Local, Independant and Effective

Murray Valley Sanctuary Refugee Group - helping refugees settle on the Border

Posted June 25, 2015


CATHY McGOWAN (Indi) (10:48): My speech today is about a very special organisation in my electorate—the Murray Valley Sanctuary Refugee Group, a group which resettles refugees as part of the humanitarian visa program. Humanitarian visas are government-approved applications for acceptance to come to Australia as refugees. The people must apply to come to Australia, but they also must have UNHCR recommendations. They are screened for security and health issues. Sometimes it can take up to three years between an application and acceptance.

The Murray Valley Sanctuary Refugee Group was formed in November 2004. It is part of a wider Australian network—Sanctuary Australia Foundation, formerly the Sanctuary Refugee Foundation, which was formed in 1988 in Coffs Harbour. The Murray Valley Sanctuary Refugee Group's vision is to assist refugees to settle in Albury-Wodonga by providing funding and support to those on humanitarian visas in order that they may achieve independence and integration. Sanctuary has over 50 members, who work to raise funds and train as volunteers to assist new arrivals in their settlement. To date, the Murray Valley Sanctuary Refugee Group has sponsored and settled over 60 people.

Over the past 10 years they have given out more than $150,000 in interest-free loans to new settlers and 31 loans for airfares. The repaid loans for the airfares are then used to pay for the next family to come. Rates of repayment are discussed with each family so that it is not a financial burden. They also assist with loans for the fees involved with child and orphan visa applications.

And what else do they do? Gaining a driver's licence is important for all people in the country, and so Sanctuary provides assistance in paying for six driving lessons as well as having volunteers who accompany the learners while they gain their driving skills.

Education is also very important to overcoming social disadvantage. The Sanctuary group provides assistance with the cost of tertiary education, whether it is for books or course fees. A cultural fund helps children participated in extra school activities, such as trips to Canberra, which have been offered by schools but would normally be outside the resources of newly arrived refugee families.

I am told that the arrival of people on 202 visas has slowed of late. While there are still many applications waiting to be processed, Sanctuary is keen to continue their work and they ask if there is anything that we can do to speed up the process.

Another issue for Sanctuary is working with young adolescents. In 2004, under the community proposed scheme, Sanctuary assisted some adolescents out of a refugee camp where they had been in a lot of danger. The four adolescents have now joined their slightly older brother, who had come out earlier on a 202 visa and has recently completed a social work degree. The pilot scheme was draining on the funds and put them under a lot of pressure as a small fundraising group. They are very keen to do it again, but they are finding it very challenging. I have to say that Sanctuary is now proud to celebrate 10 years of successful settlement and will look forward to another 10 years of work welcoming new arrivals to the community and helping them settle into life in Albury Wodonga.

In closing, I would like to sincerely acknowledge all of the community for their work, but particularly the members of the Sanctuary board: President Dr Penny Vine, Chris Gabriel, Joan Landy, Tony Smit, Sandra Blake, Ann McDonald and Paul Craane—the latter two for their terrific work on the website. I would certainly encourage people to visit the website and see how they can donate to this worthy cause. Finally, I would like to thank all of the people in my electorate of Indi, who take such an interest, with such care and compassion, in refugees and around asylum seeker issues. I am very proud to be your representative and your voice in this place.

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