Humanitarian migrants from eight countries will be prioritised under one of Australia’s refugee resettlement programs, with other nationalities told their applications are highly unlikely to be accepted.
The Guardian understands the priority countries are: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Bhutan, Syria and Iraq. Nationals of several other specific countries that were previously considered for resettlement, such as South Sudan, Somalia and Iran, are now excluded and will not be able to access the program. The move has been condemned by some community leaders as “clear discrimination”.
The resettlement scheme, known as the Community Support Program, is one element of Australia’s broader humanitarian program, which, this year, offers up to 1,000 places, taken from within the broader program of 16,250 places.
It allows community groups, businesses, families or individuals to sponsor and support a refugee to come to Australia. But each privately sponsored place reduces by one the government’s resettlement commitment.
The program was previously the Community Proposal Pilot, started in 2013.
The department’s guidelines do not explicitly restrict nationalities but sponsoring organisations have told the Guardian they have been informed of an “unofficial list” of countries of origin from which people will be considered for resettlement under the CSP.
Officially, the department says, “applicants must reside in a priority resettlement country as determined by the Australian government”.
A spokesman for the Department of Home Affairs told the Guardian that settlement priorities for Australia’s humanitarian program, including the Community Support Program, are determined each year by the government.
“People in humanitarian situations from the Middle East, Africa and Asia continue to be a resettlement priority under Australia’s 2017-18 humanitarian program.”
Priority will also be given to refugees who will be settled in regional and rural areas, outside of capital cities.
The unofficial list of priority countries has been circulating among settlement services providers and pre-vetted sponsoring organisations, known as “approved proposing organisations”.
Potential sponsors with links to South Sudan and Somalia have been told their applications are highly unlikely to be considered, let alone accepted.
The Community Support Program is based loosely on Canada’s private sponsorship program.
Since the late 1970s, more than 280,000 have been resettled in Canada by private sponsors, who commit the equivalent of one year of social security – about $30,000 – in cash or by in-kind commitment of housing, clothing, furniture and food, to assist a refugee family of five to settle into the country.
Australia’s scheme is much more expensive – to sponsor an individual refugee costs about $48,000, a family of five about $100,000 – and, for every humanitarian migrant privately sponsored, the government resettles one fewer under its program.
This “offset” has led to criticism of the scheme as the government abrogating its commitment to resettle refugees, instead outsourcing resettlement to private individuals or community groups.
Late last year, Amir Taghinia, an Iranian refugee held within Australia’s regional processing centre on Manus Island, was privately sponsored by a Canadian family and their community to resettle in British Columbia.
Paul Power from the Refugee Council of Australia said Australia’s private sponsorship scheme was “the most expensive in the world” and that the government was “using desperate refugee families to fund its commitment that it made to resettle refugees”.
“It’s very hard to understand the rationale for prioritising certain groups of refugees over others: why Eritreans in Ethiopia would be eligible, but in Sudan they would not be.”