Refugee Council of Australia
Boy in red T-shirt on crowded bus

Intake submission on Australia’s 2015-2016 refugee and humanitarian program

Our recommendations

Our recommendations

Recommendation 1

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government develop, publish and implement a framework for Australia’s refugee resettlement program based on:

  • priority resettlement to the most vulnerable refugees, including women at risk, culturally isolated groups of refugees (e.g. small groups of African refugees in South and South-East Asia), LGBTI refugees and other minorities at risk;
  • the promotion of family unity;
  • the strategic use of resettlement; and
  • the consideration of global resettlement needs in the development of regional allocations.

Recommendation 2

In view of pressing needs across the African continent, RCOA recommends that the Australian Government ensure that the 2015-16 regional target for resettlement from Africa be set at no lower than 25% of the offshore program.

Recommendation 3

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government and other resettlement states work with the Governments of Bangladesh, Malaysia and Thailand to develop a regional strategy for facilitating resettlement and brokering other durable solutions for Rohingya refugees, including through reinstating resettlement from Bangladesh.

Recommendation 4

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government review the definition used to assess eligibility for the Woman at Risk program to bring it into line with the definition used by in UNHCR (which does not exclude women who have the support of a male relative).

Recommendation 5

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government:

  • in light of the crucial role of aid in assisting forcibly displaced people, restore Australia’s overseas aid program to its former level and develop a plan to increase overseas aid to 0.7% of Gross National Income;
  • reinstate the Displaced Persons Program;
  • work with diaspora communities in Australia and people living in refugee communities overseas to identify urgent protection needs in countries of origin and asylum and develop and implement strategies to respond to these needs; and
  • provide additional funding to UNHCR, given the increasing numbers of displaced people worldwide and UNHCR’s critical role in coordinating humanitarian responses to displacement.

Recommendation 6

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government, in consultation with affected communities, review recent changes to banking regulations to ensure that communities in Australia are able to continue to provide critical financial support to families and communities living overseas.

Recommendation 7

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government, in its capacity as a member of the UN Security Council, provide positive leadership in international action to:

  • address the drivers of forced displacement and respond to protection needs in countries of asylum, with a particular focus on refugees living in protracted situations and/or facing serious risks to their lives and freedom; and
  • develop a comprehensive response to the growing Syrian refugee crisis.

Recommendation 8

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government, in consultation with UNHCR and non-government organisations working with refugees, develop a strategy for how its diplomatic and aid efforts can be targeted to support incremental improvements in the protection and support of refugees and people seeking asylum in South-East Asia and South Asia, as part of a long-term vision for an Asia-Pacific regional agreement on refugee protection.

Recommendation 9

RCOA recommends that, in its capacity as co-chair of the Bali Process, revive efforts to operationalise the Regional Cooperation Framework agreed to by Bali Process members in March 2011.

Recommendation 10

RCOA recommends that the Refugee and Humanitarian Program be immediately restored to 20,000 places annually, delinked from onshore permanent Protection Visa grants.

Recommendation 11

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government, in light of escalating global protection needs, consider further expanding the Refugee and Humanitarian Program to between 25,000 and 30,000 places annually.

Recommendation 12

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government consider establishing an Emergency Response contingency quota over and above the annual Refugee and Humanitarian Program intake to provide additional capacity to respond to urgent protection needs during emergency situations, such as the current crisis in Syria.

Recommendation 13

RCOA recommends that the upfront cost of the Community Proposal Pilot be significantly reduced and the associated ‘safety net’ costs replaced with an ‘assurance of support’ model.

Recommendation 14

RCOA recommends that the annual quota for the Community Proposal Pilot or any replacement program be delinked from the Refugee and Humanitarian Program.

Recommendation 15

RCOA recommends that funding be made available for support services for people proposed under the Community Proposal Pilot in cases of emergency or relationship breakdown, to be taken out of the assurance of support if required.

Recommendation 16

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government work with refugee community organisations in Australia to clarify the role of Supporting Community Organisations in the Community Proposal Pilot and facilitate greater involvement of these organisations in the Pilot.

Recommendation 17

RCOA recommends the Department of Immigration and Border Protection conduct a public review of and consultation on the Community Proposal Pilot.

Recommendation 18

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government overhaul the family reunion options for refugee and humanitarian entrants to Australia by developing a “Humanitarian Family Reunion Program” that is separate from the Refugee and Humanitarian Program and the family stream of the Migration Program. RCOA recommends that this Humanitarian Family Reunion Program be developed in consultation with former refugee community members and organisations, peak bodies and relevant service providers.

