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Australia helps refugees rebuild their lives.

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Senator Chris Evans Minister for Immigration and Citizenship

Australia helps refugees rebuild their lives

Friday 15 August 2008

The Mae La refugee camp on the Thai-Burma Border, Tak Province, Thailand

More than 13 000 people who have fled war, persecution or political strife in their troubled homelands began new lives in Australia last year, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Chris Evans, said today.

The 13 014 humanitarian visas granted in 2007-08 shows our commitment to helping some of the world’s most needy people rebuild their lives in Australia,’ Senator Evans said.

Burmese people who had been living in camps on the Thai-Burma border and in Malaysia and India were among the major groups assisted last year.

Senator Evans listens to a Karen refugee tell his life story as part of the Australian Cultural Orientation program. In the background are Australian Youth Ambassadors Darcy Lyons, left, and Claire Wilson.

During his trip to south-east Asia last week, Senator Evans visited a refugee camp on the Thai-Burmese border about 450km north-west of Bangkok to see first-hand the plight of some of the Burmese refugees who had fled to Thailand.

‘There are more than 40 000 people in the Mae La refugee camp, mostly people of Karen ethnicity who faced persecution by the Burmese military junta,’ Senator Evans said.

‘It was distressing to see so many people living in makeshift housing because it is unsafe to live in their own homes in Burma.

'As a father, it was particularly upsetting to see children growing up in a refugee camp far from their homeland - without many of the things that most of us take for granted.’

The Mae La camp started in 1984 as a small settlement for ethnic Karen fleeing violence in Burma. It has grown to be the largest of the nine refugee camps in the region. More than 9000 people from the camp have been resettled since then and a further 10 000 are expected to leave during 2008.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates there are currently about 116 000 registered Burmese refugees and about 3700 unregistered refugees in nine camps along the Thai-Burma border.

The minister listens to Karen refugee's story in the Mae La refugee camp on August 9. In the background are three young Karen refugees, an Australian Cultural Orientation teacher and the Karen interpreter.

In 2007-08, Australia granted 2961 humanitarian visas to Burmese refugees. It is expected Burmese will continue to be one of the largest groups of entrants under Australia’s humanitarian program for 2008-09.

Senator Evans explains to Karen children how a boomerang works during the Australian Cultural Orientation program. In the background at Mae La are the International Organization for Migration trainer and Karen interpreter.

Senator Evans said 2215 Iraqis were the second largest group in Australia’s 2007-08 humanitarian program, which also included 1185 refugees from Afghanistan, 1158 from Sudan, 410 from Liberia, 348 from the Democratic Republic of Congo, 303 from Burundi, 302 from Iran and 267 from Sierra Leone.

Refugees from the Middle-East and south west Asia made up 35 per cent of the program, people from the rest of Asia 34 per cent and people from Africa 30 per cent.

Almost 83 per cent of visas were granted to people applying overseas while 1900 initial protection visas were granted onshore.

Senator Evans said 13.7 per cent of refugee visas were granted in the “woman at risk” category, well ahead of the program’s 10.5 per cent target.

The minister said the 2007-08 humanitarian program ensured Australia remained among the world’s top three refugee resettlement countries along with the United States and Canada.

Senator Evans said Australia’s commitment to refugee resettlement was complemented by the Government’s assistance to people suffering from long-term displacement.

As part of the Australian Cultural Orientation program, refugee children play dress-up games. A young refugee boy dresses in a Victoria Police cap and shirt as part of a lesson for children that they can trust police in Australia and should not feel scared about contacting them.

The Rudd Government recently approved $6.45 million for international aid projects to assist displaced persons in Thailand, Iraq, Syria, Nepal, Bangladesh, Africa and Pakistan.

More than $2.5 million of the funding will go to UNICEF and Austcare for projects aimed at addressing the situation of displaced people from Burma in Thailand. UNICEF will receive nearly $1 million to strengthen child protection services for children living in the camps.

The minister presents a gift to Karen lady at the International Organizattion for Migration Refugee Transit Centre, Mae Pa, in Tak Province. She will be resettled in Australia this month.

Humanitarian visa grants 2007-08

Offshore humanitarian program Visa grants

Burma 2961

Iraq 2215

Afghanistan 1185

Sudan 1158

Liberia 410

Democratic Republic of Congo 348

Burundi 303

Iran 302

Sierra Leone 267

Sri Lanka 243

Others 1407

Total offshore humanitarian program 10 799

Onshore program* 2215

Grand total

13 014

* Protection visas and onshore humanitarian visa grants