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Realising Australia’s Positive Vision and Global Leadership on Refugee Resettlement and Complementary Pathways: Response to the Australian Government Discussion Paper on the 2024-25 Humanitarian Program

Established in 1981, the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) is the national peak body for people from refugee and asylum seeking backgrounds and the organisations and individuals who work with them. RCOA consults regularly with its members, community leaders and people from refugee backgrounds, and this submission is informed by their views. Having provided detailed feedback to the Australian Government on directions for the Refugee and Humanitarian Program through consultation processes each year since 1984 and written submissions each year since 1987, we welcome the opportunity to make a submission on the 2024-25 Humanitarian Program.

RCOA Submission on the Humanitarian Program 2024-25
Size : 914.3 kB Format : PDF

The 2024-25 year presents a unique opportunity for the Australian Government to restore Australia’s vital role in global resettlement by:

  1. Reorienting the Program towards protection needs and focusing on UNHCR priorities
  2. Capitalising on Australia’s unique position this year in global leadership roles relating to refugee resettlement and complementary migration pathways
  3. Conducting a formal review of family reunion options, through a co-designed process with communities
  4. Expanding and extending the Skilled Refugee Labour Agreement and building on the momentum on other complementary pathways
  5. Replacing the Community Support Program with a genuine community sponsorship model
  6. Ending the link between the offshore and onshore protection programs and abolishing the cap on onshore places
  7. Developing a coherent, principled framework for responding to humanitarian crises
  8. Building a Humanitarian Program which works effectively to support solutions for refugees in the Asia-Pacific region

Australia’s positive vision and global leadership on refugee resettlement and complementary pathways

The Australian Government has a special and powerful opportunity to demonstrate global leadership and pursue major reform as it winds up its chairing role at the international Consultations on Resettlement and Complementary Pathways (CRCP) and continues its chairing of the Global Taskforce on Refugee Labour Mobility. These roles place Australia in a unique position to both lead and influence other nations to make positive changes in refugee and migration policy.

At the December 2023 Global Refugee Forum, the Australian Government shared its positive vision for a more considered approach to refugee issues. Australia pledged on matters relating to resettlement, community sponsorship, refugee labour mobility, education, mental health, immigration detention, refugee participation, gender, refugee travel documents, statelessness, international cooperation, peacebuilding, the needs of Rohingya refugees and displacement in and from Afghanistan and Sudan (see Section 2.1 for details). These pledges signify a significant step forward in addressing the needs of refugees globally and enhancing Australia’s role in providing durable solutions.

Over the past 12 months, the Australian Government has worked in partnership with RCOA, UNHCR, the CRCP Refugee Advisory Group and the Australia Refugee Advisory Panel to plan and execute a series of meaningful and action-oriented international meetings and workshops, culminating in the CRCP events in Geneva in June 2024.

In October 2023, RCOA and the Department of Home Affairs co-chaired a virtual global discussion aimed at building momentum for pledges on resettlement and complementary pathways at the December 2023 Global Refugee Forum (GRF). In February 2024, the RCOA hosted 125 delegates from 14 countries for the Working Group on Resettlement meeting in Sydney, a four-day exchange on approaches to post-arrival settlement support for newly arrived refugees. The Working Group on Resettlement was an opportunity to showcase Australian approaches to settlement and provide an Australian context for the discussions. There was also the opportunity to hear about innovative program design and policy settings that other resettlement countries are using to address issues that impact many states, including housing, refugee engagement and leadership, and steps to change negative public narratives about refugees.

Australia’s role as chair culminated with the CRCP meeting in June 2024, which brought together 340 delegates from 44 countries, the largest gathering since the annual international resettlement dialogue began in 1995.

It is now time to build on the momentum of Australia’s leadership. The work chairing the Consultations on Resettlement and Complementary Pathways and the 23 pledges at the Global Refugee Forum demonstrate Australia’s positive vision for finding solutions to forced displacement and the strong, guiding role that Australia can play, both internationally and at home.

A principled approach to resettlement

Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program has evolved considerably over the past decade. The positive vision outlined by this Government is a welcome step towards recovering the narrative of what Australia wishes to achieve with the Program. The developments over the past year are a step in the right direction of our recommendation to return to a “back to basics” approach that clearly outlines the purpose of the Program and connects it to Australia’s other international work.

The Australian Government’s positive vision and the objectives of the Humanitarian Program can be best met if key principles underscore the work. These principles include:

  1. Protection focus – the Humanitarian Program must retain its focus on protection needs, and prioritise refugees for resettlement first and foremost based on their vulnerability and need (see Section 3.2).
  2. Family unity – one of the greatest pressures on people from refugee backgrounds living in Australia is the need to reunite with their family members, most of whom live in dangerous situations overseas. Australia is one of the only countries in the world that limits immediate family reunion for people resettling through its program, and there are further obstacles for people trying to reunite with other family members, including siblings. The personal, economic and social impact of not being able to reunite with your family in safety is well understood and documented; yet, the Australian Government has not made positive reforms to address the barriers in the current policies, to its own detriment (see Section 4).
  3. A whole-of-government approach – Australia could improve the strategic use of its limited refugee and humanitarian places and improve the rights of people displaced overseas by improving communication and planning between government departments, including the Department of Home Affairs and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (see Section 10) and between Federal, state and local government. This whole-of-government approach should also include multi-year planning for the Humanitarian Program.
  4. Transparency and accountability – the planning and delivery of the Humanitarian Program lack openness. A more open process, informed by transparent and accessible settlement data, and co-designed with refugee community members, local, state, and commonwealth government, and refugee civil society organisations will strengthen the design and positive contributions from the Program.
  5. International responsibility sharing and communication – Australia is one part of a global solution to forced displacement. Australia has an important and often strategic role to play in refugee resettlement and humanitarian protection. In combination with a whole-of-government approach, Australia has the opportunity to work closely with like-minded countries both to support their leadership on key refugee issues and to provide leadership on refugee protection in the Asia-Pacific region.

RCOA Submission on the Humanitarian Program 2024-25
Size : 914.3 kB Format : PDF

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