Topics:  asylum seekers, bridging visas, department of immigration

Ipswich! Asylum seekers need you

ASYLUM seekers will soon be calling Ipswich home under a program that lets Australian families house refugees on bridging visas.

The Australian Homestay Network wants Ipswich residents to sign up to accommodate either one or two asylum seekers for up to six weeks at a time.

The program began in Melbourne in May and almost 300 refugees have already become part of Australian society with the help of local families.

All refugees have been cleared on health and security grounds by the Department of Immigration and assessed as likely to secure permanent residency in Australia.

Australian Homestay Network chief executive David Bycroft said this was a unique chance for people "frustrated with the boatpeople debate" to contribute in a positive way.

"All of these refugees have come from a traumatic situation somewhere in the world and arrived by boat in Australia," Mr Bycroft said.

"They've all spent a minimum of three months in detention and are thrilled to get this opportunity.

"This is a chance for people who have been frustrated with what's happening to step up to the plate and make a positive contribution."

"We think Ipswich is a perfect area, it's close to the main infrastructure of key agencies and there are great opportunities for jobs."

AHN is looking for a minimum of 10 Ipswich households to host up to 20 asylum seekers in the first wave of Ipswich placements.

Hosts receive $140 a week for each asylum seeker they host, but Mr Bycroft said the money was just designed to help with the extra costs involved in hosting a visitor in your home.

"We're looking for hosts who aren't in it for the money, but for an opportunity to contribute," he said. "It's a feel-good program rather than a pay-off-your mortgage program."

Families host guests from countries including Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Burma. All asylum seekers receive Federal Government assistance through the Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme and the Community Assistance Support program while guests in residents homes.

"While on a bridging visa, they get 89% of the social security entitlements of an Australian citizen," Mr Bycroft said. "They don't have a lot of money, but they can make a contribution to their own living costs."

Only about 30% of host applicants made it through the application process, but many had now hosted multiple refugees. The system had proved popular with retirees who often had the space and time to help foreigners assimilate into a new culture.

"They need help with basic things like setting up a phone card, catching public transport, banking and looking for work," Mr Bycroft said.

"All successful applicants receive online training before their first guest arrives and we are here to support hosts at any time."

Since May, 3700 families have applied to host refugees and more than 500 families have been approved.

Apply online at: homestaynetwork.org.



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