August 02, 2013
WHILE politicians shut the gates on asylum seekers, Sunshine Coast families are opening their hearts and homes to offer sanctuary to people fleeing oppression.
More than 400 have expressed interest in providing homestay opportunities for refugees caught by policy changes last year that means they cannot work or study while their future is being decided.
The region was chosen in 2012 as the first outside a capital city to trial the placement of refugees into the community.
Between August, 2012, and April this year, 48 refugees have stayed with Coast families for six weeks or longer.
John and Faye Pitts of Tanawha have hosted 43-year-old Sri Lankan refugee “R” for the past five months.
They became involved at the urging of their two adult daughters after last year watching the provocative SBS series Go Back to Where You Came From.
Like many of the refugees who have been housed on the Coast, “R” has brought a real benefit to the community volunteering for Landcare and Fusion.
Buddies of Buderim, an advocacy and support group founded more than a decade ago, assists with transport to and from volunteer work, creating opportunities for the refugees to socialise and improve their English.
Buddies meets monthly at Buderim, emails a six-page newsletter to 460 people on its mailing list and holds regular fundraising drives that help raise awarenes.
Australian Homestay Network executive chairman David Bycroft said the response had come after only minimal promotion about the Community Placement Network Project aimed at refugees already in Australia.
“The Sunshine Coast has been one of the most successful areas in terms of placements,” Mr Bycroft said.
The goal now is to get under-18 asylum seekers out of detention.
“There is no reason why they couldn’t be located in the community,” Mr Bycroft said.
“There is a silent army of people who want to give fairness. The sooner people can be hosted the better the outcomes for the economy and the community.”
Mrs Pitts said she and her husband John became involved at the urging their daughters, both nurses.
“They drove us,” she laughed this week.
“They said we had a spare room, got us the (phone) number and urged us to call.
“We wanted to help someone who needed it. John calls him his mate.”
When “R’s” six-week placement ended, they did not have the heart to move him on.
“He is so thoughtful and helpful. He had to get out of his country to stay alive.”
The Pitts have written to the Federal Government urging it to allow refugees on temporary visas to work.
“They would be paying taxes, it would help morale and would create a future. ‘R’ can’t go back.”
About 550 refugees have been placed in Australian homes through the homestay program.
For his part “R” grabbed the opportunity offered him. The alternative was share- house accommodation with other refugees in Brisbane, with limited opportunity to improve his English and minimal contact with Australians.
Through Buddies he has a chance to contribute through volunteer work, socialise with both Australians and fellow refugees and to get advanced English lessons.
“Hundreds of lifelong friendships have been formed,” Mr Bycroft said