Berrigan Shire should be considered as a refugee settlement area.
That is what Cr Bernard Curtin is asking the council to investigate and advocate, saying it could offer growth and diversity for the region. He raised the issue at last week’s Berrigan Shire Council meeting.
Cr Curtin has raised his idea on the back of the Federal Government’s announcement it will close its Manus Island detention centre this week.
Located in Papua New Guinea, Manus Island is reported to have held 700 immigrants who had attempted to enter Australia.
Cr Curtin urged council to seek funding which may help the shire re-home these and other refugees.
‘‘I would like to see where we as a council sit, with approaching the Federal Government and asking what possible grants we might receive or benefits we could get from resettlement,’’ he said.
‘‘There is a compassionate level to all this; these people are genuine refugees not some that have attempted to arrive here illegally by boat.
‘‘And it’s important to the population growth of the shire. We need workers helping dairy farmers and driving tractors.
‘‘I would like us to talk to Peter Dutton (Minister for Immigration and Border Protection) personally, not public servants.
‘‘I brought this issue up a while ago, and will need to present more at the February meeting.’’
Berrigan Shire director of corporate services Matt Hansen said the council must be certain the community has the capabilities to support the refugees before it decides whether to pursue a local resettlement project.
Based on the ‘Refugee Settlement in Regional Areas: Evidence-based good practice’ document prepared for the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet by refugee consultant Margaret Piper, Mr Hansen said council would also need to provide a humanitarian settlement program that would include English programs, a refugee health service and specialist support for trauma.
‘‘Some of these refugees have come from very harsh backgrounds, so we would need better mental health services,’’ Mr Hansen said.
‘‘I understand the sympathy and sentiment but it’s not practical for those coming to move here unless we as a community can provide the services they need.’’
Cr Curtin said he believed Federal Government assistance can also be obtained to provide the services.
Mr Hansen said the other obstacle to Cr Curtin’s request were plans for a soon-to-be-launched Regional Refugee Resettlement program for the Riverina Murray to target Albury and Wagga.
‘‘They are working on plans to boost associated services in those places to make sure resettlement is a success,’’ he said.