Public Forum: Asylum Seekers and Protection at Sea
An overview of RCOA's Public Forum on Asylum Seekers and Protection at Sea held on Monday 24 November at the University of Melbourne. Speakers included former refugee Mustafa, University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor's Professorial Fellow Erika Feller, Melbourne Law School Associate Professor Michelle Foster and Monash University Research Fellow Dr Antje Missbach. Read the overview here.
Face to Face: incursion program for schools and colleges in Sydney, Wollongong and Melbourne
RCOA is offering an incursion program for schools in the Sydney and Melbourne metropolitan areas and Wollongong region. Under the Face to Face program, a representative from RCOA and a speaker from a refugee background will present to students, teachers and other
interested groups about the refugee experience. The refugee speakers will share personal stories of their journey to safety and give students the opportunity to learn face-to-face
about refugees, their experiences and their contributions to Australia. Thousands of students, parents and teachers have participated in our presentation sessions and workshops
over the past year and have found the experience of learning in an interactive way to be powerful and thought-provoking. For more information, download the brochure here.
Brief on Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014
RCOA has developed a list of the key aspects of the Government's Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014. Read the brief here.
Policy Brief for Federal parliamentarians on Temporary Protection Visas
RCOA chief executive officer Paul Power has written to Federal cross-bench parliamentarians, urging them to reject the Australian Government's renewed push to force refugees on to Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs). The letter included a Policy Brief which can be accessed here.
Updated statistical snapshot
RCOA has produced an updated version of the statistical snapshot of refugee needs and trends published earlier this year, incorporating the latest statistics from UNHCR and the Department of Immigration. The snapshot can be downloaded here.
Welcome to Australia National Director Brad Chilcott: "All or Nothing: Outcomes for people or ideology for activists"
In a speech to the Uniting Church Justice and International Mission Unit Convention, "We've Boundless Plains to Share", National Director of Welcome to Australia Brad Chilcott grapples with the challenges of advocating for fair treatment of asylum seekers in the current hostile political environment. For the sake of people suffering in detention or waiting endlessly in uncertainty in the community, Brad argues we must find a way to achieve incremental change while continuing to point to the unconscionable nature of the overall policy. Read the speech here.
Hon Alistair Nicholson: "Asylum Seekers: A Disgraceful Episode in Australian History"
Former Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia and current Chair of Children's Rights International, the Hon Alistair Nicholson, has criticised both sides of politics in Australia for implementing indefensible policies towards asylum seekers. His speech at a Refugee Week event in Melbourne also condemned the decision by Immigration Minister Scott Morrison to cut the Refugee Council of Australia's core funding. Read the speech here.
New RCOA paper highlights the strengths within refugee communities
A new RCOA paper on the role of refugee community organisations in the settlement of new arrivals highlights the extent of the contribution these community organisations make. Titled “The Strength Within”, the 14-page paper casts light on the often unnoticed and overwhelmingly voluntary work conducted by refugee community organisations in fostering social participation, economic and personal wellbeing, independence, life satisfaction and community connections. The paper profiles the work of five community organisations and canvasses the collective challenges such organisations face. “The Strength Within” can be found here.
Federal Budget 2014-15
RCOA has provided a summary of refugee-related expenditure in the Australian Government's 2014-15 Federal Budget. Read the summary here.
"Stopping the boats": Australia's appalling example to the world
Australia’s interception of boats of asylum seekers came in for close scrutiny when academics from Yale, Harvard, UCLA and Georgetown universities combined to organise a conference on high seas interdiction of boats of asylum seekers on. Held at Yale Law School in New Haven, USA on March 7 and 8, the conference brought together refugee law experts from USA, Europe and Australia to look at current government policies in the light of the 20th anniversary of a significant US Supreme Court decision (Sale vs Haitian Centers Council). Speakers included UNHCR Deputy High Commissioner Alex Aleinikoff, Professor Guy Goodwin-Gill of Oxford University, Professor Harold Hongju Koh of Yale Law School, Thomas Gammeltoft-Hansen of the Danish Institute for Human Rights and Azadeh Dastyari of Monash University. RCOA CEO Paul Power was invited to speak about recent developments in Australia and highlighting recent boat turnbacks, Australia’s incursions into Indonesian waters and the use of lifeboats to effect forced returns. Read Paul's speech here.
RCOA submission on refugee needs highlights higher intake
The annual submission to the Australian Government on the 2014-15 Refugee and Humanitarian Program makes 49 recommendations including an increase in the number of refugees accepted under the offshore program, improving conditions for refugees who will never be resettled and more assistance for asylum seekers living in teh community. Access the intake submission here.
Refugee Needs and Trends: A Statistical Snapshot
RCOA's submission to the Australian Government on the 2014-15 Refugee and Humanitarian Program includes a wealth of statistical information on the needs of refugees and asylum seekers internationally and within Australia. This is a snapshot of key data. Access the snapshot here.
Use of Temporary Humanitarian Concern Visas as an alternative to Temporary Protection Visas
The Australian Government has begun to grant Temporary Protection Concern visas (subclass 786) to refugees who entered Australia by boat to seek asylum. The new policy follows the Senate's decision to in December to disallow the regulation which reintroduced the Temporary Protection Visa (subclass 785). This fact sheet provides background on this policy and what is currently known about the provision which will apply to refugees given Temporary Protection Humanitarian Concern visas. Read the fact sheet here.
Refugee Welcome Zone research paper
This research paper sets out the aims and benefits of becoming a Refugee Welcome Zone and how other councils can become involved in the initiative. The paper highlights examples of best-practice from some of the 87 local councils that have built a culture of welcome for refugees by signing up as Refugee Welcome Zones. Read the paper here.
Refugee Council of Australia 2012-13 Annual Report
RCOA's Annual Report for 2012-13 is now available. Access the report here.
