It has long been my intuition that a country like Australia should welcome refugees – not fear them. I guess this feeling in part comes from my first-hand experiences with immigrants I’ve known over my life, people who came from poverty-stricken countries with political instability and ended up some of the hardest-working, most appreciative Australian’s I’ve ever met. Not only do first generation immigrants work hard, but their children, raised in Australian schools, often with accents broader than my own, tend to grow up with an appreciation of the opportunity Australia represents, continually reinforced by their parents with stories of the “old country”, that is stronger than those of us whose ancestors moved here 100 years or more ago (my mother’s ancestors came to Australia in 1912, from Poland and Britain, my father moved here from Scotland as a “Ten Pound Pom” in the late 60’s).
So today I read some of a document published by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship in June 2011 – “A Significant Contribution: the Economic, Social and Civic Contributions of First and Second Generation Humanitarian Entrants – that seems to confirm my intuition.
This research examines what are the economic, social and civic contributions to Australia of first and second generation Humanitarian Program entrants by the analysis of Census data, interviews with families and in-depth discussions with organisations such as employment, education and refugee service providers.
In the introduction summary to the report, they state:
The research found the overwhelming picture, when one takes the longer term perspective of changes over the working lifetime of Humanitarian Program entrants and their children, is one of considerable achievement and contribution.
The Humanitarian Program yields a demographic dividend because of a low rate of settler loss, relatively high fertility rate and a high proportion of children who are likely to work the majority of their lives in Australia.
It finds evidence of increasing settlement in nonmetropolitan areas which creates social and economic benefits for local communities.
Humanitarian entrants help meet labour shortages, including in low skill and low paid occupations.
They display strong entrepreneurial qualities compared with other migrant groups, with a higher than average proportion engaging in small and medium business enterprises.
Humanitarian settlers also benefit the wider community through developing and maintaining economic linkages with their origin countries.
In addition, they make significant contributions through volunteering in both the wider community and within their own community groups.
I wish I heard this perspective being used more liberally in the media and by politicians from all parties when we discuss “The Pacific Solution”. We, as a nation, need to realize that we stand to benefit far more from refugees arriving on our shores than we will need to provide them.