More Countries Must Help Refugees: Minister

Yuko Narushima, Sydney Morning Herald, June 16, 2009

Australia takes more than its fair share of the world’s displaced people, and more nations need to help resettle them, says the Minister for Immigration, Chris Evans.

At an event marking the start of World Refugee Week yesterday, Senator Evans welcomed the significant contribution of refugees but said he hoped there would be a greater contribution from other countries.

‘At the moment it’s only a very small group of countries, and we need to try and ensure there’s a broader global commitment to assisting people in need. We take a more than fair share of those seeking resettlement.’

Atuna Chol was forced to leave Sudan barefoot when she was nine. Carrying her two-month-old sister, she and her sick mother walked for weeks in the heat to Ethiopia before applying for asylum in the Congo. She lived in a Ugandan refugee camp before arriving in Australia in 2004.

A comfort she now enjoys is a restful sleep, without fear of needing to flee during the night. ‘If you took your clothes off, you ran naked,’ she said. ‘It’s so good here. I’m not thinking about where to run or what to do.’

Ms Chol, who is studying for a business certificate, teaches computer skills to young Sudanese refugees. She was among 15 students awarded scholarships yesterday in recognition of academic and community success.

The regional representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Richard Towle, told award recipients that education was vital.

‘Education . . . is the critical building block for your own success, for your family’s success and for your full integration and life in this country.’

However, a report by the Refugee Council of Australia showed that refugees regularly lived in fear of arrest and deportation. Registration with the UN refugee agency often provided little protection.

The council’s president, John Gibson, said: ‘Refugees spoke about having to work illegally to survive and fearing arrest and imprisonment because of the denial of work and residency rights.’

The council reported exploitation of refugees who first sought asylum in countries such as Malaysia, India and Jordan.

‘Many refugees who are in countries where they have sought protection from persecution face problems nearly as great as those experienced before they fled,’ Mr Gibson said. ‘The reality is far from the orderly queue imagined by some Australian commentators.’

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