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Finding a way home for refugees

Date

Stephanie Anderson

New life ... Nigerian refugee Richard Ezomoh at his rental property in Macgregor.

New life ... Nigerian refugee Richard Ezomoh at his rental property in Macgregor. Photo: Melissa Adams

In a small house of strangers on the outskirts of Canberra, Richard Ezomoh is making a new life.

It's been 10 months since the 26-year-old arrived in the capital as a refugee from Nigeria, during which time he spent weeks trying to find a place to rent.

''It's very hard coming to a new country where there is no father, no mother, no family,'' he said.

''You need some support to be able to survive.''

That support came from the Migrant and Refugee Settlement Services, which has been running a program aiming to slash the discrimination against refugees in the private rental market and help new arrivals find a home.

With assistance from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, the service has been signing on to leases as the tenant, making it responsible for any rental payments, damages or breach of tenancy agreements. In the case of Mr Ezomoh, the organisation signed a lease in Macgregor where Mr Ezomoh and two fellow refugees became sub tenants.

The program is beginning to gain traction three months from its official launch, but chief executive of the ACT and Region Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chris Peters said there was still work to be done.

Mr Peters said the program was not a silver bullet for stopping prejudice against refugees, but would help by removing one of the main concerns of landlords.

''The existing problem is that landlords don't feel a level of confidence that newly arrived refugees will have the means to address rental payments,'' he said.

''There are not a lot of refugees coming through here, but it is a significant issue.

''Canberra is very short on government housing stock. The private market can provide the housing, it's just a matter of agents understanding this system.''

The housing difficulties faced by refugees in the capital have also been addressed by community housing organisation ACT Shelter, which launched its policy statement on Monday.

It stated that discrimination in the private rental market, difficulties with English and limited access to housing support were common obstacles which could be partially addressed by cultural awareness and competency training for housing staff, as well as the provision of continuing assistance for refugees.

Concerns over housing needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Canberra were also raised in the policy statement, which recommended the development of an indigenous housing strategy.

Other recommendations included training for housing staff to improve responses to mental health and housing matters; exploring new housing models for students and apprentices; and increasing crisis accommodation in the ACT.

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