Refugees, migrants welcome

GANNAWARRA Shire Council has made a commitment to welcoming refugees and migrants into the community.

The shire joins more than 100 municipalities across Australia to sign a formal declaration to become a Refugee and Migrant Welcome Zone.

Council's decision follows a recent meeting with the Gannawarra Refugee Support Group and Cohuna Neighbourhood House representatives.

The refugee support group, which has more than 100 members, first approached council in 2014, followed by councillors attending meetings and also a forum to gain more information.

Cr Mark Arians told council on Wednesday night that the district had a long history of welcoming migrants and had benefitted enormously.

"We are continuing the past and paving the way to the future," he said.

Shire community well-being director, Mandy Hutchinson said that a Refugee Welcome Zone is a Local Government area which has made a commitment in spirit to welcoming refugees and migrants into the community, upholding human rights and demonstrating compassion whilst enhancing cultural and religious diversity in the community.

Ms Hutchinson said that Australia has become home to over 800,000 refugees since Federation in 1901

"We have a proud history of settling refugees from all over the world who have gone on to make an enormous contribution to our economic, social and cultural life," she said.

"This public commitment is also an acknowledgment of the tremendous contributions refugees and migrants have made to Australian society in the fields of medicine, science, engineering, sport, education and the arts."

In Gannawarra, 5.3 per cent of our population were born overseas, and 35.7 per cent of our community believe that multiculturalism makes life better, according to a Department of Health and Human Services profile.

This public commitment is also an acknowledgment of the tremendous contributions refugees and migrants have made to Australian society in the fields of medicine, science, engineering, sport, education and the arts.

Ms Hutchinson said that becoming a welcome zone was simply a symbolic gesture of support and there was no obligations upon making the declaration.

"The declaration means we as a community take a strong stand against racism and discrimination and promote harmony, social cohesion and respect for human rights in our local community," she said.

"Gannawarra Shire Council already demonstrates compassion for refugees and multiculturalism through cultural events including Harmony Day and citizenship ceremonies, which bring together the community to celebrate cultural diversity and acceptance.

"It is acknowledged that there may be some community resistance in becoming a Refugee and Migrant Welcome Zone however it is felt that this can be alleviated through clearly communicated benefits and a positive approach in leadership for multicultural acceptance."

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