Looking Beyond Australia's Narrow Debate About Asylum Seekers
RCOA CEO Paul Power's presentation to the Southern Migrant and Refugee Centre's Annual General Meeting documents the disconnect between international discussions over global refugee needs and Australia's narrow debate about asylum. The presentation also outlines how Australia can lead by example in promoting regional refugee protection. Read more here.
138 organisations combine to object to divisive use of "illegal"
RCOA spearheaded a joint statement which was sent to the Prime Minister to voice objection to the Australian Government’s recent decision to refer to asylum seekers who enter Australia by boat as “illegal maritime arrivals”. The statement brought together 138 non-government agencies, faith-based organisations and community groups who reminded the Prime Minister that seeking asylum was not illegal under Australian and international law. Read the full statement here. Read the Prime Minister's response here.
Bright Ideas series features Hobart's Bridging Visa Social Club
The latest project to be featured in RCOA’s Bright Ideas series celebrates the Tasmanian Asylum Seeker Support (TASS) project, the Bridging Visa Social Club, which provides support, friendship and recreational activities for asylum seekers living in Hobart after being released from Tasmania’s Pontville detention centre. Find out more here.
Return to TPVs needlessly punitive and counter-productive
RCOA has registered its strong opposition to the reintroduction of temporary protection visas by the new Government. RCOA said TPVs were needlessly punitive and counter-productive and could not be considered a deterrent for future arrivals in light of the Government's pledge that future arrivals will be processed offshore and will never be settled in Australia. Read the statement here.
RCOA pleads for renewal of expired bridging visas
In response to concerns raised by asylum seekers and service providers, RCOA has been lobbying the Australian Government on the impacts of the non-renewal of Bridging Visas for asylum seekers. RCOA produced a summary of the impacts of this non-renewal of visas, sending it to the Minister, the Assistant Minister and the Department. Access the briefing here.
New Federal Government arrangements for settlement services
The Australian Government has taken responsibility for refugee settlement services, AMEP and multicultural affairs away from the Immigration department. Read about the changes in administrative arrangements here.
Bright Ideas brief on strategies to support refugees and asylum seekers
The latest Bright Ideas brief examines the Youth Employment Forum initiative developed by Brisbane’s Multicultural Development Association. The forum provided an opportunity for young people from a refugee and migrant background to meet employers and better understand how to find work, network and explain the challenges they have in finding employment. Employers also gained a greater appreciation of the skills and talents of young people of refugee background. Read the brief here.
Nine Global Refugee Protection Challenges
On the eve of the annual Executive Committee meeting of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), RCOA has outlined the key refugee protection challenges that should be central to discussions. Read the paper here.
Policy Brief on Temporary Protection Visas
RCOA's latest Policy Brief examines the facts around Temporary Protection Visas and the negative impacts they have on asylum seekers. Read more here.
Literature review on housing for refugees and asylum seekers
As part of a research project, RCOA has publsihed a literature review on housing issues for refugees and asylum seekers. The literature review addresses key challenges including: homelessness, housing affordabilty and discrimination. Access the review here.
2013 Federal election summaries of refugee and asylum policies
RCOA has produced election guides outlining the refugee and asylum policies of the major parties as well as the minor party candidates for the Senate. Summaries of the policy platforms for the Australian Labor Party, the Liberal-National Coalition and The Australian Greens is available here. The summary of the minor party candidates for the Senate can be accessed here.
Enough is Enough: It's time for a new approach
A joint statement by 64 Australian non-government organisations on the first anniversary of the report on the Expert Panel of Asylum Seekers has called for a new approach from the major political parties to refocus asylum policy on fair and just principles aimed at protecting refugees. The statement calls for Australia to maintain its position as a world leader in resettlement, abandon offshore processing, build regional cooperation on refugee protection, improve access to permanent protection, commit to sustainable community-based processing, maintain a timely and fair system of refugee status determination, provide access to timely and realistic family reunion opportunities and abandon policies that pit onshore protection against resettlement. Read the full statement here.
Inquest into Deaths at Sea on 21 June 2012: Request for information
Marco Tedeschi, a barrister based in Perth, is seeking information relating to the inquest into the deaths of people on a boat which sank between Indonesia and north-west Australia on 21 June 2012. Mr Tedeschi is counsel assisting the coroner for the inquest. A direction hearing will take place at the Coroner’s Court in Perth at 10am on 30 May 2013. Dates for the inquest are likely to be set for 25 and 26 June 2013.
The inquest will examine the circumstances of the sinking of the vessel and the rescue efforts by various parties, including the Indonesian authorities and Australian Maritime Authority. The inquest will, as well, seek to establish the identification of the deceased persons, which persons are missing, presumed dead and the cause of death. Recommendations may be made concerning emergency communications and international rescue efforts.
Should survivors, families of people who were on the boat or concerned agencies wish to raise specific matters of concern that they could do so by contacting Mr Tedeschi at the address below either directly or through their lawyers.
If you have contact with survivors, families of survivors, families of people who died in the tragedy or with other agencies assisting survivors or families, we would encourage you to pass on this email to them or, alternatively, to provide contact details of these people or agencies to Mr Tedeschi so he can contact them directly.
Survivors or their families or concerned agencies can write to the WA State Coroner requesting leave to appear at the Inquest and the basis on which leave is sought. Letters should be addressed to the State Coroner, 10th Floor, Central Law Courts, 501 Hay St. Perth, WA 6000 with a copy to the Counsel assisting the Coroner at the Inquest: Marco Tedeschi, PO Box 3090 Adelaide Terrace, Perth WA 6832. These applications will be considered by the Coroner and a response provided ahead of the commencement of the inquest.
Should you require further details about the hearing or inquest, Mr Tedeschi can be contacted by phone on (08) 9323 7704, by fax on (08) 6315 3399 or by email at [email protected]
April 2013: Tony Kevin on asylum seeker rescues at sea
Former diplomat and author of "Reluctant Rescuers" and "A Certain Maritime Incident", Tony Kevin, has contributed an article that argues for high and consistent rescue-at-sea protocols and raises more questions about Australia's record in rescuing asylum seekers at sea. Read the article here.
