REFUGEES ARE NOT A BURDEN, HERE'S WHY

Refugees are often labelled as a burden.

As we find ourselves immersed in the biggest movement of people since the Second World War, world leaders, not for profit organisations and even the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have used the ‘burden’ term to appeal for global humanitarian assistance.

The data is in: refugees are not an economic burden

Studies from the United States and the United Kingdom demonstrate the arrival of humanitarian migrants bring a number of significant economic, linguistic, and civic benefits for host nations.

In Australia, the release of an Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) report highlights humanitarian arrivals are our nation’s most entrepreneurial migrants.

While comprising only 4 per cent of the migrant population, the ABS data shows humanitarian migrants reported a higher than average proportion of income from their own small or medium size businesses compared to skilled and family migrants.

Overall, humanitarian migrants earned a total of $888.8m in income during 2009-10. Nearly 10 per cent of this was generated by their own businesses – almost twice the figure recorded in other categories.

By harnessing the vitality and creativity of the people of the world we build a stronger Australian economy.

Since Federation, close to one million refugees have come to our shores, bringing with them a remarkable resilience which has resulted in outstanding contributions across all facets of our society.

We can point to the pioneering genius of Sir Gustav Nossal, the business prowess of Frank Lowy, and the talents of Ahn Do, to illustrate just how enriching their arrival was to our national prosperity.

And yet, the burden myth has not only persisted but has been cynically used to amplify and exploit misguided feelings of fear and anxiety within the community, rather than rectify more deep-rooted social and economic problems.

Nhill: the winning country town

Federal Member for Dawson George Christensen made the ridiculous claim that humanitarian migrants “either take a job an Australian can do or they go on the dole.”

By perpetuating such fabricated assertions, Christensen is promoting hostility towards newcomers under the guise of protecting our national interests – an insidious and misleading ploy which benefits no one and tarnishes everyone.

It would serve Christensen well to utilise the next National Party room meeting and speak to his colleague Andrew Broad, the Member for Mallee.

For in the electorate of Mallee, halfway between Melbourne and Adelaide, lies Nhill, a small agricultural town in the Wimmera region of Victoria.

As with a number of small regional towns, Nhill was confronted with a declining population, resulting in negative implications for the economic and social prospects of the town.

Faced with this dilemma, the town turned to settlement agency AMES Australia to see whether they could facilitate the relocation of any willing refugee group.

This led to the arrival of members of the Karen ethnic group who had come to Australia after fleeing conflict and persecution in their homeland in eastern Myanmar.

“Resettlement has not only provided significant economic stimulus, it has enriched the community through exposure to another culture”

Through a staged recruitment and resettlement process, nearly 200 Karen refugees have relocated to Nhill since 2010. The Karen community now comprises approximately 10 per cent of the Nhill population.

The positive economic impact this has brought to Nhill is there for all to see: growth in population, a strong and reliable workforce, revitalisation of local services and infrastructure and increased engagement of volunteers across all areas.

In fact, according to modelling carried out by Deloitte Access Economics, this increased labour supply has delivered a $41.5 million boost to the town’s economy in little more than five years.

More than this, the arrival of the Karen refugees has seen a transformative social effect take place within Nhill.

The Karen children, for instance, have an overwhelming positive impact on other students and the local teaching staff.

According to the Assistant Principal of Nhill College Greg Sampson, “the Karen students at the school are extremely positive and appreciative of any opportunities they are given. They bring a drive to the school that is having an impact on the other students – who are responding by noticeably trying harder at their studies and other school activities.”

The overall success of this initiative is best summed up by the Hindmarsh Shire Council CEO Tony Doyle who said that “the resettlement not only provided significant economic stimulus, it enriched the community through exposure to another culture and has made Nhill a better place to live.’’

It is clear that Labor’s commitment to increase Australia’s annual humanitarian intake to 27,000 by 2025 – almost double the current intake under the Abbott/Turnbull Government – is more than just in keeping with our legacy of vision, compassion, and equality.

By harnessing the vitality and creativity of the people of the world we build a stronger Australian economy.

By drawing on the strength of their cultural traditions we build a confident, dynamic and wonderfully diverse Australia.

Indeed, the vibrancy of our nation is living testament to the fact that refugees continue to be a boon, not a burden, to societies that welcome them.

This article was originally published on Labor Herald on Tuesday, 22 September 2015.