ACT News

ACT support program is in place and awaiting refugee influx

Canberra is ready, willing and able to welcome hundreds of Syrians and Iraqis fleeing bitter civil war – the only element missing is the refugees themselves.

"The ACT government is ready to welcome more refugees. The ACT's network of support services is ready to be put in action. The community is ready to offer their support, and I welcome every opportunity to progress this issue with the Federal government," ACT Multicultural Affairs Minister Yvette Berry, said.

That may take a while.

"It is not possible to put a time frame on how long it will take to process the full cohort as processing time varies according to the circumstances of individual applicants," said a spokeswoman for Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton.

The federal government is under pressure to explain the long wait for Syrian refugees, many of whom are living in squalid and dangerous conditions in camps across the Middle East, following the revelation that Canada has resettled 20,490 in less time than Mr Dutton's department has taken to process 26.

Fairfax Media asked Mr Dutton's office whether the delays reflected a "lack of political will".

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"On September 9, 2015, the government announced ... 12,000 additional humanitarian program places had been made available for people displaced by conflict in Syria and Iraq," the spokeswoman said.

"The government has … said consistently that a small number would arrive before Christmas and that more would arrive in due course."

On November 16, ahead of the arrival of the first refugee family in Perth, Social Services Minister Christian Porter told reporters: "We had generally expected ... arrivals would have started in earnest in December and then pick up speed in January and February, and that will still be the case".

The arrival of the first family had been expedited for medical reasons.

The immigration spokeswoman said the rate at which refugees were processed was determined by Mr Dutton's department, not Mr Porter's.

"Rigorous security checks are being conducted by Australian government agencies ... including the checking of biometric data," she said. "It will take whatever time it takes."

On Thursday, Paul Power, the chief executive of the Refugee Council of Australia, called on the federal government to "act with more urgency".

"Our government is dragging its feet while the rest of the world is acting much more quickly to meet their promises to resettle Syrian and Iraqi refugees," he said.

Mr Power said New Zealand had already resettled 82 of the 200 Syrians it had pledged to take in before the end of June.

"Non-government organisations engaged by the government as contractors for post-arrival services for refugees have hired staff, secured additional housing and organised other assistance in the expectation refugees would have begun to arrive in large numbers some months ago," he said.

"These organisations are now bearing the costs of the government's delay."

Ms Berry said that regardless of how long the processing took, she was confident Canberra would give Syrian and Iraqi refugees a warm welcome.

"I have met with over 40 representatives from local refugee service providers in the ACT to get a sense of their capacity to support an increase of refugees over and above their current numbers," she said.

"I remain in contact with my Commonwealth counterparts in relation to ascertaining the time frame for the arrival of refugees in the ACT, which to this point has not been confirmed by the Australian government.

"I am confident the [Canberra] community's goodwill is still strong."

Meanwhile, Immigration and Border Protection has floated the possibility none of the 12,000 refugees may want to come to Canberra, let alone 250 of them.

"The [federal] government has not made any commitment as to where people may be settled," the spokeswoman said.

"I understand the 250 figure came from the ACT government."

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