March 2013: Ryde Council praised for positive leadership on refugees
Ryde City Council was praised by RCOA for showing positive leadership in the refugee debate. At its March meeting, a motion was put forward by a councillor that attempted to draw Ryde into the debate about asylum seekers living in Macquarie University accommodation. Before Council met, RCOA wrote a letter to the Ryde Mayor to outline the issues around asylum seekers on bridging visas. The Council resolved to take up an offer from RCOA for a meeting to discuss further initiatives to welcome asylum seekers and refugees to the community. The Council minutes are available here.
February 2013: Statistical analysis of final grant rates for asylum seekers
RCOA has analysed the final grant rates for asylum seekers, after the primary decision and merits review processes. The analysis shows that 91% of “Irregular Maritime Arrivals”, whose asylum process was completed in 2011-12 were found to be refugees, with the grant rate over four years being 93%. The Department of Immigration and Citizenship data shows that 44% of “non-IMAs” were found to be refugees, with the grant rate over five years 46%). Further analysis of and statistics from major countries of origin are available here.
- RCOA analysis of Expert Panel recommendations
- Protection sidelined in rush to implement deterrence
- Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers releases report
RCOA has produced a paper analysing the 22 recommendations made by the Expert Panel on strategies to prevent asylum seekers risking their lives on dangerous boat journeys to Australia. It includes an overview of each recommendation, an analysis of both the positive features of the recommendation and the features which give cause for concern, and questions we believe need further clarification as the implications of the recommendation
are considered. The paper can be downloaded here.
The Australian Government’s interest in the refugee protection measures recommended by the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers has not matched its haste to implement the Panel’s recommendations on deterrence. The political debate and the activity within the Parliament since the release of the Expert Panel report has focused almost exclusively on just three of the Expert Panel’s 22 recommendations – those related to re-establishing forced transfers of asylum seekers to Nauru and Manus Island.
RCOA was one of 20 organisations to join former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser and seven senior academics and lawyers in writing to the Prime Minister to oppose the legislation before the Parliament to re-establishing offshore processing of asylum claims. The letter raised serious concerns about the human rights implications of the legislation and the absence of any measure to enable regular Parliamentary scrutiny of transfer arrangements. The letter can be read at the end of this media release.
Unfortunately, the legislation was passed by both houses of Parliament. RCOA is concerned that the legislation will have limited impact as a deterrent to asylum seekers considering boat journeys to Australia and would set back efforts to build better regional systems of refugee protection. Our media release on the legislation can be read here.
RCOA expressed profound disappointment that exiling asylum seekers to Nauru and Manus Island is back on Australia’s refugee policy agenda following the release of the report from the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers. The report included 22 recommendations on a range of strategies to prevent asylum seekers risking their lives on dangerous boat journeys to Australia. While some of these recommendations were positive - such as increasing Australia's resettlement intake to 20,000 places per year and providing extra funding for capacity-building initiatives across the region - others will punish people trying to seek effective protection in Australia.
RCOA's media release on the report's release can be read here.
- Expert Panel urged to consider regional refugee protection
- RCOA and Australian NGOs take refugee concerns to UNHCR global meetings
- RCOA submission on a pilot private-community sponsorship program for refugees
- RCOA analysis of recent Settlement Grants Program funding round
In a submission to the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers, RCOA has strongly urged Australia to accept its obligations to asylum seekers and set the standards for refugee protection in the Asia-Pacific region. The submission acknowledged there were no instant solutions to deter asylum seekers arriving by boat and that Australia should focus on improving inadequate levels of protection that force people to make desperate journeys to safety.
In a media release, RCOA CEO Paul Power said: “The Expert Panel has a rare and unique opportunity to reframe the discussion of refugee and asylum seeker issues and recommend policy settings that provide short-term answers to save lives at sea and to build longer-term initiatives to build better protections in our region.” The media release can be viewed here. RCOA’s submission to the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers is here.
RCOA joined a number of organisations at a media conference held in Canberra, which highlighted a submission to the Expert Panel from RCOA, GetUp, Amnesty International, the Human Rights Law Centre, Welcome to Australia, ChilOut, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project. This submission and others from sector organisations and individuals are available here.
A delegation of Australian NGO representatives, including staff and board members of RCOA, travelled to Geneva in July to attend major annual meetings with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). From 3-5 July, yhe Australian delegation attended the annual consultations between UNHCR and NGOs. Issues raised by RCOA at the consultations included the difficulties faced by refugees in accessing UNHCR offices in many countries; the implementation of the pledges made by governments at last year’s ministerial-level meeting to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Refugee Convention; and regional cooperation on refugee protection issues in Asia-Pacific. RCOA also arranged meetings with senior UNHCR personnel to voice concerns raised by communities in Australia about refugee groups facing serious risks overseas, and discuss policy responses to the arrival of asylum seekers in Australia by boat.
The Australian delegation included three refugee community representatives from Burma: Saw Daniel from the Federation of Trade Unions of Kawthoolei, currently living in Thailand; Cheery Zahau, a Chin community member currently living in India; and RCOA board member Wah Wah Naw, representing the Australian National Committee on Refugee Women. These representatives were involved in raising concerns about recent developments in Burma and their implications for future repatriation.
Australia’s chairing of the global dialogue on refugee resettlement in 2011-12 culminated with the Annual Tripartite Consultations on Resettlement (ATCR) in Geneva from July 9 to 11. The ATCR was chaired by Jim O’Callaghan of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) and Paul Power of RCOA was NGO Focal Point and co-chair of the plenary sessions. More than 200 representatives from 30 countries attended, representing governments, NGOs, UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration and other intergovernmental bodies. This year’s gathering, at RCOA’s suggestion, included refugee representatives for the first time, each of whom were invited to speak about their experience of resettlement. Australia’s refugee representative was Ahmed Dini, a 24-year-old Somali-Australian who is Victorian Local Hero for 2012.
