NSW country towns will be crucial to the resettlement of Syrian refugees, with government already receiving a heartening response from local councils.
Professor Peter Shergold, the state's co-ordinator general for refugee resettlement, said NSW could take more than half of the 12,000 Syrians bound for Australia, with regional towns identified as ideal long-term destinations.
He said several rural communities had approached the government with offers to house refugees, teach them English and provide jobs, ahead of the first arrivals expected by December.
"I think rural and regional NSW will be crucial to this effort," Professor Shergold said.
"If (refugees) know there is local government that is willing to welcome them, that there are community organisations that can lend support, that there is the prospect of part-time and full-time work - then my view is that many of the refugees will be willing to give regional NSW a go.
"And I'm sure, as we know, there are communities that would love to attract more residents, that would love to attract more people to help build a community."
Professor Shergold's comments follow the promise of a warm embrace for refugees west of the Dividing Range ("Bush towns welcome Syrian refugees", The Land, page 5, September 24).
He said the availability of health and education facilities would be critical in determining the communities where refugees could be based.
"The whole point of this co-ordination is not just to provide immediate settlement services - as important as those are - but to see how we can help the refugees contribute to Australia.
"Often when refugees come here they have family connections. That's one of the reasons they are relocated in Sydney, Newcastle, and Wollongong.
"But we should expect these refugees (from Syria) will not have those connections, and will be far more open to taking up opportunities in regional areas."
Professor Shergold said the perception that refugees would be welfare-reliant was incorrect.
"What we know is that most refugees want to work hard - these are people wanting to work hard for themselves, their families, and give something back.
"We have to remember that no refugees arrive with the hope of living on Australian welfare.
"That is not why they are refugees. They have greater expectations for their children, they are highly ambitious to succeed in this country."
Australian government officials are working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) at camps in Jordan, and Turkey and Lebanon to select the Syrians who will come to Australia.
Professor Shergold said arrivals in NSW will be among those facing the greatest persecution, and the least likely to be able to return home.
"On the basis of historical experience, I'd expect between 4000 and 6000 to come to NSW," he said.
n Local governments, government agencies, non-government organisations, education providers and other stakeholders can visit www.nsw.gov.au/icanhelp for more information about housing refugees.