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Want to help a ‘caravaner’ refugee?

Want to help a ‘caravaner’ refugee?

By Jennifer Ashton OAM, CLA Director*

Would you like to help refugees, perhaps some of the ‘caravaners’ trying to enter the USA?

Photo: The first caravan of Central American migrants reached the town of Matías Romero in Oaxaca state Mexico on 1 November 2018 –

There are two types of refugee resettlement to Australia, the official resettlement program, and the community sponsorship scheme.

The official resettlement program is created each financial year, with key countries, and with numbers decided in advance.

Until Australia’s Manus/Nauru swap arrangement with the USA, refugees from Central America were not considered a priority because they were mostly Spanish-speaking (so preferred resettlement was in Europe or other South American countries) and they were geographically close to the USA, where there are already substantial Latino communities who could help with local integration.

Australia has accepted some refugees on US recommendation from emergency transit centres established by the UNHCR in Central America, but 50-60 only so far. To be referred to this program, refugees must have been screened by UNHCR and accepted by them as genuine refugees. I understand that some of the caravan people have already been screened by UNHCR.

The only way to include caravaners in the official resettlement program would be to lobby the Minister for Immigration, David Coleman, and the Home Affairs Department, arguing that they should be included in our Manus swap…..

Under the community sponsorship scheme, a group must work through one of the agencies nominated by the Department of Home Affairs to identify a person or people to be sponsored. People who speak English and who have the employment skills Australia needs are preferred.

Sponsors must commit to supporting the individual/family until they have employment, estimated to cost up to $100,000 for a family of five. The processing time is quite lengthy and the waiting list long, because it is a means of family reunion. The Home Affiars website says “months to years”.

Al Jazeera reported recently that, in 2018, fewer refugees made it into the USA than any time during the previous 40 years, because the Trump administration put in place an election campaign promise to cap the number of people entering the US.

In September 2018, the Trump administration reduced that limit again from 45,000 to 30,000. The year 2019 could see the lowest number of refugee admissions in US history.


Jennifer Ashton, a CLA Director, worked with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for two decades operating from Zambia to Kazakhstan, including two years with UNAIDS in Myanmar. She was the UNHCR Resettlement Coordinator during the South African 2008 xenophobia riots and their aftermath. In recent years she has returned to Geneva twice, at UNHCR’s request as conflicts erupted, to help kick start urgent refugee relief projects. Her career started with the then-AusAID and with Australian NGOs (in Cambodia from 1986-1989, work for which she received an OAM). She has qualification in social work followed by a Masters-by-correspondence through Deakin Uni as a nightly respite from the harsh daily realities of remote refugee camps.

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