Opened by UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, the meeting covered many issues, including global resettlement needs, particular protracted refugee situations which UNHCR believes need greater resettlement support, the need for more resettlement places, the failure to fill 19,000 of the global resettlement places available in 2011 and the need to improve the flow of information gathered before resettlement to post-arrival settlement services.
The meeting built on the highly successful Working Group on Resettlement meeting hosted by DIAC and RCOA in Melbourne in February, with further discussion of family reunion, the engagement of refugees in settlement support, employment strategies and preparing receiving communities for resettled refugees. It was clear from delegates’ feedback that the year’s dialogue has enhanced Australia’s reputation for its work in resettlement and the national approach to settlement support. A public version of UNHCR’s Global Resettlement Needs 2013 report is at http://www.unhcr.org/5006aff49.html
RCOA’s report on the various meetings our representatives attended in Geneva during July (including ATCR) is here.
RCOA welcomed the opportunity to provide feedback to DIAC on the feasibility of a proposed pilot of a private-community refugee sponsorship program. For many years RCOA has been advocating for greater community involvement in resettlement and the expansion of Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program in response to the enormous unmet resettlement needs internationally and Australia’s capacity to do more. RCOA consulted a range of ethno-specific, volunteer and faith-based organisations and settlement service providers across the country to inform our submission, which can be downloaded here.
RCOA has compiled an analysis of the recent SGP funding announcement. In 2012-13, $60,231,267 in new SGP grant money was announced for 104 projects to be delivered by 102 organisations. This year the most significant change has been a shift away from granting organisations funding for multiple projects toward a single grant per organisation. For the first time this year, the greatest proportion of grants went to three year projects (41, or 39.4%), with 41 (39.4%) one-year grants and 22 (21.2%) two-year grants. Due to the shift toward multi-year funding, fewer organisations were funded under the SGP this year, with only two new SGP-funded organisations. 30 organisations that were funded under the SGP in 2011-12 did not receive any funding in the 2012-13 funding round.
To download our analysis, click here. The Settlement Council of Australia (SCOA) has also published an analysis that provides a breakdown of SGP funding by state and territory and can be downloaded from www.scoa.org.au
- Tragedies at sea
- Refugee Week 2012 a success
- Positive media coverage during Refugee Week
- UNHCR Global Trends 2011 data released
- RCOA speaks up as place-based income management pilots are set to begin
- Summary of how RCOA has followed up its annual community consultations
- RCOA calls for better approach to determining and resolving statelessness
- New DIAC website caught in political storm
- New Refugee Welcome Zones
- Refugee advocates acknowledged in Australian Honours List
The Refugee Council of Australia was shocked by the loss of 90 lives in the sea between Indonesia and Christmas Island in yet another appalling tragedy for people seeking freedom from persecution. This tragedy renewed public debate about why asylum seekers would risk their lives in this way. One week later, the sinking of a second asylum seeker boat, in which a further four people died with 130 asylum seekers rescued, prompted the Federal Government to bring forward debate on Independent MP Rob Oakeshott’s Private Member’s Bill to amend the Migration Act.
In the final week of Parliament before the winter break, both major parties held their policy positions - the Government insisted on its refugee swap plan with Malaysia and the Opposition stood firm on offshore processing at Nauru and Temporary Protection Visas. The Greens argued for more progress to build a regional refugee protection framework in South East Asia. The parliamentary sitting week ended without agreement.
However, the Prime Minister established an expert panel of former Australian Defence Force Chief Angus Houston, Foundation House Director Paris Aristotle and former diplomat Michael L’Estrange to advise the Government on asylum policy. In a statement issued during the parliamentary debate, RCOA reiterated the urgent need for greater refugee protection in the Asia-Pacific region.
Refugee Week 2012 was celebrated with a new theme of “Restoring Hope”. This year, some 200 events were held throughout Australia, including breakfasts, soccer tournaments, public forums, morning teas, book fairs, flashmobs and film festivals.
Refugee Week was launched in Sydney and Melbourne. The guest speaker for the Sydney launch, Nooria Wazefadost, recounted her family’s escape from the Taliban in Afghanistan, their journey by boat as asylum seekers and detention at Curtin. Nooria expressed the uncertainty of living on a Temporary Protection Visa, her joy at securing permanent residency and the opportunity to study at school and at university. Nooria’s story can be read here. The Sydney launch also featured the Dario Palermo Refugee Art Exhibition, presentation of 2012 Refugee Humanitarian Awards, a screening of the Australian Refugee Film Festival, speakers and entertainment.
At the Melbourne launch, young people of refugee background discussed their experiences with Melbourne Heart A-League trial player Golgol Mebrahtu, who arrived in Australia as a refugee. CEO Paul Power also delivered a speech which can be read here. Nationally, Refugee Week culminated in the inaugural Walk Together event, organised by Welcome to Australia, where thousands of people met in major Australian cities and towns to show their support for new arrivals to Australia.
While some elements of the media often contribute to a sometimes toxic debate over asylum policy, Refugee Week showed the media’s important role in informing the public about refugee issues. Examples of excellent reporting include the ABC News Online’s collection of refugee stories at http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-06-22/refugee-week-profiles/4036618; Foreign Correspondent’s detailed reflection of how Australia and the world reacted to the displacement of refugees from Vietnam in the 1970s – at http://bit.ly/KyknyL - and ABC Shepparton’s snapshot at the how refugees are building a stronger community in the Goulburn Valley, at http://www.abc.net.au/local/videos/2011/03/10/3160259.htm.
The release of UNHCR Global Trends data for 2011 showed that some of the world’s poorest nations were among the most generous in welcoming people seeking asylum. The data showed Australia recognised 5,726 asylum seekers as refugees in 2011, 0.56% of the global total for individual and group refugee recognition.