Recommendation 19

In the absence of a separate Humanitarian Family Reunion Program, RCOA recommends that the Australian Government enhance refugee and humanitarian entrants’ access to family reunion by:

  • waiving application fees or at least introducing application fee concessions for refugee and humanitarian entrants sponsoring family members under the family stream of the Migration Program;
  • expanding the availability of no-interest loans to assist proposers in meeting the costs of airfares and/or application fees;
  • introducing greater flexibility in documentation and evidence requirements under both the Refugee and Humanitarian Program and the family stream of the Migration Program;
  • reviewing eligibility requirements under the family stream of the Migration Program which effectively exclude applicants from refugee backgrounds; and
  • considering applications lodged by people who are not formally registered as refugees with UNHCR or host governments but otherwise meet the eligibility criteria.

Recommendation 20

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government enter into dialogue with UNHCR about establishing a process for identifying refugee families that are seeking reunification, facilitating assessment and registration in countries of asylum and prioritising them for referral for resettlement under Australia’s offshore program.

Recommendation 21

RCOA recommends that all Special Humanitarian Program visa holders receive routine needs assessments during the initial period of settlement to ensure that they are receiving adequate on-arrival support.

Recommendation 22

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government review its practice of encouraging refugees who are eligible for resettlement in Australia to apply for Special Humanitarian Program visas rather than Refugee visas, so as to avoid undermining the successful settlement of new arrivals.

Recommendation 23

RCOA recommends that the Department of Immigration and Border Protection review its procedures for communicating with visa proposers and applicants to ensure that clear information and updates are regularly provided on progress with the processing of applications.

Recommendation 24

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government respond to the significant community concern about the lack of access to the Special Humanitarian Program for refugees outside of the Middle East by separating Syrian resettlement from the SHP (in line with Recommendation 12) or by increasing the size of the SHP as part of a larger overall Refugee and Humanitarian Program.

Recommendation 25

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government review the definition of “family” used to assess and prioritise family reunion applications to bring it into line with the definition used in UNHCR’s Resettlement Handbook.

Recommendation 26

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government review the information on family reunion opportunities provided to refugees prior to resettlement in Australia (including through the Australian Cultural Orientation program) to ensure its accuracy and enable refugees to make informed decisions about resettlement.

Recommendation 27

RCOA recommends that:

  • current restrictions on access to family reunion opportunities for Protection Visa holders who arrived by boat (including changes to processing priorities) be immediately removed.
  • if the above recommendation is not implemented, people whose applications have been affected by the introduction of retrospective changes to processing priorities be given the opportunity to withdraw their applications and receive a full refund of application fees.

Recommendation 28

RCOA recommends that the current suspension of visa grants to people living in countries affected by Ebola be lifted and replaced with an individualised risk assessment process.

Recommendation 29

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government restore funding for professional migration advice services under the Settlement Grants program to support refugee and humanitarian entrants in lodging family reunion applications.

Recommendation 30

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government seek to ensure greater consistency in settlement patterns so as to support the maintenance of quality settlement support services across Australia, including in smaller settlement areas.

Recommendation 31

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government develop a new regional settlement strategy, assessing potential and established regional areas as settlement locations, working with regional providers to plan and prepare for new humanitarian settlers, and ensuring sufficient numbers of referrals are made within each intake year to retain capacity and momentum in regional settlement locations.

Recommendation 32

RCOA recommends that the current time-limited eligibility period for settlement services be replaced with an individualised needs assessment process.

Recommendation 33

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government 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 34

If Recommendation 33 is not implemented, RCOA recommends that:

  • All Temporary Protection Visa and Special Humanitarian Enterprise Visa holders be granted access to settlement services on the same basis as permanent refugee and humanitarian visa holders.
  • The transitional support provided under the Status Resolution Support Services program following the grant of a Temporary Protection Visa be extended to at least six weeks, with extensions available on a needs basis.
  • Overseas travel restrictions on Temporary Protection Visa and Special Humanitarian Enterprise Visa holders be lifted.
  • Family reunion options be considered for Temporary Protection Visa and Special Humanitarian Enterprise Visa holders, to facilitate successful settlement and provide safe pathways to protection for people living in precarious or dangerous situations overseas.

Recommendation 35

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection develop a comprehensive communications strategy to explain the implications of Temporary Protection Visas to both visa holders and service providers.

Recommendation 36

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government consider options for designating certain industries in any location as fulfilling the eligibility criteria for the Safe Haven Enterprise Visa.

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