Regional employers say more has to be done to attract refugees to Australia’s country towns and keep them there to help address labor shortages.
About 20 per cent of refugees is settled in regional areas including Shepparton, Launceston, Albury, Coffs Harbour, Toowoomba, and Townsville.
But employers in some areas say they are losing refugees to the bright lights of the cities. Roger Fletcher is the CEO of Fletchers International, one of Australia’s largest meat exporters that have abattoirs in New South Wales and Western Australia.
He says almost a decade ago his Dubbo abattoir employed many immigrants.
But he blames the Federal Government for not doing enough to keep people in rural areas.
“A few years ago we had the boat people, they would come in from Afghanistan, we had a lot of those working but they moved out of regional areas to the city,” he said.
“The government made it preferential for them to move to the city, gave them housing in the cities, gave them courses in the city.”
Twenty-five-year-old construction worker Samuel Mou arrived in Australia in 2005 from war-torn Sudan. He was resettled in Armidale, in northern New South Wales, under the Federal Government’s humanitarian program.
But after two years in unfamiliar surroundings, he was drawn to Sydney. He now lives in Werrington, in the city’s west. “There are not even equivalent to 10 families in Armidale and in Sydney there are more communities and you can get more support,” he said.
“To form the community you need more support and more funding from the government because the community has not got enough money to support the people or the young children in the regional areas.
“You cannot stay in regional areas, depend on the dole, and live well.” The CEO of the Migration Council of Australia, Carla Wilshire, says the Federal Government needs to deal with the large numbers of refugees coming into the country.
“I think it’s an area where more government focus is needed, particularly with high numbers of immigrants intake,” she said.
“One of the things that settlement policy needs to do is look at more effectively consulting with regional areas across Australia, work out where the need is and identify the areas that really have a desire to increase their population size.”
Former immigration minister Brendan O’Connor maintains the government is committed to settling refugees in country towns.
“immigrants are taking up the opportunity to settle in our regions,” he said in a statement.
“Around one in five are either linked to family or friends in a regional location or settle in a regional location.
“When deciding where to settle, many refugees consider their existing family and social links – but we are ensuring our regions are well-placed to attract new people and families.”
However, criticism about the sustainability of the resettlement program in the long term remains.
Mr. Mou says if adequate community support was provided in regional towns he would gladly make the switch.
“There’s no bad place in Australia, the city, the regional areas, it’s all the same,” he said.
“But there are cheaper places in regional towns so of course, it would be good.”