In a statement released on World Refugee Day, RCOA CEO Paul Power said Australia’s performance in refugee protection in 2011 was positive but the UNHCR statistics showed that Australia could not claim to be the world’s most generous country to refugees. Of the 1.02 million people who were registered or recognised as refugees in 2011, the largest numbers were received by nations in Africa and the Middle East, including Liberia, Kenya, Tunisia, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Yemen. The UNHCR statistics highlighted the desperate need for resettlement to be more widely available with only 0.77% of the 10.4 million refugees under UNHCR’s mandate gaining access to resettlement last year.
Our analysis of the Global Trends data is available here.
On 1 July, income management will be introduced for some people on Centrelink benefits in the local government areas of Playford (SA), Shepparton (Victoria), Bankstown (NSW) and Logan and Rockhampton (Queensland). Since 2010, RCOA has been raising concerns about income management as a policy direction and its impact on refugee and humanitarian entrants. A national Settlement Policy Network teleconference on May 23 brought together service providers and community members from the five pilot sites and other capital cities across the country. A report from this teleconference will be available soon.
RCOA continues to follow up issues raised at its annual community consultations. To demonstrate how we have acted on the information shared with us by the 730 people from 200 organisations and 33 refugee communities in eight states and territories who participated in our consultations, we have produced a summary of the papers, letters and advocacy we have been involved in since completing our submission in January. The summary can be downloaded here.
RCOA has written to Immigration Minister Chris Bowen calling for a better approach to how Australia determines and resolves statelessness. Hundreds of stateless people have been held in immigration detention — often long-term — over the past few years, and while many have been released into the community on bridging visas, they still require a durable solution. RCOA has called for a legislated statelessness status determination procedure, with substantive visas available to this vulnerable group. The letter can be read here.
A new DIAC website that consolidates important information about asylum processes in Australia was caught up in a political storm between the major parties over asylum policy. RCOA welcomed the resource, noting that it provided clear and accurate information about the law and the procedures that apply for people seeking asylum. The sub-site – at http://www.immi.gov.au/ima/ - brings together information from the initial screening processes for newly-arrived asylum seekers through to what happens when a final decision is made to grant a person refugee protection or seek their removal from Australia. RCOA’s comment is here.
Wyndham City Council in Melbourne’s south-west and Wagga Wagga City Council in regional New South Wales are the latest local governments to become Refugee Welcome Zones. RCOA board member Dr Melika Sheikh-Eldin and staff member Louise Olliff attended the Wyndham City Council signing ceremony. Warringah Council on Sydney’s Northern Beaches also recently joined the Refugee Welcome Zone initiative. Further details about the Refugee Welcome Zones are available here.
Several hard-working advocates for refugees and asylum seekers were acknowledged in the 2012 Queen's Birthday Honours List. They were: Associate Professor Eileen Pittaway AM, director of the Centre for Refugee Research, University of NSW; Frances Milne AM, founder and coordinator of Balmain for Refugees; the Hon. Judith Troeth AM, who as a Liberal Senator from Victoria between 1993 and 2011 was outspoken in her support for asylum seekers; Anthony Pietropiccolo AM, director of Centrecare in WA; Alice Spigelman AM, author, psychologist, former refugee from Hungary and a board member of Australia for UNHCR.
Among others honoured were: Professor Graeme Hugo AO, the University of Adelaide demographer who undertook ground-breaking research on the contributions of refugees to Australian society; and two senior Department of Immigration staff who have played important roles in aspects of refugee policy, Kate Pope PSM and Rocio Trapaga-Saul PSM.
- 20 years of mandatory detention
- Government urged to protect aid budget
- Federal Budget analysis
- End Child Detention campaign focuses on Australia
- Australian resettlement experiences shared at European Union event
The Federal Budget confirmed Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program will remain static at 13,750 places in 2012-13. The Budget revealed the Government would seek the community’s views on the feasibility of introducing a private sponsorship pilot program to enhance the humanitarian program. RCOA’s Budget analysis is available here.
Throughout May, RCOA partnered with the International Detention Coalition to highlight the immigration detention of children in Australia. Australia was the first in a series of countries being highlighted by the Global Campaign to End Immigration Detention of Children. Campaign activities included a video petition “Speak up behind Bars,” to collect 428 YouTube messages of support for detained children to match the number of children detained at the start of the campaign, a visit by ChilOut to meet children detained at the Leonora facility in remote Western Australia and a delegation to Canberra where ChilOut and young men and women who experienced detention as children were able to raise their concerns with federal parliamentarians. Details about the campaign are at: http://endchilddetention.org/
As RCOA is the 2011-12 NGO Focal Point for the formal international dialogue on refugee resettlement, CEO Paul Power was invited to Brussels to speak at the European Union (EU) Resettlement Skill Share event. The event was held in the context of a recent EU agreement on cooperation on refugee resettlement and a campaign by NGOs to increase resettlement places in the EU from around 5500 places per year currently to 20,000 places by 2020. The presentations are here
Sunday, 6 May, marked the 20th anniversary of Australia’s mandatory detention policy for asylum seekers who arrive in Australia without a visa. On 6 May 1992, the Migration Amendment Act 1992 became law and has been maintained by successive governments, making Australia the only Western country to detain asylum seekers indefinitely for arriving without a visa. RCOA has opposed mandatory detention since its inception.
In a statement, RCOA CEO Paul Power said detention should be used only in exceptional circumstances and for as brief a period as possible. If people are locked up, detention should be reviewed independently after 30 days, to give people an opportunity to hear the government’s case for their continued detention and to be able to put their case for release.
When first introduced, mandatory detention applied for a maximum of 273 days. Time limits were removed in 1994, making detention indefinite for asylum seekers. As at 31 March 2012, there were 4197 people in locked detention facilities, at least 3800 of whom were asylum seekers. Read the news release here.
