Direct recruitment from refugee camps: Global workforce an addition to humanitarian aid

David Evans, South Australia and Northern Territory Regional Meeting

In 2019 a little-known visa project brought highly skilled refugees to Australia. Five refugees and their families have arrived in Australia thanks to a humanitarian pilot project helping businesses fill skill shortages. [SBS News]

In August 2020, an approach was made to the Australian and New Zealand governments asking whether, given the direct recruitment of Syrian refugees to work in Australia – see example above – New Zealand employers could recruit straight from Australian detention centres. The New Zealand minister for immigration did not respond directly to this question, however the minister reaffirmed the 2014 offer to award placements to refugees in the Australian government’s care. Finally, just prior to the 2022 federal election, New Zealand’s offer to take 150 refugees each year for three years was accepted by the Australian government.


 Ukrainian refugees

Ukrainian refugees

In May 2022 FRESHJobs reported that a South Australian Pub Group would offer employment to Ukrainian Refugees.

 The owners of the Duxton Pub Group in Adelaide want to provide more to help Ukrainian refugees aiming to employ upwards of 40 refugees from the war-torn nation to turn their lives around and enable a safe, financially stable livelihood in South Australia. ‘Everybody is so desperate to do something right now, but they feel like they are too small’, says Peter ‘we are not too small…if we can do something 

good in this area, we will’. The idea seems to have resonated with other members of staff, with an overwhelmingly positive ‘yes, please, let’s do it’ from the group’s chefs and other employees. The wider Duxton Group has regional assets, including accommodation, to help provide homes for people in need. Meanwhile the Federal Government has stated that Australia is welcoming displaced people from Ukraine with Australian connections, having granted 7000 visas to Ukrainian nationals since the Russian invasion in February.

It is an important observation that new workers from different cultures need to be welcomed by co-workers in the employment situation.


Long term refugee camps

Cisarua learning

In 2014 refugees arrived as boat people from Afghanistan. Indonesia collaborated with UNHCR, and since then an active community has developed focusing on education for children and adults using primarily their own skills and determination. The refugees are allowed to mix with locals but are not permitted to work. Education, sporting and skill development are high on the agenda.

Afghani refugee Muzafar Ali received a UNHCR resettlement to Australia. He teamed up with film director Jolyon Hoff and they took a leading role in the establishment of Cisarua Learning with an office based in Adelaide. They returned frequently to make the film Staging Post.



Kakuma Refugee Camp Kenya.  Picture: Reuters 

Cisarua Learning Centre, Indonesia. Picture: Cisarua Learning





The Dadaab and Kakuma camps in Kenya are long term refugee camps with communities that have become functional countries. Some of the original South Sudanese refugee families now have grandchildren graduating with IT degrees. After 20-30 years of development, these refugee families regard the camp as their home. Somali-American, Halima Aden, an international fashion model, was born in Kakuma refugee camp and lived there for seven years. Aden, now aged 20, said that despite sometimes not having enough food to eat and being sick with malaria, she enjoyed a happy childhood.

 There has been significant international support for these self-governing and self- supporting camps in Kenya. Along with survival and health issues, the concept of Friendly Societies has developed. Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble took a Music School to camps in Kenya. Adelaide enabled a Barefoot to Boots Program with football boots and uniforms, leading to intercamp football competitions.

Immigration and Resettlements

It is a great privilege to be associated with those who have received resettlements from UNHCR. At Eastern Suburbs in Adelaide, we have an Australian-Burundi extended family. Jean-Paul fled to Zimbabwe and Marie-Gorette followed with two daughters. A third daughter was born in a refugee camp and their son in Adelaide. After establishing a home in Adelaide, they organised immigration for two nieces and two nephews. They are pleased to be Australian and no longer refugees.


Becoming involved with refugee groups is a positive step forward.  Making a modest donation to Cisarua Learning is also a good way to see what is happening in our region. In Indonesia and Borneo there are 11 other camps where help is needed. By looking at the long term, a sustainable process might emerge:

  • First, with UNHCR registration each individual would receive a UN identity   and a UN passport giving the possibility of obtaining a work visa somewhere in the world.
  • Second, an educational focus improves eligibility for employment.
  • Third, self-government with local “Council and Mayor” aids community development
  • Fourth, economic development in two forms, that of local enterprise, and remittances from family overseas.
  • Fifth, Friendship Societies with volunteer contributions from around the world.


The vision – Leasing land for a new country

 The inspiring long-term refugee camps in Kenya (Dadaab and Kakuma – 30 years) and Indonesia (Cisarua – 10 years) suggest that ‘New Countries will emerge and become part of the world community with self-government. These functional countries would come into being under International Law and under the auspices of the United Nations. The land in question is where UNHCR has acted under their mandate to provide emergency shelter and provisions for a refugee population. A 25-year lease would be enacted between the Hosting Country and the United Nations. The new functional country would be appropriately named with preservation of culture being an important aspect.

 The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) mandate is to lead and coordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. Its main purpose is to safeguard the rights and wellbeing of refugees.

 Current options include return to homeland, being recruited for employment from a third country, accepting resettlement in a third country, and immigration to the hosting country or a third country.

 In time the New Country might become an independent state or territory within the hosting country.

SANTRM Friends Burundian Australians Jean-Paul Nininahazwe
and Marie-Gorette with family and friend.   Photo: David Evans

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