An Australian coalition of refugee groups is pushing for a new community-sponsored resettlement program to help overcome the global refugee crisis.
Refugee groups have launched a joint initiative calling on the government to introduce a scheme which will initially create 5,000 places for new refugees a year, growing to 10,000 over the next five years.
The Community Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (CRSI) has been launched to by a coalition of refugee groups to supplement, not supplant, government-funded resettlement programs.
Save the Children, the Refugee Council of Australia, Amnesty International Australia, the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce, Welcome to Australia and Rural Australians for Refugees are behind the plan.
Save the Children’s Lisa Button said community sponsorship is something the international community is increasingly looking toward to overcome the global refugee crisis.
"It expands the number of resettlement places for them around the world,” she told SBS News.
“It's also good for integration - refugees arriving in Australia effectively arrive into a community that has effectively agreed to support them. It becomes sort of like an extended family or a network of friends."
There are up to 1,000 community-based places available each year under Australia's current humanitarian intake. But a key concern of refugee groups is the high cost involved.
The CRSI estimates resettling a family of five under the current, more privatised community program would cost up to$100,000, which puts sponsorship out of financial reach for many people.
By sharing that cost among the community, sponsorship becomes more affordable.
Ms Button said she is confident the CRSI will work, considering the success of community-funded programs in other sectors.
“Those initiatives encourage us in the belief that there is a huge amount of generosity in the Australian community,” she said.
“We're confident if the policy settings are right and community groups are encouraged to get involved, this could really take off."
'Desperate for the opportunity'
One community group backing the CRSI is the Grainery Christian Church in Newcastle, NSW.
The small church is already providing support for 20 to 30 refugee families, such as assisting in finding rental accommodation, enrolling children in schools and reminding them which night rubbish is collected.
Church Pastor Matt Darvas said his faith drives him to care for new refugee arrivals, which has led him to personally visit refugee camps in Uganda.
He is urging the federal government to back the initiative.
“We're just desperate for the opportunity to take care of [potential refugees], desperate for the opportunity to welcome and love them,” he told SBS News.
“We want to encourage the government and say if you let these people come, we as a church community and others right around this country, we are willing to step up and help them out."
Pastor Darvas said others in Newcastle are looking to Grainery Christian Church to lead the way in the area.
“What I've noticed is that other churches, other Christians, other faith leaders in Newcastle have come to us and looked to adopt the same model,” he said.
“There's a great eagerness to help, and if we can connect groups in Australia looking to support the [CRSI], we are more than capable of taking more refugees and helping them integrate in the same way that our church has been doing."
From Congo to Newcastle
Immaculee Rugaruza is a member of the church.
She arrived in Newcastle with her four children in 2009 thanks to a $15,000 community sponsorship - two years after her husband Jerome initially fled unrest in the Democratic People's Republic of Congo .
After her husband was welcomed by the Grainery church, where he is now himself a pastor, Ms Rugaruza was given a similar reception.
She said the support from the church was invaluable, and hopes it can continue to help others looking to settle.
"I came here not knowing anyone who was not Jerome,” she told SBS News.
“The Grainery church is helping us and it can help others as how it helped me."
Save the Children last month led a delegation of visiting Canadian refugee experts talking to politicians and bureaucrats about community sponsorships.
A program similar to the CRSI has seen more than 300,000 people resettled in Canada over 40 years.
Ms Button said the CRSI has a litany of potential benefits, including in rural areas with declining populations.
"We're hearing a lot from people in regional communities about the desire to welcome refugees into those communities as part of a regional development and revitalisation,” she said.
“When communities welcome refugees, there's a real ripple effect: where more and more members of the community come into contact with refugees and discover they're really just ordinary people in need of a safe place to resume their lives."