RCOA was one of more than 150 signatories to an Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) open letter to the Prime Minister, urging the Federal Government to ensure the Budget does not break its commitment to the world’s poorest people. In 2010, the Prime Minister promised to lift Australian aid to just 50 cents in every $100 of our national income. Keeping this commitment could save an extra 800,000 lives, the letter said. The aid budget can also play a vital role in refugee protection in the Asia-Pacific region and globally. Read the open letter here: http://bit.ly/IwOR3Y
- Setting the record straight on community detention
- New RCOA report on the role of family links in settlement
- Global campaign to end child detention
RCOA responded strongly to an inaccurate and mean-spirited attack by a The Courier-Mail columnist on asylum seekers in community detention. The article incorrectly compared asylum seekers in Australia to foreign nationals who had committed crimes in the UK. Read our response here: http://www.couriermail.com.au/ipad/correct-the-detention-misconceptions/story-fn6ck620-1226339205383
The enormous difficulties faced by families separated by forced displacement and resettlement have been consistently raised as a concern for humanitarian arrivals. Over many years, RCOA has advocated for the strengthening of humane policies with regard to humanitarian family reunion as successive waves of refugees settling in Australia struggle to reunite with their loved ones, compounding the stresses of resettlement with the protracted, and sometimes indefinite, separation of families.
RCOA has released two new publications on this issue. A discussion paper, "Humanitarian Family Reunion: The building block of good settlement", draws on issues raised through RCOA’s annual community consultations. The discussion paper and the findings of a review of Australian and international literature on the role that family links play in settlement can be found here.
RCOA is providing strong support for the End Child Detention campaign. Through May, Australia is the first in a series of countries being highlighted by the Global Campaign to End Immigration Detention of Children. This campaign was launched in March at the UN Human Rights Council. Australian campaign members will use May to push for an end to Australia’s policy of indefinitely detaining all children and families before moving them into the community. May marks the twelfth month of detention for one of the 428 children currently in Australian facilities.
A video petition “Speak up behind Bars,” aims to collect at least 428 local YouTube messages of support for detained children, to match the number of children currently in detention. The petition can be accessed at http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=speakupbehindbars. Details about the campaign are at: http://endchilddetention.org/
- Call for 30 day time limit for immigration detention
- Single protection visa process for asylum seekers
- Federal Opposition urged to rethink policy
- Concerns over Independent's Migration Bill
- Help host asylum seekers through Homestay
- Community views on Job Services Australia and Income Management
- Multicultural Affairs promoted to Federal ministry
- New life member David Bitel reflects on 25 years on RCOA Board
- Racial vilification case offers hope to counter negative asylum seeker reporting
RCOA responded to the release of the Joint Select Committee report on Australia’s Immigration Detention Network by urging the Federal Government to legislate a 30-day limit on the time asylum seekers spend in immigration detention. We continue to oppose mandatory detention of asylum seekers but, given that Australia’s two major political parties are committed to maintaining it, we have long argued that any immigration detention for asylum seekers should be restricted to a risk management process designed to deal quickly with the health, security and identity status of asylum seekers.
Key recommendations from the Joint Select Committee included: a 90-day time limit to detention of asylum seekers who pass initial identity, health, character and security checks; the publication of reasons for continued detention beyond 90 days; amending legislation to replace the Minister for Immigration as the legal guardian of unaccompanied minors in detention facilities; using detention as a last resort for the shortest practicable time; amending the ASIO Act to allow the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to review ASIO assessments of refugees and asylum seekers.
RCOA said the Joint Select Committee’s recommendations provide the Government with an opportunity to implement policies that better protect the rights of asylum seekers. Our statement can be viewed here. The report is at: http://bit.ly/HuBy0p. RCOA’s submission to the Joint Select Committee on Australia’s Immigration Detention Network is available here.
From March 24, asylum seekers entering Australia have been able to access a uniform protection visa process, regardless of whether they arrived by boat or air. In a statement, RCOA chief executive officer Paul Power welcomed the new arrangements which followed a High Court ruling on 11 November 2010 which found refugee determination decisions made under the excision policy lacked procedural fairness and were inconsistent with Australian law.
RCOA also welcomed the Federal Government’s announcement that processing of complementary protection claims will also commence from March 24. In September 2011, Federal Parliament passed legislation to protect non-refugees at risk from persecution and torture. The legislation protects people who are not found to be refugees but are still at grave risk of persecution, torture or death on return to their country of origin. However, the RCOA statement noted that offshore processing remained in Australian law and, without legislative change, could be reintroduced at any time. Our statement can be viewed here.
RCOA chief executive officer Paul Power wrote to Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to convey mixed feedback about a Coalition policy to provide more protection visas for women at risk and their dependants. While RCOA welcomed the pledge of a guaranteed minimum of 1000 places within Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program (an increase on the current minimum of 750 places), as well as a commitment to establish a clear resettlement program of at least 11,000 places per year, some concerns about the policy remained. In particular, RCOA expressed deep concerns about the impact of the Coalition’s proposed resettlement policy on Australia’s obligations towards asylum seekers. The policy suggests that people seeking asylum in other countries are genuine but those who seek asylum in Australia are not, which ignores the fact that many people who seek asylum in Australia are found to be in need of international protection because they have experienced serious persecution. The letter, which raises other issues about the Coalition’s policy is available here. In response, Mr Abbott’s office noted both our praise of aspects of the Coalition policy and our concerns.
While debate continues on Federal Independent MP Rob Oakeshott’s Bill to amend the Migration Act, RCOA urged parliamentarians to keep the focus on building a comprehensive regional framework for refugee protection. Mr Oakeshott’s Bill would allow the Minister for Immigration to send asylum seekers from Australia to any country which is a member of the Bali Process. In a statement, RCOA pointed out that Bali Process members include Afghanistan, Iraq, Burma, Sri Lanka, Syria and North Korea. The statement said Australia must move away from expelling asylum seekers to other countries and work hard to develop regional cooperation which guarantees refugees the protection they desperately need. The statement is available here.
