Consultations for the 2018-2019 Humanitarian Program
For more than 25 years, the Refugee Council of Australia has been gathering community views on the Refugee and Humanitarian Program. Every year, we conduct a series of consultations across the country to provide feedback to the Department of Home Affairs (formerly the Department of Immigration and Border Protection) on the operation of this Program. In April 2018, the Department published a Discussion Paper inviting submissions on the Program. The Refugee Council of Australia provided its submission on 25 May 2018. Submissions are now closed.
In 2015, when the Australian Government responded generously to the crises in Syria and Iraq by offering another 12,000 places to people fleeing conflict from those places, Australia showed it can do more. In a time of unprecedented need, we believe Australia should do more. This submission recommends that the Australian Government should build on this successful precedent to develop a more integrated, strategic, flexible and generous Humanitarian Program.
First, there are still unprecedented needs, including Syria, South Sudan and the Rohingya in Myanmar. The halving of resettlement places by the United States (US) has left a very large hole in resettlement places globally, especially in Africa. Children at risk make up an increasing proportion of refugee flows. Vulnerability should remain the cornerstone of the Humanitarian Program. Our priorities should be aligned with those identified by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
In recent years, the number of refugees resettled by referral through UNHCR has declined significantly. We recommend that two-thirds of the Program should be reserved for Refugee visas, which should be filled by those referred by UNHCR. We also recommend that a separate Children at Risk program should be developed to resettle those under UNHCR’s Children at Risk category. Second, we can increase the capacity of the Humanitarian Program in several ways.
We have consistently recommended that the Program be expanded progressively to 30,000 places. As well, we repeat our recommendation that there should be an emergency quota mechanism, which enables the Government to respond flexibly to emergencies such as the Syria/Iraq conflict.
Further, the demand for family reunion can be met by shifting applications to the Migration Program. We can also take grants of protection to refugees onshore outside of the Humanitarian Program.
Finally, we endorse the Joint Community Sponsorship Initiative’s recommendation for a better Community Sponsorship program that builds on the support of the Australian public. Third, we can and should think of the Humanitarian Program as part of a broader integrated strategy for protection. This should include opening up our Migration Program to people who meet our migration needs and who also need protection, such as through migration or educational visas.
We endorse the view that resettlement should be used as a strategic lever to encourage more protection for those who will not be resettled, as we have long recommended. This should include leadership in the region on the Rohingya crisis, given our long record of resettling people from key countries in the region such as Malaysia and Thailand and our significant aid efforts in Myanmar. It should also include leadership in helping promote safe and dignified conditions of return for those non-Rohingya who want to return to Myanmar.
More generally, our long history of resettlement in the region and international aid efforts should be used to improve conditions for refugees in the Asia-Pacific region, so they can live and work lawfully, and can access basic services including education. As we have said repeatedly, the best way to leverage our Humanitarian Program for broader protection would be through a whole-of-government strategy for protection, developed in close consultation with relevant stakeholders and civil society.
This would bring together diplomacy, aid, capacity-building and resettlement, so we can more cohesively and effectively address the drivers of displacement. Such a strategy could form part of a broader whole-of-society National Program of Action, based on our commitments in the New York Declaration on Migrants and Refugees.
Finally, Australia’s commitments to refugee protection under our Humanitarian Program must be supported by treating refugees who come to Australia, whether by boat or plane, consistently with our international obligations. We cannot lead while we continue to punish people seeking asylum, and while we continue to create real risks of returning them to persecution or other serious harm.