Anger as South Sudan, Iran, Somalia 'excluded' from an Australian refugee program

Refugee children from South Sudan, pictured in Uganda. Source: Getty

Refugees from South Sudan, Iran and Somalia will reportedly be "excluded" from Australia's Community Support Program resettlement scheme.

Refugee advocates have hit out at reports that South Sudan, Iran and Somalia could be "excluded" from one of Australia's refugee programs.

The Guardian reported on Thursday that humanitarian migrants from eight countries will now be prioritised under the Community Support Program (CSP) resettlement scheme, with other nationalities told their applications are "highly unlikely to be accepted".

The CSP is only one part of the broader humanitarian intake. It allows individuals, families or community organisations to sponsor and support a refugee to come to Australia.

The priority countries are understood to be the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Bhutan, Syria and Iraq. 

Nationals of several other countries that were previously considered for resettlement, such as South Sudan, Somalia and Iran, are now "excluded and will not be able to access the program", according to The Guardian.

A Department of Home Affairs spokesperson told SBS News that "Australia's refugee and humanitarian program is non-discriminatory and has the flexibility to respond to emerging humanitarian situations".

"No nationality is excluded from consideration, but the Australian Government does establish priorities each program year based on a range of inputs including NGO and community views put forward through the annual program consultations," he said.

"The priorities under the CSP align with those for the broader refugee and humanitarian program."

But refugee advocacy groups have responded to the reports with shock.

Refugee Council of Australia spokesperson Samuel Dariol told SBS News that "community sponsorship should be non-discriminatory, both in terms of country of origin and not prioritising those with skills or money".

"The fact that refugees facing significant persecution, such as those from South Sudan, are excluded from the program is very worrying, considering that over 2.5 million people have fled ongoing conflict and violence.

"Australia should be doing more, not less, to address the situation for refugees from South Sudan, Somalia, and other emergencies around the world."

Mr Dariol also hit out at the CSP more broadly, saying that it has so far "failed to adequately provide an opportunity for a truly community-led sponsorship program".

"The current model is extremely expensive, discriminates against certain groups of refugees, and takes places away from the Australian Government's existing commitment to refugee resettlement."

He said that Australia should learn from Canada's experience in community sponsorship, which "works to ensure everyday citizens can join together to support new arrivals".

Maker Mayek, a South Sudanese-born lawyer that helped kickstart the social media campaign which turned around the 'African Gang' hashtag, expressed his thoughts on Twitter.

"Nearly 2.5 million South Sudanese refugees in the East African region. The country is still at war. South Sudan is excluded from Australia's Community Support Program. Think about Peter Dutton's views about South Sudanese-Australians. Are you still surprised? I'm not," he wrote on Thursday.

Migration Council Australia chief executive Carla Wilshire told SBS News it was "critically important" for the humanitarian intake to be "non-discriminatory".

Ms Wilshire said it was vital these programs respond to "global needs and vulnerabilities" and that Australia works closely with UNHCR - the UN Refugee Agency - to ensure this.

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