Consultations for the 2019-2020 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 March 2019, the Department published a Discussion Paper inviting submissions on the Program. The Refugee Council of Australia provided its submission on 18 March 2019.
The need for Australia to provide international leadership on durable solutions for refugees has never been greater. More people are forcibly displaced than at any point since the end of World War II and the number of refugees and people seeking asylum – 28 million – is greater than at any point since records began. In 2017, available refugee resettlement places declined by 46% on the previous year and UNHCR’s statistics for resettlement through its processes suggest that it declined further in 2018.
The United States, which previously resettled more refugees than all other countries combined, has vacated its position of leadership on resettlement and was one of just two UN member states to vote against the adoption of the Global Compact on Refugees in December 2018. A new form of international leadership is required, led by an alliance of countries which oppose persecution and care about finding durable solutions for refugees. We believe that Australia can become part of that leadership, if the Government chooses to step up to the challenge.
The first Global Refugee Forum in December 2019 provides an opportunity for Australia to demonstrate whether or not it is seriously interested in being a global leader. As we outline in this submission, Australia should use that Forum to make serious pledges about additional resettlement of refugees, increased funding support for responses to major refugee crises and a review of national refugee policies in the light of the commitments made when signing the 2016 New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants. We believe that this can be linked to a whole-of-society National Program of Action, which could be a shared vision of different levels of government, refugee communities, civil society organisations, the private sector and others.
Australia’s recent successes in refugee resettlement, including the recent temporary expansion of the program to welcome additional refugees from Iraq and Syria, show that our nation can do more. We believe that the 2016-17 program of 21,968 places should provide a base level from which the Refugee and Humanitarian Program can grow to 30,000 places annually, supplemented by planned emergency quotas, an additional community sponsorship program, new options for refugee family reunion and complementary migration pathways to create opportunities for refugees with skills.
Even a significantly expanded global resettlement program will leave many of the world’s refugees without access to a durable solution. As a nation with some regional and global influence, Australia can do more through diplomacy and humanitarian aid to support efforts to find practical answers for refugees who will never benefit from resettlement. Eight years ago, we proposed the appointment of an Ambassador for Refugee Protection. The time is right for such an appointment, to lead our national diplomatic efforts, exploring how constructive Australian cooperation can improve conditions for refugees in protracted situations in our region and how efforts to build peace can be explored in different contexts where medium-term safe return of refugees could be a viable option.
Of course, Australia’s credibility to advocate for improved protection of refugees will be undermined unless our nation is prepared to review some of its own current policies. To this end, we propose the ending of policies which punish people seeking Australia’s protection and an end to the temporary protection system.
Millions of Australia believe that change is overdue, that we collectively must make clear to the world that Australians do care about fellow human beings facing persecution. Among those with the greatest interest in seeing change are some of the many Australians who know from personal experience what it is like to be forcibly displaced. Australia’s refugee communities are playing a critical role in the growing global movement of refugee-led advocacy and are ready to be strategically important allies for the Australian Government if it is prepared to play a greater role in international leadership on refugee protection. The Refugee Council of Australia and our network of supporters are ready too. We would welcome the opportunity to engage the Australian Government in exploring how to implement recommendations put forward in this submission.