Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Australia tries American-style refugee resettlement, with shady private contractors

Posted by Christopher Coen on May 1, 2011

Slumlord housing in Newcastle, Australia

Reports of a refugee resettlement private contractor abusing and neglecting refugees deepen in Australia as an investigation began. We first covered the case a month ago, in posts here and here. (Australia has been in transition from a refugee resettlement program centered on government agency services to a new arrangement with private contractors, similar to how we resettle refugees in the US.)  Aside from both a Catholic nun’s and an MP’s (Member of Parliament – equivalent to a US Congressperson) previous allegations that a resettlement contractor placed refugees in severely substandard housing with exorbitant prices – and then did a cover-up to fool investigators – now come reports of resettlement case workers stealing money from Congolese refugee clients. Another allegation is that the resettlement contractor did not take a young, pregnant refugee mother to a doctor until she gave birth to her child – “No early sort of prenatal services at all”, says the local MP. Read and listen to the following radio program about the case from media outlet ABC Newcastle:

MARK COLVIN: Staff at one Australia’s biggest providers of refugee services have been accused of stealing money from newly arrived refugees and providing them with sub-standard housing at exorbitant rents.

An investigation into the allegations started in the New South Wales city of Newcastle today.

There’d been persistent complaints from refugees and advocates before the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, announced the inquiry into the company, Navitas.

The final push came when the local Labor MP
put in a call to the Minister and convinced him to act.

But the Minister’s investigation comes just one month after the Government renewed Navitas’s lucrative refugee services contract.

Wendy Carlisle reports.

WENDY CARLISLE: Congolese refugees who’ve been re-settled in Newcastle say it’s been a grim experience. Exorbitant rents for houses in atrocious condition. Smashed windows, leaking gutters, broken awnings, ripped carpets, no hot water and in some cases, no functioning toilets…

…SHARON GRIERSON: Things like a young mother about to have a baby who had never been taken to a doctor or any medical service until the birth of her child. No early sort of prenatal services at all…

…WENDY CARLISLE: For the last three days, investigators from Ernst & Young have been in Newcastle, interviewing the 20 families in the care of Navitas; a company which has won tens of millions of dollars worth of Government contracts in migrant and refugee settlement services around Australia.

Kwabo Balende from Newcastle’s Congolese community says refugees have been complaining about Navitas for years but the Government hasn’t listened.

KWABO BALENDE: Before this contract to be renewed we started complaining because we didn’t believe that this contract can be sent back to these people.

WENDY CARLISLE: And it’s not just the accommodation that’s causing concern. Kwabo Balende alleges that Navitas case workers have been stealing money from the refugees when they withdraw money for them from ATMs.

KWABO BALENDE: Now when she wanted to pick money from the ATM machine she asked the caseworker to help me and the caseworker asks for the password. He asked me how much do you want? The lady say I need 100. When the caseworker come to the machine he pick out 200, he put 100 in his pocket and he give back 100 to the client. Some of them are stealing money and it is very serious case here… Read more here

…and another ABC Newcastle article here:

A refugee support worker says interviews with refugees this week in Newcastle have been an “eye opener” for the firm investigating claims they are being poorly treated.

Ernst and Young is due to conclude interviews today with refugee families who say they have been provided substandard accommodation, with little access to support services.

Sister Di Santleben says refugees are happy they have finally had a chance to explain their plight to the authorities.

“If you thought up a plan that would disempower people, make them isolated, increase their sense of insecurity, all those things, this system has lead to those outcomes,” she said… Read more here

I hope that Australians will begin to view this website to see what they’re in store for with their new refugee resettlement program that focuses on private contractors and light government oversight.

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