Efforts to help accommodate asylum seekers while their status is being determined have been strengthened through the Homestay network. Anyone willing to host an asylum seeker in their home for a six-week period can now register with the Australian Homestay Network (AHN). The AHN will provide all approved hosts with information, training, insurance and support services throughout their involvement with the AHN. Anticipated costs to the host in providing accommodation will be reimbursed by the AHN. This is a great initiative to complement the Australian Red Cross in its search for short-term accommodation support to eligible asylum seekers coming out of detention. To register, visit: www.homestaynetwork.org/cpn
RCOA has published two new discussion papers as a follow-up from last year’s national community consultations. “Job Services Australia: Refugee community and service provider views” documents some of the concerns raised by refugee communities about the effectiveness and accessibility of the JSA system in achieving employment outcomes.
“Income management: Impacts on refugee and humanitarian entrants” highlights concerns that have been voiced by communities and service providers across Australia regarding the introduction of a policy that will have implications for refugee and humanitarian entrants. These papers can be downloaded here.
RCOA welcomed the inclusion of Multicultural Affairs as a Ministerial portfolio in the reshuffle of the Federal Government frontbench announced by Prime Minister Julia Gillard. RCOA CEO Paul Power said Senator Kate Lundy’s promotion to the positions of Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Minister for Sport was recognition of her impressive work as Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. In a statement, Mr Power said RCOA welcomed the elevation of Multicultural Affairs to a ministerial portfolio as an important opportunity for refugee resettlement policy to be discussed at a more senior level within the Government. The statement can be viewed here.
RCOA’s longest-serving board member David Bitel has been awarded Honorary Life Membership. David Bitel, who last year elected not to seek reappointment, was honoured at a function held when RCOA’s Board gathered in Sydney for its March meeting. David Bitel joined the board in 1986, served as Chair for five years and President for 10 years, providing leadership for RCOA during the most difficult period of its 30-year history. Read David Bitel’s speech here.
A Federal Court case that found the Sunday Times in Western Australia was liable for racial vilification in user comments on an online article could set a precedent for some of the appalling comments we often see on asylum seeker-related articles. Read the judgement here:
- Global meeting showcases Australian approach to refugee settlement
- RCOA responds to dishonest and untrue asylum seeker story
- Visit by UN High Commissioner for Refugees
- ‘Walk Together’ an addition to Refugee Week calendar
- RCOA raises concerns about upcoming Income Management pilots
- Submission on draft of Australia’s National Human Rights Action Plan
- 2012-14 Refugee Week theme: ‘Restoring Hope’
Australia’s approach to refugee settlement support was the focus of international attention in February when 87 leaders of government, NGO and UN refugee resettlement programs came to Melbourne for a meeting of the Working Group on Resettlement (WGR). It was the first time the WGR had met in the Southern Hemisphere and the first WGR meeting to focus exclusively on post-arrival support of resettled refugees. The meeting was held at Melbourne’s Multicultural Hub and the Victorian Arts Centre between February 20 and 23, involving delegates from 18 countries from Europe, the Americas and Asia-Pacific.
The meeting began with two days of site visits to settlement programs in Melbourne, Geelong and Shepparton, with the feedback from international delegates being overwhelmingly positive. The idea of holding the meeting in Australia was actively pushed by RCOA as part of Australia’s chairing in 2011-12 of the WGR and the Annual Tripartite Consultations on Resettlement. Hosted by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) with RCOA as Focal Point for NGOs and co-chair of the gathering, the meeting highlighted the importance of Australian multiculturalism and the vital role that former refugees have in assisting new arrivals to adjust to life in Australia.
Preparing for this meeting has been a major focus of RCOA’s work in recent months. We were always optimistic that the meeting would be successful but the attendance of so many international delegates and the enthusiasm and interest created by the meeting exceeded our expectations. It emphasised, amid the gloom of the divisive national political debate about asylum, that so much valuable work is being done in Australian to support resettled refugees. A summary of the Melbourne WGR is here.
RCOA led the way in condemning reports in The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) and Herald Sun (Melbourne) that falsely claimed asylum seekers received welcome packs worth up to $10,000. The newspaper sought to incite readers by falsely suggesting asylum seekers could keep furnishings in the houses where they are being detained, when the furniture was to remain in the house once the family left. The story was given more prominence by some Federal MPs who defended the public’s right to be angry at the so-called benefits given to asylum seekers.
In a statement issued by RCOA, CEO Paul Power noted that Australia’s community detention policy was initiated by the Howard Government in 2005, as a response to community outrage about the indefinite detention of asylum seeker children. The statement said that while community detention was more costly than conditional release into the community, it was a far cheaper alternative than leaving asylum seekers locked up in detention centres. The statement can be accessed here.
In February, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres visited Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane, taking the time to meet with political leaders and NGOs, inspect resettlement services and address the Lowy Institute. RCOA participated in a NGO roundtable with Mr Guterres in Sydney on February 14, at which a series of issues were discussed relating to Australian asylum policy, detention of asylum seekers, refugee resettlement, the Bali Process and the need for greater Asia-Pacific cooperation on refugee protection.
In his meeting with Prime Minister Julia Gillard the previous day, Mr Guterres raised concerns about immigration detention and the fate of recognised refugees who remain in detention because of adverse ASIO assessments. In a speech to the Lowy Institute in Sydney, Mr Guterres praised the commitment of NGOs and community organisations, including RCOA, noting: “I am also very impressed with the work of the Refugee Council of Australia and the Settlement Council of Australia and all of those individual agencies and coalitions working to improve the lives of refugees and asylum seekers in this country.” Mr Guterres’ speech is available at http://unhcr.org.au/unhcr/images/UNHCR%20Lowy%20Institute%20FINAL.pdf
RCOA has welcomed “Walk Together”, a Welcome to Australia initiative planned for Refugee Week in June. “Walk Together” is an opportunity for Australians in capital cities and other centres to join together in solidarity with asylum seekers, refugees and other new Australians around the idea that we've all come from different backgrounds, places and cultures but together we are writing the Australian story.
