The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) made a submission to the Inquiry into Issues Facing Diaspora Communities which is undertaken by Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade.
The submission specifically focused on concerns, experiences, and recommendations for refugee diaspora communities in Australia. Issues facing diaspora communities in Australia have long been overlooked or more narrowly perceived in economic terms. For a country that rightly celebrates the diversity of its multicultural population, this inquiry is important recognition of the breadth and depth of connections between diaspora communities in Australia and other parts of the world, as well as the range of issues that diaspora communities face.
In this submission, we particularly highlighted:
- The need to ensure diaspora associations are able to sustainably support the communities they serve and can effectively navigate Australian institution and systems;
- The concerns for members of diaspora communities that relate to foreign interference and mechanisms to address safety concerns are more fully developed;
- That members of refugee diaspora communities are able to fully participate in Australia’s social and democratic institutions through facilitating timely access to permanent visas and citizenship, and;
- That the Australian government strengthens its communication and partnership with refugee diaspora communities through the establishment of a Diaspora Liaison Unit and investment in targeted diaspora initiatives.
We proposed the following recommendations:
Recommendation 1 Diaspora association governance strengthening and support
The Australian Government should fund a national-level training and support initiative focussed on strengthening the capacity of diaspora associations to build robust governance structures, plan, design and implement projects, and access funding that meets the needs and priorities of the communities they serve.
Recommendation 2 Mechanisms for addressing foreign interference with diasporas
The Australian Government should establish clear mechanisms for members of diaspora communities in Australia to safely report on foreign surveillance and intimidation through the establishment of a Diaspora Liaison Unit within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (see Recommendation 6).
Recommendation 3 Diaspora engagement in Country Information (COI) report reviews
When reviewing COI reports, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade should facilitate opportunities for diaspora communities to provide information that is relevant to decision-makers assessing protection claims.
Recommendation 4 Annual dialogue with diasporas on human rights
The Australian Government should hold a supplementary annual dialogue on human rights with diaspora communities to inform Australia’s bilateral and multilateral engagements.
Recommendation 5 Timely and accessible pathways to permanent protection and citizenship
The Australian Government should ensure inclusive access to citizenship as outlined in RCOA’s 2019 Submission on the Australian Citizenship Legislation Amendment (Strengthening Commitments) Bill 2018. The Australian Government should abolish Temporary Protection Visas and grant permanent visas to all people who currently hold Temporary Protection, Temporary Humanitarian Concern or Temporary Safe Haven visas.
Recommendation 6 Diaspora Liaison Unit and workforce diversity in DFAT
The Australian Government should establish a Diaspora Liaison Unit within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to oversee, coordinate and support departmental engagement with diaspora communities across its range of functions, and prioritise the development and implementation of a cultural and linguistic diversity strategy within the Department that recognises the range of skills and competencies within diaspora communities.
Recommendation 7 Strengthen national coordination and representative body for diasporas
The Australian Government should invest in a body to fulfil a coordination, knowledge repository and representative role to ensure diaspora communities are effectively supported and their potential realised within the Australian context.
Recommendation 8 Champion refugee voices in international and national dialogue
That the Australian Government further embeds the engagement of people with lived refugee experience in national and international dialogue by including refugee diaspora representatives in Australian Government delegations at significant international meetings on refugee issues (such as the Global Refugee Forum and the UNHCR High Commissioner’s annual Dialogue and Executive Committee meetings), by championing the participation of refugee-led networks more broadly, and sharing lessons from effective diaspora partnership and engagement across government departments.
Recommendation 9 Diaspora-engaged diplomacy on refugee protection
The Australian Government should appoint an Ambassador for Refugee Protection to lead high-level advocacy on seeking durable solutions for refugees in the Asia-Pacific region and internationally, and to engage diaspora leaders in developing community-informed protection solutions and to engage in high-level dialogue.
Recommendation 10 Diaspora engagement in Australia’s aid program
The Australian Government should establish a targeted funding program modelled on the Danish Refugee Council’s Diaspora Programme to amplify and strengthen diaspora-led development and relief initiatives as a valuable contribution to Australian aid that draws on the strength of people-to-people networks.
Recommendation 11 Diaspora engagement in humanitarian response
The Australian Government should work with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to further support the development of a diaspora professionals deployment scheme drawing on the skills and capacities within Australian-based diaspora communities.