Landmark: Mayor of Whittlesea Kris Pavlidis shakes hands with Amnesty International’s Shankar Kasynathan with his sponsor Suriyan Nalliah on the right. ​
By Joshua Wells

THE City of Whittlesea has become the first council in Australia to embrace Amnesty International’s My New Neighbour campaign to improve the federal refugee program.

The unanimous decision at the South Morang chambers on Tuesday, May 5, meant Whittlesea will support the program by identifying the city as a community whom welcomes refugees, supports an expansion of the federal government program and will also lobby for more funding.

City of Whittlesea Mayor Cr Kris Pavlidis said the community was proud of leading the way in humanitarian issues.

“It is very exciting for us to adopt this… we have led the way and demonstrated cultural diversity for a number of years,” she said.

“We have recognised the sensitivities that need to be addressed and this campaign has presented itself; it is a no brainer for me.

“We have a policy in place for people seeking asylum and we have a significant number who have settled here, we are obliged to address the needs of all our community… it was a symbolic gesture to make our voices heard with the federal government.”

THE CITY of Whittlesea has been praised following their decision to back a nation-wide refugee program run by Amnesty International.

In the council agenda, it was documented the City of Whittlesea will urge the federal government to not take places from those in need, provide adequate support and services, limit the costs on sponsors, allow community, family businesses to act as sponsors, and demand more places for people in need of protection to settle in Australia.

Amnesty International’s National Refugee Campaign coordinator Shankar Kasynathan was at the meeting and said he was delighted the council adopted the item in urgent business.
“It is great that this is the first local council in Australia to have joined our new campaign and will help us call on the government for change,” he told the Whittlesea Review.

“Whittlesea is putting its hand up to be part of the solution going forward.
“One of the critical things people are concerned about with this program is, in its current form, the responsibility is shifted to the community and that is a serious issue.

“We are taking the responsibility rom the government and giving it to local organisations and community groups who need to cover more costs… this is a humanitarian issue.”

The program was installed in Canada and, to date, has helped relocate 280,000 in 40 years, according to Mr Kasynathan.

Federal Member for McEwen Rob Mitchell said he had recently been in discussions about the challenges some refugees face in the region.

He supported the fact councils wanted to have their say on behalf of their residents.
“I recently met with Whittlesea Community Connections to discuss the challenges facing asylum seekers in the City of Whittlesea,” he said.

“Labor supports opportunities for communities to have input into, and support, the humanitarian program. Labor believes this involvement should result in a net increase on the Government’s current annual humanitarian intake.

“At a time when the number of displaced people fleeing from war, conflict or persecution is at its highest since World War II, Australia can, and should, do more to help with this humanitarian crisis.”