Australia's Refugee and Humanitarian Program
During last year’s consultations, the expansion of Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program to 20,000 places was overwhelmingly endorsed by consultation participants, with the caveat that the increased arrival numbers be matched with careful planning and additional resources for settlement services.
A year on, consultation participants continued their strong endorsement of an expanded Refugee and Humanitarian Program. Some service providers, however, reported that the concentration of much of the increase in arrivals in just a few months created challenges for their organisations.
Not a single consultation participant expressed support for the reduction in the size of the Refugee and Humanitarian Program to its former level of 13,750 places. Indeed, many consultation participants felt that the decision to reduce the size of the program was counterproductive and inappropriate at a time when forced displacement is on the rise and protection needs are becoming more acute.
Others expressed concern about the impact of the decrease on Australia’s international reputation, including our capacity to work with the international community to resolve refugee protection needs. Several service providers highlighted the significant time, energy and resources that had been invested in expanding the capacity of their services and expressed frustration that these efforts would be squandered should the program be decreased.
In discussing the composition of the Refugee and Humanitarian Program, a number of participants suggested that the Government should explore options for resettling refugees under other streams of Australia’s migration program, so as to make more space available within the humanitarian stream.
Participants also expressed concern about the declining proportion of refugees being resettled out of African nations, noting that resettlement needs in the region remain high and expressing a desire for Australia to restore regional balance to its resettlement program.
Participants continued to express mixed feelings about the Community Proposal Pilot, with the most commonly raised concern being the high cost of visa fees. Considerable concern was expressed that the program would benefit communities which are well-organised, have good connections and have significant financial resources and fundraising capacity, while new and emerging communities would be likely to miss out.
Additional concerns related to the deduction of the 500 places available under the Pilot from the existing Refugee and Humanitarian Program, the processes for selecting and prioritising individuals for resettlement and access to settlement support services.
However, the majority of negative feedback focused on the specific model of community proposal, not the concept of community proposal per se, and some participants highlighted potential benefits of the Pilot in providing opportunities for communities to play a greater role in resettlement and offering an alternative avenue to resettlement for communities who could afford the visa fees.
The lack of pathways to family reunion continues to be identified as one of the greatest challenges facing refugee and humanitarian entrants to Australia and came up in almost every consultation across the country.
Issues raised echoed those of previous years, with community members and the services supporting them highlighting the profound psychological, economic and social impacts of family separation, the extremely limited family reunion options available, the systemic hurdles of existing family reunion pathways and the lack of migration advice to assist refugee and humanitarian entrants navigate visa application processes.
With only 503 visas granted under the Special Humanitarian Program (SHP) in 2012-13, this program has provided little hope of a viable pathway for any kind of family reunion in recent years. Community members in consultations across Australia expressed their continued frustration, disappointment and confusion at the ongoing limitations of the SHP in terms of eligibility and size.
The majority of consultation feedback on family reunion this year concerned the experiences and limitations of refugee and humanitarian entrants seeking family reunion under the Family stream of the general Migration Program, with the major areas of concern being prohibitive or inflexible documentation requirements and the considerable costs involved.
The restricted definition of “family” used by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) in assessing visas applications for the SHP or Family stream of the Migration Program was seen to further limit the already limited prospects of reunion. An emerging concern this year that was raised in a number of consultations was in regards to difficulties liaising with overseas processing offices in relation to Family stream visa applications, including inconsistencies across posts, poor experiences with locally engaged staff, lengthy and unnecessary delays and processes that were incompatible with the circumstances of displaced people.