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Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network visit highlights vital regional role for Australia

Australia’s potential role in promoting better protection of refugees in South East Asia was the central focus of the March 2024 visit to Australia of leaders of the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN).

Hosted by the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA), the Co-Secretaries General of APRRN, Hafsar Tameesuddin and Klaus Dik Nielsen, visited Canberra and Sydney over four days for meetings with Federal Parliamentarians, government officials, UNHCR, NGO and refugee community leaders and academics.

A key opportunity of the visit was an event at the Australian Parliament House hosted by RCOA and the Parliamentary Friends of Refugees Group. Hafsar Tameesuddin and Klaus Dik Nielson, along with RCOA’s CEO Paul Power, spoke about how the Australian Government could implement pledges it made at the 2023 Global Refugee Forum to support the protection of refugees in the region. The session was chaired by Zaki Haidari from Amnesty International and Chair of the APRRN working group for Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific.

APRRN and RCOA believe Australia is uniquely placed to lead the way in improving refugee protection in Southeast Asia, a region that hosts a significant number of refugees but struggles with providing adequate protection due to various challenges. The Australian Government committed itself to a greater leadership role in the region through its recent pledges at the UNHCR Global Refugee Forum. These commitments include:

  • “supporting comprehensive protection and solutions strategies in the Asia-Pacific, and supporting States… to develop and strengthen their asylum systems and protection capacity”; and
  • “strengthening, respecting and recognising the leadership and decision-making of national and local actors in humanitarian action, along with refugee-led organisations, to better address the needs of affected populations”.

One of the key challenges in Southeast Asia is the lack of formal legal frameworks for refugee protection, as many states in the region have not ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention. This leaves refugees vulnerable, with limited access to essential services, legal work opportunities, and pathways to durable solutions. Australia can play a positive role by engaging in sustained and constructive dialogue with host states, increasing aid and capacity-building initiatives, especially to NGOs and RLOs working directly with refugees, and considering how resettlement programs can be used strategically to also leverage protection in host states.

In addition to the event at Parliament House, RCOA and APRRN had the opportunity to meet privately with a number of parliamentarians and advisors, fostering direct engagement and dialogue on refugee issues. Constructive meetings were held with representatives from the Department of Home Affairs, the Department of Foreign Affairs, and UNHCR, highlighting the strategies Australia can implement to realise the GRF pledges.

RCOA and APRRN also participated in several other events, including a public forum at Companion House in Canberra and another event at the Whitlam Institute at Western Sydney University, Paramatta.

The visit of the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network to Australia has been an important moment in RCOA’s ongoing efforts to promote the protection of the rights of refugees in Southeast Asia. The Refugee Council of Australia remains committed to working with partners like APRRN to advocate for the rights and dignity of all refugees and to work with the Australian Government in realising its commitments at the Global Refugee Forum.

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