Reaffirming its support for refugees, the City of Newcastle is calling upon the Australian Government to improve and expand its refugee community support program (CSP).
Council noted the government's positive decision to support refugees but said the program doesn't do enough in the context of the international humanitarian crisis.
"Newcastle has proudly been a Refugee Welcome Zone since 2015 and our city has long been at the forefront of local government when it comes to providing real and symbolic support for refugees settling in Australia," said Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes.
Community sponsorship is a model where ordinary members of the community are able to sponsor refugees who wish to begin the process of rebuilding their lives, in safety, in Australia.
"While we support the intention of the CSP, the reality is that the costs are prohibitive, the intake numbers are capped at 1,000 per annum and the eligibility criteria are far too restrictive.
"Also, every place filled under the CSP is taken off the humanitarian refugee intake, so there is no net increase in the number of refugees accepted into Australia. We are asking for significant improvements to be made."
The motion, proposed jointly by eight Councillors, urged the following changes:
- Ensure that the intake of refugees under community sponsorship is in addition to the existing humanitarian intake
- Adopt a more affordable visa fee structure
- Broaden the eligibility criteria for the CSP
- Increase the annual intake of refugees to 27,000 by 2025 through the CSP and humanitarian intake
- Provide support services including access to Medicare, education and English language tuition to assist refugees to integrate successfully into our communities
“City of Newcastle should be commended on recognising and responding to our local community’s commitment to supporting refugees," said Kevin Sweeney, Convener of the Newcastle branch of Amnesty International.
"An expanded and improved CSP will give groups in Newcastle, like churches and sporting clubs, an opportunity to play a greater role in supporting for people in need who we would love to welcome to this city,” he said.
Newcastle is always ready to step up for refugees, said the Lord Mayor.
"We are willing to do even more to assist new Novocastrians but we can't do it alone," she said. "The international refugee crisis also demands increased action and support by the Federal Government."
City of Newcastle is one of almost 150 local councils across the country that have declared themselves Refugee Welcome Zones.
There are currently 65 million displaced people in the world and 22 million of these are refugees.
Lower image: Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes and Kevin Sweeney of Amnesty Newcastle