WARM WELCOME: Warwick turned out to welcome a group of refugees from the Middle East. Photo: Jonno Colfs
WARM WELCOME: Warwick turned out to welcome a group of refugees from the Middle East. Photo: Jonno Colfs

Innovative steps to embrace refugee community

AS THE Southern Downs becomes an increasingly multicultural area, two residents are pushing for the council to make that status official.

Severnlea resident Michelle Conkas and Allan local Diane Jones both wrote letters to SDRC advocating for the region to become a “refugee welcome zone” under the Refugee Council of Australia.

While the move would not require any financial or legal changes, it would see the local government area make a “commitment of spirit” to welcoming refugees to the community.

For Ms Conkas, her father’s move to the region as a refugee decades earlier was first-hand proof of the group’s contribution to the Southern Downs.

“My father came to Australia as a refugee in the early 1960s and has contributed enormously to the country, taxes, and farming life in this region,” she said.

“We can see it is so important to have workers other than backpackers available for harvest work during the virus lockdowns.”

Fellow petitioner Ms Jones agreed marking the region would see “our community benefit from the cultural diversity and religious diversity that refugees will offer us.”

When the letters were tabled at this week’s ordinary meeting, councillor Sheryl Windle strongly advocated for the Southern Downs’ potential new status, and hoped it would prove more successful than previous programs.

“I think it’d be well worthwhile following up on those letters on the refugee welcome zone, and I encourage the community services team to make contact with those two ladies,” Cr Windle said.

However, Mayor Vic Pennisi and other councillors were less enthusiastic about the proposal.

“I’m sure at some stage, we’ll put it on an agenda and have a discussion about how we may progress it,” Cr Pennisi said.

SDRC did not indicate when the proposal would next be tabled at a council meeting.

Current refugee welcome zones in Queensland include Toowoomba, Brisbane, Ipswich, Logan, Mackay, Townsville, Flinders, and Diamantina.

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