By Tess Gilfedder, produced for online by Ainsley O’Keefe.
A new immigration solution is set to ease the overcrowding of Australia’s refugee detention centres.
The new program will allow Australian families to host asylum seekers in their homes while their papers are processed.
Beginning in July, Australians will be able to open their homes to refugees as part of the Community Placement Network program.
Asylum seekers will spend up to six weeks living in homestay, while the Department of Immigration and Citizenship handles the security and identity processes.
Refugee Council of Australia spokesperson Andrew Williams says the program is a far better alternative to detention centres.
“Given that 90 per cent of asylum seekers end up as refugees living in Australia, it is far more preferable to have asylum seekers in the community early, so that they can get used to the way of life in Australia and the support services around,” he said.
“All of the research will tell you that immigration detention does terrible things to asylum seekers who are already vulnerable and have already been through a lot of trauma, war, torture and persecution.”
Homestay Australia spokesperson Stefan Morgan supports the idea that asylum seekers will live in real Australian homes as a way to help integrate asylum seekers into the community.
“We make sure the host spends a lot of time with them initially in the first few weeks, understand what the culture is about, what’s good, what’s bad, where not to be at certain times of the day, so their personal safety is taken care of, that’s what a host of a refugee would be required to do,” he said.
The majority of asylum seekers will be single males, but Mr Morgan says the program will most benefit the unaccompanied children.
“If there in a family environment, it is far more easy for them to be accepted into this strange and different place which is Australia.”
The Federal Government will cover the refugees’ expenses and host families will receive $130 per person per week, plus a meal allowance.
Australian Homestay Network executive chairman David Byrcroft, says huge numbers of families are already putting their names down to participate.
“It is going to be an eye opener for them and they are going to come out of it feeling like they have made a contribution,” he said.
“We follow the screening process of the Australian Homestay Network, which includes police checks, house visits and all the typical things you would hope are involved in a process like this.”
Proposal draws mixed responses from host families and advocates.
Plenty of compassionate Australians will open their doors to those in need, Amnesty International refugee coordinator Dr Graham Thom says.
“It is just to help people get up on their feet, get familiar with the country and then hopefully they will be self-sufficient,” he said.
Former international student host Angela Sunde says even experienced families in the host networks are not equipped to deal with refugees.
“If you have refugee children you’re going to have children that have experienced war, suffering and death,” she said.
“And with that comes all the trauma.”
She says the number of young men involved in violence in their home countries is frightening.
“All we see on television is men that age throwing rocks and dealing with some sort of revolution in the Middle East,” she said.
“That straight away puts the average Australian on the back foot.”
But Dr Thom says he hopes those fears can be quelled.
“People are people and we shouldn’t think of these people, just because they have come here seeking asylum, as different from any other people,” he said.
Education for potential host families is available online at the Australian Homestay Network website.
By Isobel Roe, produced for online by Mitchell Ogden.