Mullum a safe haven for refugees

RARELY are Northern Rivers residents asked to rely purely on hope over circumstance.

But for a long time, this is exactly what Mullumbimby’s soon-to-be newest families were asked to do.

They weren’t hoping to be liberated from snarling traffic jams or a concrete jungle; the catalyst for so many sea and tree-changers who rightly call the Northern Rivers home.

When three sisters, as well as their husbands and children, arrive from the Democratic Republic of Congo they will have said goodbye to war, repression and a loss of liberty far beyond what the majority of us will ever have to endure.

The Democratic Republic of Congo – formerly known as Zaire – has been torn apart by war, and has the dubious honour of hosting the UN’s largest peace mission inAfrica.

After being forced to leave their home country for a refugee camp in Zambia about five years ago, the three families will arrive in Australia on March 15, before making their way to Mullumbimby.

They are some of the lucky few who have not only managed to flee the region, but have also jumped the various hoops needed to access a visa to come to Australia.

Only about one in four applicants are successful with their humanitarian visa application. Those who are require the support of a sponsor here in Australia.

That is where Sanctuary Northern Rivers comes in.

The community group endeavours to help refugees make a new life on the Northern Rivers by helping them with their applications.

Since 2004, Sanctuary has helped resettle 140 people in the Lismore area.

Sanctuary Northern Rivers president Dr Michael Douglas said the resettlements had been good for the new arrivals, as well as the community they were now a part of.

“It has gone extremely well,” he said.

“There’s been an almost entirely positive reception.”

Indeed, Sanctuary has been so effective in resettling refugeesunder the Federal Government’s humanitarian program, a group of Mullumbimby residents approached Sanctuary to see how they could be involved.

Now that the resettlement is not far away, a public meeting will be held in Mullumbimby tonight to brief the community on how they can help make the transition easy for their new neighbours.

Dr Douglas said Mullumbimby was an ideal place for the families to start over given its size and reputation as an inclusive community.

Sanctuary’s Mullumbimby volunteers will provide practical assistance to the new families – everything from airport greetings to locating accommodation, as well as opening bank accounts and assembling furniture.

While Sanctuary generally provides settling in support for about six months, the cost is relatively small.

Sanctuary provides interest-free loans to refugees to help them purchase the plane tickets to Australia, which cost roughly $10,000 for a family.

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