Refugees trapped for years in Australia’s cruel offshore processing system are starting new lives in Canada after landing in Vancouver and Toronto yesterday (Dec 11).
Eight refugees, who were sent to detention on Manus Island in 2013 by the Australian Government, started life as Canadian residents on Saturday, after years of efforts to secure their freedom by Australian and Canadian refugee groups.
They flew out of Papua New Guinea on Thursday – just weeks before the Australian Government ends its offshore processing arrangements with the PNG Government at the end of this month. That move will leave more than 110 asylum seekers and refugees in limbo there.
Six of the eight refugees are from the Operation #NotForgotten community sponsorship partnership between the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA), the Vancouver-based migrant and refugee settlement service MOSAIC and volunteer network Ads Up Canada. The other two are sponsored by small groups of community volunteers supported by Ads Up Canada.
“This is the result of ordinary people in Australia and Canada working together to find a solution for refugees who needed the opportunity to get on with the rest of their lives after years of mistreatment by the Australian Government,” RCOA chief executive officer Paul Power said.
“These eight people sought sanctuary from Australia after escaping oppression in their homelands, as was confirmed when their refugee status was assessed.
“Instead of being helped by Australia, they were put into detention under appalling conditions and have spent years not knowing what the future held for them and their families.
“Australians concerned about the mistreatment of the refugees sent to PNG and Nauru are very grateful to the people and government of Canada for providing a welcome and a new home for people who need the opportunity to live in freedom and start again.
Mr Power said the resettlement of the refugees was significant also in the sense that people who opposed Australia’s mistreatment of refugees and whose collective voice had been ignored by the Australian Government had found this way to work together to “find answers for people where no answers were previously available”.
With the offer of resettlement to the United States soon to close and the Australian Government still to act on an offer of assistance first extended by New Zealand in 2013, much work remains to be done to find solutions for more than 1000 people with refugee status who are still trapped within Australia’s offshore processing system across Nauru, PNG and Australia.
Australians have donated $3.8 million to Operation #NotForgotten through RCOA, while MOSAIC and Ads Up Canada have worked together to lodge sponsorship applications and organise volunteer settlement teams to support refugees after arrival.
Since November 2019, applications for 163 refugees and 124 separated family members have been lodged through Operation #NotForgotten. While the Canadian Government’s assessment process has been significantly delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, 13 applications have been approved since October. The first six Operation #NotForgotten arrivals yesterday will be followed by another four refugees reaching Canada over the next month. Travel for three newly approved applicants is yet to be arranged.
Under Canada’s refugee sponsorship scheme, sponsors are responsible for providing income support for refugees for the first year after arrival and must have raised the designated levels of income support before an application can be lodged. About $21,500 AUD is required for an individual and $36,500 AUD for a family of five.
Paul Power is the CEO of the Refugee Council of Australia.
More information about how to support Operation #NotForgotten is at www.refugeecouncil.org.au/canada