Half of Australia's 12,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees to be settled by just one Sydney council
At least half of Australia's special intake of 12,0000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees will be settled in a western Sydney suburb within 12 months, prompting community leaders to plead for more federal government support to deal with the unusually high intake.
Fairfield City Council, which welcomed 3000 humanitarian arrivals from the two war-torn countries in 2016, has been told by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to expect the same again. Overall, the council area took in triple their usual annual humanitarian intake last year.
Stephen Bali, the president of the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils and mayor of nearby Blacktown City Council, said local governments need to be properly equipped to meet their settlement and social cohesion responsibilities.
Mr Bali called for detailed demographic information "to ensure councils are investing their efforts in the right kinds of services".
"In the past, councils received very limited information on incoming refugees. This is something that we hope can be improved in consultation with the federal and state governments," he said.
Across the one-off 12,000 cohort and the regular humanitarian program, Fairfield took in 75 per cent of all western Sydney's refugee intake, with Liverpool City Council second at 14 per cent.
The suburbs have also observed a "secondary settlement" phenomenon, with refugees moving to the Fairfield area after their initial arrival in other locations, some of which are interstate.
New arrivals gravitate to the area due to family links and large existing Iraqi and Syrian communities, which have established religious and community services.
Between July 2015 and January 2017, 15,897 people displaced by the conflicts in Syria and Iraq arrived in Australia, according to the Turnbull government. Of these, 9155 were part of the additional 12,000 places announced by former prime minister Tony Abbott in September 2015.
This regular intake will increase from 13,750 to 16,250 next financial year and 17,750 the year after that.
Senator Zed Seselja, the Assistant Minister for Social Services and Multicultural Affairs, said: "Locations have been identified for the settlement of the additional intake of Syrian and Iraqi humanitarian entrants across a mix of metropolitan and regional settlement areas, in all states and territories."
One hour west of the Sydney CBD, Fairfield and the surrounding areas have been a multicultural hub and destination for new migrants for many years, with large Iraqi, Assyrian, Chinese, Vietnamese and Lebanese communities.
Fairfield council covers roughly 200,000 people. The unemployment rate is consistently above eight per cent, notably higher than the latest nationally - 5.6 per cent.
Tony Fares, a former resident of the Syrian capital Damascus, came to Sydney in early 2016. Since then, he and wife Wafee have been taking English courses.
"It's perfect," he told Fairfax media. "Very welcoming and helpful people. I love it here."
In Syria, Mr Fares was a Red Cross aid worker and his wife an accountant. Their oldest son, 30-year-old Joseph, is now studying to be a traffic controller and 18-year-old Fadi is doing his HSC.
"He is doing very well. He wants to go to university and is interested in either politics or engineering."
Mr Fares eventually wants to help new migrants as a gesture of thanks to Australia.
Clement Meru, the manager of multicultural communities at CORE Community Services in Cabramatta, said new arrivals brought a resilient and positive attitude and had received warm welcomes.
"Some people feel that there's a large concentration here and it's putting pressure on services but from a client's perspective, having those links is crucial to settlement," he said.
His organisation provides support to recent migrants by introducing them to local communities and linking them up to education, training and employment opportunities.
"There are challenges here and there. One of them is employment. Especially recognition of overseas qualifications and experience. Especially with this intake, Syrians are often highly qualified. It can be challenging if they want to work in their field."
In the 2015-16 mid-year budget update, the government allocated $638.1 million over four years towards supporting the additional Syrian and Iraqi refugee intake. Additional funding has been set aside based on the anticipated number of future arrivals.