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Business community set to help

By Mark Bowling

QUEENSLAND business is gearing up to provide opportunities for Syrian refugees as the humanitarian crisis in the country grows.

The crisis deepened as 70,000 Syrians fled a full-scale Russian bombing assault on the city of Aleppo.

Queensland has pledged to take 3500 refugees as part of an Australia-wide intake of 12,000.

The Fuller Centre for Housing Queensland is active searching for ways to create work and accommodation partnerships for refugees.

Centre sustainability officer Mal McKenna has been scouting to buy a dairy farm on Brisbane’s outskirts that would offer prospects for a number of Syrian families.

“I’ve been busy looking for a property in Rosewood, and I think I’ve found one,” he said.

“The idea is to partner a local, experienced farmer with four or five young refugees who could set up an ‘animal friendly’ dairy.

“The young men (or women) might have experience in a rural setting and could thrive there, particularly with the support of the local church parish and the community.

“Eventually, as the operation establishes itself, as the refugees get their citizenship, there would be opportunity for the families of the refugees to be brought out.

“I’d like to see every parish, every school, every community building a house and offering support for refugee families.

“How easy would that be?”

Australian business leader Tony Shepherd recently visited refugee camps inside Lebanon and Turkey.

He told the Australian Financial Review the Syrian refugees would make “great Australians”.

He also urged the Turnbull government to double the intake of refugees.

“They would make good settlers and great Australians in my view, “ he told the Review.

“Syrians have got a reputation for being good workers, intelligent, pretty well educated people.

“I understand the politics and the budgetary implications but if we can do something, do it – and the economic burden will turn into an economic advantage.”

Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge applauded Mr Shepherd’s refugee camps visit.

“It just shows you the power of seeing the faces, hearing the voices getting to know these people not just as nameless refugees but as real human beings,” Archbishop Coleridge said.

“He’s right to say we could take more and I think it’s up to people like Shepherd and other people business people to help provide these refugees with what they’ll need longer term, like housing and employment.

“Education of the kids we can take care of, but they are going to need big business to get behind them and get behind this national initiative.”

Ord Minnett Ltd executive chairman Karl Morris said he was keen to assist.

At the helm of a specialist financial services business, he said the challenge would be for Syrians to translate their business and experience to Australian conditions.

“We could expect there will be some exceptional people who could fit well in to the financial services sector,” he said.

“Above all what we’ve got to do is to offer these refugees dignity and the chance of a fulfilling life, and to join our social fabric.”

Archdiocesan Catholic Mission director David McGovern said there were strong opportunities for businesses to partner to create housing and work opportunities for refugees, and to be seen to be participating in their local community.

“There are businesses out there. The corporate sector has a heart, but they don’t simply want to hand over a cheque,” he said.

“The real challenge for corporates, the Church and small business as well will be how we get staff involved and make some kind of cultural expression as organisations, as members of the community.

“I think you will find a number of businesses wanting and clamoring to engage with the Church because they realise if they look after the community, the community will look after them.

Mr McKenna said the Fuller Centre for Housing has a similar community-focused approach.

“The idea is that communities embrace people needing a home, and then, together we can all build it,” he said.

“It’s like the saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child’.

“And we have so many villages. Each parish is a village that could raise a refugee.”

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