BUNBURY could be home to more than 1000 refugees in the next two years as part of an ambitious plan to make the city a resettlement centre.
Under the plan, refugees from 10 Burmese families would be the first to arrive in the city before Christmas this year.
Immigration Department officials from Canberra met with Bunbury Mayor David Smith two weeks ago to look at details.
Mayor Smith said the department would settle the newcomers in affordable housing spread across Bunbury suburbs in the hope they would move on to private rentals and home ownership.
The refugees are those in camps who have been processed and are awaiting settlement in Australia.
Mayor Smith said he strongly supported the move and he was confident Bunbury would gain approval.
If the city was given the go-ahead, its population could be boosted by up to 300 families in the next two years.
He said the city was more than prepared to cater to the needs of new immigrants.
“It will be good for Bunbury because we already have a small Burmese community and the city is becoming increasingly multicultural,” Mayor Smith said.
“We have all the educational and health facilities to accommodate refugees – also there are plenty of employment prospects for them with locals leaving the city with the fly-in fly-out trend.”
An Immigration Department spokeswoman was cautious on releasing details, saying plans were still in preliminary stages.
The Mayor has been a long-standing supporter of bringing refugees to the city.
In 2010 the Bunbury Mail published his idea to accommodate them in the derelict former St John of God Hospital. The hospital has since been demolished.
The idea met a strong community backlash.
This week, the Mail online poll showed almost 70 per cent of more than 85 voters would not support refugee resettlement in Bunbury.
Multicultural Services Centre of WA settlement grants worker Daravann Meek is a refugee who fled Cambodia in 1979 and has lived in Bunbury for more than 20 years.
Ms Meek said racism was still rife across the city and she had spoken to people who were abused and spat on in the street.
She was not surprised by the backlash against the idea of welcoming refugees and said it was the product of a “fear of the unknown.”
“People have a fear that their city will change and that refugees will cause problems, but the truth is that Bunbury can only benefit – they will create and fill jobs and bring their culture with them.”
Mayor Smith said racism formed a small minority in Bunbury and it was not any worse than any other community across the country.
Ms Meek said Bunbury did not currently have the social infrastructure to cater to the needs of new refugees, but pushing the issue would mean funding would follow.
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