Services, infrastructure, accommodation, cultural diversity.
Macarthur – Campbelltown in particular – has almost everything a refugee settling in Australia needs.
Yet the number of refugees who call the area home is a drop in the ocean compared to other areas in south west Sydney, Macarthur Diversity Services Initiative settlement caseworker Sana Al-Ahmar said.
“The thing is everything is here but we don’t have enough refugees coming. There is scope for many more,” she said.
In 2015 former Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced 12,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq would be settled in Australia in a special intake. Half of those would be settled in the Fairfield local government with Liverpool also set to become home to a significant number.
But the number in Campbelltown isn’t even a blip on the radar.
Ms Al-Ahmar said there were a few factors that determined where refugees and migrants chose to settle aside from government input.
“I think the reason many refugees from this cohort have gone to Fairfield and Bankstown is because of the language and the many support services available in those areas,” she said.
“You can go somewhere to buy something and not think about the language (barrier).”
“Housing is also another mitigating factor, but Settlement Services International (SSI) is seriously looking at finding short term accommodation (three to six months) in Campbelltown for newly-arrived refugees.
“They will most likely be looking at long term accommodation in Campbelltown.
“We have here good schools, TAFE, Western Sydney University, beautiful park and not too far from the beach and other areas of interest as well as the many services that will be supporting them.
“If we can get them short-term in Campbelltown, they will most likely look for long-term options in the area unless they have family elsewhere.”
Discussions with real estate agents about the financial situation of refugees – many of whom rely on Centrelink to pay their rent when they first arrive – had also been ongoing.
Another selling point for Campbelltown is education.
Ms Al-Ahmar also said many refugees brought knowledge and skills with them to Australia but often their tertiary qualifications attained in other countries weren’t recognised here.
However, bridging courses at TAFE and universities – both located a few hundred metres from Macarthur Train Station – helped those refugees and migrants find work in field.
“Moving to a new country is challenging and could be traumatic for many people who were professionals in their country of birth, it could be very hard for them to regain their qualifications and develop experience in Australia in order to continue their careers,” she said.
She said Campbelltown had seen the benefits of a large number of refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan, who had chosen to call Campbelltown home in the 1990s and early 2000s.
“There kids are at university or finishing university and are working or have own businesses,” she said.
Ms Al-Ahmar said Macarthur Diversity Services Initiative were also actively promoting Campbelltown as a place to settle refugees at meetings, interagencies and government services.
Federal MP Michael Freelander said Campbelltown was an “obvious” for refugees to settle. And it was up to the federal government to ensure the funding and support was there to ensure a smooth transition.
“Campbelltown is an obvious choice for refugees and it would work, but we need to make sure (services and support) are funded properly,” he said.
“There’s a lot we can be doing for refugees and their families.
“But we need to put pressure on Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and Social Services Minister Christian Porter to ensure we give refugees the support they need.”
Mid-last year the state government committed $145.6 million over four years to help refugees who settled in NSW. The money included $93 million for education of school aged refugees, $11 million for specialised health services and support and $2.5 million to help refugees find work.
The Campbelltown Refugee Settlement Working Party work together to plan and develop a whole community initiative to ensure a coordinated approach for the delivery of services to support refugees.