake will increase from 13,500 to 18,750 over four years, Mr Baird said he personally thought the country could still do more.
Mr Baird said Australia was a “lucky country” and that we should “open our arms to those around the world who are much less fortunate than us".
"NSW stands ready … to take more than our fair share. Yes, we have strength in our finances, but my strong sense is that means nothing unless we offer help to those who are vulnerable amongst us,” he said.
These words were reaffirming. That the Premier said this at an Australia Day event made them more poignant. Australia has a great history of taking refugees and migrants. Post-World War II and the arrival of Vietnamese boat people in the 1970s were just two notable periods last century when Australia proudly took large numbers of humanitarian migrants. Australia gave opportunity to hundreds of thousands of people who repaid the country by helping make what it is today.
A Refugee Council of Australia report in 2010 found that the 740,000 refugees and humanitarian migrants settled in Australia since federation had “a profound impact in enhancing the nation’s social, cultural and economic life”. There are plenty of facts in the report that substantiate this case but here is one for the economically minded: five of Australia’s eight billionaires at the time of the report came from refugee backgrounds. And there is a body of research that shows refugees are generally more entrepreneurial than other segments of the population.
But of course the Premier was not talking about what refugees could do for NSW. He was talking about the moral obligation he believed the state had to support people living in war zones and other dire circumstances.
Many of SSI’s staff came to Australia after living through refugee experiences. As an organisation, we know first-hand that Australia’s humanitarian programs save lives. We also witness first-hand the contributions that refugees make to Australian society if they receive a little support.
Around the world the UNHCR estimates there are more than 51.2 million “forcibly displaced” people. SSI is the largest not-for-profit humanitarian settlement organisation in Australia and supports more than 8,000 refugees and asylum seekers in NSW. That figure represents less than 0.00016 per cent of the people registered with the UNHCR, so we, too, would like to do more to help.