On Saturday 23 June, a diverse range of Australians will walk in unity, symbolically calling for an end to politics of division and making a positive statement for multicultural diversity. June 23 will be a celebration of all that diversity adds to our society, culture and nation as we recognise that we have all walked different paths to become part of the combined Australian journey. Each walk will finish at a local place of significance with a small festival celebrating the diverse cultures that make up the Australian experience. For more information or to help in your local area please contact Brad Chilcott at 0410 548 637 or [email protected]
In the 2011-12 Budget, the Australian Government announced that Income Management would be implemented in five new locations as part of the Government’s Building Australia’s Future Workforce package. This new model of Income Management (Place Based Income Management) will start on 1 July 2012 in Bankstown (NSW), Logan and Rockhampton (Queensland), Playford (SA) and Greater Shepparton (Victoria), and will result in some Centrelink recipients having between 50 and 70 per cent of their payments quarantined for purchase of essential goods and services.
A number of concerns about income management were raised by refugee community members and service providers during RCOA’s consultations late last year, including concerns about the scheme undermining independence and self-reliance in settlement, unnecessarily restricting freedoms and creating even more complicated systems for newly settled refugee and humanitarian entrants to negotiate.
RCOA has recently raised concerns with senior management of the Department of Human Services and will be undertaking further work on this issue in coming months. For more information about how the Placed Based Income Management pilots will be rolled out on 1 July and possible implications for Centrelink recipients, go to: http://www.centrelink.gov.au/internet/internet.nsf/individuals/place_based_im.htm.
An overview of concerns about income management raised at RCOA’s community consultations can be found in Section 5.2 of ‘Community views on post-arrival settlement support’.
RCOA has made a submission to the public consultation on the draft of Australia’s Human Rights Action Plan. Having been involved in numerous consultations leading to the development of the Action Plan, RCOA was disappointed to find that issues we had previously highlighted as being in need of further consideration had not been incorporated into the draft.
In this submission, RCOA reiterated the need to adopt the recommendations previously put forward and made some additional comments on particular areas of concern, including immigration, the participation of people from refugee backgrounds in international forums and the importance of State Government initiatives to support refugees and asylum seekers. The submission can be read here.
RCOA has chosen ‘Restoring Hope’ as the Refugee Week theme for 2012 to 2014. The theme reminds us that, while a refugee’s journey begins with danger, it also begins with hope. Refugees flee their homelands not only because they fear persecution, but also because they have hope: they hope to find freedom from persecution, and safety and security for themselves and their families; they hope to be given a chance to start a new life and recover from past trauma.
The theme also calls attention to the role of countries which, through offering protection to refugees and providing them an opportunity to rebuild their lives, restore hope for a future free from fear, persecution, violence and insecurity.
Finally, the theme aims to highlight the situation of refugees whose hopes have not been fulfilled – those who remain in seriously protracted situations, facing ongoing discrimination, violence and uncertainty, with little hope for a resolution in the near future. The theme calls on us to consider how we can provide solutions for these refugees and restore their hopes for a brighter future.
Refugee Week 2012 will be celebrated from Sunday 17 June to Saturday 23 June, to coincide with World Refugee Day (June 20). For more information about Refugee Week, visit www.refugeeweek.org.au.
- RCOA presents community views on Refugee and Humanitarian Program
- Plight of refugees with adverse ASIO findings raised with Canberra
- Burmese Government signs ceasefire agreements
- Refugee sector figures among Australia Day Honours list
After three months of hard work, RCOA has completed its annual submission on Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program and, on January 25, presented recommendations to Immigration Minister Chris Bowen. Key recommendations include: a five-year plan to expand offshore resettlement to 20,000 places; continued progress on regional refugee protection through the Bali process and the development of an uncapped onshore protection program.
The submission reflects feedback from more than 730 people and 187 organisations, representing 33 communities through 47 consultations held throughout Australia. The submission, along with national and global statistics and summaries of community views on refugee settlement and asylum issues, is available here.
In January, RCOA, representing lawyers and NGOs, wrote to new Federal Attorney-General Nicola Roxon urging action on the predicament of more than 50 recognised refugees who remain in immigration detention because of adverse ASIO findings. The letter urged the new Minister to investigate changes to: advise refugees of the reasons for security refusals; provide a mechanism to challenge findings; and pursue alternatives to detention. The letter is available here.
On January 12, the Burmese Government signed a ceasefire agreement with the Karen National Union (KNU). The ceasefire ends decades of fighting between Government and KNU forces, which began when Burma became an independent nation in 1948. The agreement follows the signing of ceasefires with the Shan State Army South and the Chin National Front in December and January respectively.
The Australia Day Honours List recognised the outstanding contributions of a number of people who have dedicated a large part of their lives to supporting asylum seekers and refugees. Recipients include: Xuan Tiep Nguyen (OAM) from Liverpool for services to the Vietnamese community, Faddy Zouky (OAM) for service to Victoria’s multicultural community; Victoria’s Ruth Wraith (OAM) for services to community health, particularly children recovering from trauma; Balmain for Refugees advocate Deborah Nicholls (OAM); Perth’s Sister Margaret Culhane (OAM) for services to refugees from Africa and Asia; Dr Jillian Benson (AM) from Adelaide for mental health support for refugees and asylum seekers; former Department of Immigration and Citizenship Secretary Andrew Metcalfe (AO) and the Department’s special advisor to the Secretary Martin Bowles (PSM).
The full list is available at http://www.gg.gov.au/res/file/2012/honours/ad2012/S%201%20Embargo.pdf