Private Resettlement: An Alternative Refugee Solution?

By Anna Szabo

In the wake of the chaos following President Trump’s recent travel bans, Australians have been tempted to temporarily tune out the mess that is our own refugee situation closer to home. While the detainees held at offshore processing centres continue to be treated as animals – just over two weeks ago, Refugee Action Coalition reported that a riot had erupted amongst Manus Island prisoners over the new food distribution system [1] – the long-term problem facing the Australian government of resettling the backlog of refugees remains a drawn-out, overly-complicated, and ineffective process.

In 2015, 65 million people were forced
to flee their homes..

In 2015, 65 million people were forced to flee their homes, a record high since World War II. [2] Under the UNHCR’s Resettlement Program, the Australian government recently agreed to raise its resettlement quota from 13,750 refugees in 2015-2016 to almost 19,000 by 2018-2019. [3] But while this action received considerable national support, the damning State of the Nation report released by the Refugee Council of Australia advised that the biggest challenge facing our government in 2017 is going to be reframing the refugee crisis as a global, and not just domestic, policy issue and correspondingly implementing a sustainable resettlement approach. [4]

For most Australians, there is little we can do to influence decisions at a governmental level other than adding our voices to the growing disparity of people demanding a change in our immigration laws. But what we could do is privately fund the visa and resettlement costs for a refugee to enter and settle in our country.

Private refugee sponsorship is not a new idea; it’s a program that has been flourishing in Canada since 1979, and the Refugee Council USA is currently trying to get if off the ground in the United States (although between the “merit-based” immigration system offered by the Trump administration and the recent migration bans, the future of American refugee policy is highly uncertain at present). [5] On our own shores, the Department of Border Protection and Immigration has been trialling a Community Proposal Pilot since 2013 with great success. [6]

Results so far have shown that there is a higher and faster grant rate for visas.

One faith-based and four migration service organisations have been working with families and community groups willing to assist with the cost of visa applications and provide practical and emotional assistance to refugees applying to enter Australia. The demand has exceeded available places in the program, and results so far have shown that there is a higher and faster grant rate for visas than under other government resettlement options.

In Canada it is recognised that the sponsorship arrangement is mutually beneficial, allowing refugees to be welcomed into society while generating social cohesion as active citizens are engaged in the nation-building process of understanding more about people different to themselves. [7]  However, while the principle of additionality is applied to treat the resettlement scheme as a supplement to Canada’s overall national intake, the 500 spaces in the Australian pilot program make up part of our quota within our UNHCR Resettlement Program obligations. Government reviews of the Australian pilot program in the future need to focus on applying this principle of additionality, as the potential for enabling the resettlement of hundreds of additional refugees at lower costs to the government is substantial.

“There has never been a more critical time to implement private sponsorship.

At the Refugee Alternatives Conference held by the UNSW Kaldor Centre last February, President of the Australian Human Rights Commission Gillian Triggs advised [8] that there has never been a more critical time to implement private sponsorship.

The national outcry and the desire to do more is there. Unless we learn from the examples of progressive, socially-minded countries like Canada, we will fail to meet our international responsibilities and fail to adapt to the global climate that is changing and adapting around us.

About the author

Anna has worked for a variety of non-government organizations including World Vision Australia and anti-trafficking organization the Freedom Project, and is currently Global Consulting Director for 180 Degrees Consulting, the world’s leading provider in social impact consultancy for non-profits and social enterprises. Anna does volunteer work for Amnesty International Australia and Refugee Action Coalition, and is completing her Masters in Human Rights Law & Policy in Sydney, Australia.



[1] Refugee Action Coalition, ‘“We are not animals” – Protest erupts in Manus detention centre’, March 19, 2017.
[2] UN News Centre, ‘Unprecedented 65 million people displaced by war and persecution in 2015’, June 20, 2016.
[3] Parliament of Australia, ‘Refugee resettlement to Australia: what are the facts?’, Sep. 7, 2016.
[4] Refugee Council of Australia, ‘State of the Nation 2017: Refugees and people seeking asylum in Australia’, Feb. 22, 2017.
[5] The New York Times, ‘How Trump’s ‘Merit-Based’ Immigration System Might Work’, March 1, 2017.
[6] The Conversation, ‘Private resettlement models offer a way for Australia to lift its refugee intake’, Sep. 19, 2016.
[7] The New York Times, ‘Refugees Encounter a Foreign Word: Welcome’, July 7, 2016.
[8] Tweet by Refugee Council of Australia about Gillian Triggs, President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, at the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law ‘Refugee Alternatives Conference’, Feb. 22, 2017.

[Source: The Refuge (April 2017), Volume 1, Issue 2, pages 2-3]

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