Multicultural Tamworth president Eddie Whitham believes the federal government’s decision to concentrate Syrian refugees in Western Sydney is short sighted, particularly when many regional areas “are crying out for them”.
Mr Whitham is a founding member of the Tamworth Syrian Project, an organisation formed in Tamworth to prepare to take some of the 12,000 Syrian refugees that have been promised Australian visas under the Turnbull Government.
“We are six or seven months into an 18-month project, but have done all the applications and are ready to go,” Mr Whitham said.
“From here in Tamworth, to Glen Innes and up to the border – everyone has been asking for refugees, Armidale is screaming out for them and Inverell and Moree are ready to go as well. But for some reason the government has agreed to settle five or six thousand in Fairfield.”
“It is not so much the government, but Dr Peter Shergold from Western Sydney University, that has been tasked with deciding where the refugees go - he is not doing a very good job of it.
“When it was first talked about there were plans to settle some Syrians in regional areas, but they have just settled them all in the cities and haven’t looked at the bush.”
The TSP is made up of about 40 residents, many of them members of local churches and others representing service agencies in the city, such as TAFE New England and Northern Settlement Services.
The project was hoping to help settle up to 40 Syrians in Tamworth, and have also got plans in place to help them learn the language, find employment, seek medical and mental health support and become contributing members of the community.
“Everything is in place – we have a unit set up for them to stay in for the first month of processing, and getting them orientated for work,” Mr Whitham said.
“The town already has plenty of asylum seekers and plenty of room. We have settled 36 Burmese and 25 Sudanese already among 86 nationalities that are represented in the town.
“We want to see a balance and spread them across the board – then everyone is happy.”
Mr Whetham and project chief Brian Lincoln have even been actively pursuing the issue through the available channels, but so far it has all been to no avail.
“We have written letters and made phone calls asking what is happening and when we can expect to get some refugees to settle – so far there has been no answers coming back,” Mr Whetham said.
“We want to see four families come to Tamworth because we are ready for them now. We could take a dozen families progressively.”