The 2013-14 submission was prepared in the months following the August 2012 release of the report of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers, chaired by Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston. The submission, presented to Immigration Minister Chris Bowen in January 2013, focused on three key areas: Australia’s response to international refugee needs; the recommendations of the Expert Panel and the implications for Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program; and community views on how the different pathways to protection for refugee and humanitarian entrants impact on settlement experiences.
Global refugee situation
The global refugee situation continues to be characterised by two major trends: the emergence of new crises and the intractability (and, in some cases, intensification) of existing crises. In 2011, the total number of new asylum applications received grew by 60% and 2012 saw more than 900,000 people displaced as refugees as a result of the crises in Syria, Mali and Sudan. Movements across land and sea borders continue to grow. Yemen received a record number of boat arrivals in 2012, with 107,532 people crossing the Gulf of Aden from the Horn of Africa.
At the same time, however, durable solutions for the long-term displaced remain elusive. Of the 10.4 million refugees under UNHCR’s mandate, 7.1 million (or more than two-thirds) are living in protracted situations. Voluntary repatriation of refugees to countries of origin has declined markedly from the peak of 2.4 million in 2002 to 532,000 in 2011. Integration of refugees in countries of asylum is very limited, with resolution of a refugee’s status through permanent residency or citizenship very rare in the main countries of asylum. Many refugees are left without legal permission to remain in the country of asylum and/or are living with the constant fear that they will be returned to their country of origin before it is safe to do so.
In 2011, only 0.7% of the world’s refugees were resettled and some refugee populations (including some of the largest in the world) had almost no access at all to resettlement. Resettlement needs continue to far outstrip available places: UNHCR has identified over 180,000 people as being in urgent need of resettlement in 2013, yet the number of resettlement places offered by governments to UNHCR will only be around 85,000. As a result of the continuing abuse of people in countries of origin and the extremely limited durable solutions for refugees in many countries of asylum, refugees and people seeking asylum are, in increasing numbers, travelling further in search of protection.
RCOA’s community consultations drew hundreds of people who have lived and still have immediate family members in countries of origin for refugees and in many of the principal countries of asylum in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Among the main concerns raised were corruption and violence in origin and asylum countries, the need for greater support for countries hosting large populations and the integrity and accessibility of UNHCR application and resettlement processes in some countries.
Groups nominated as being in priority need of resettlement included refugees living in protracted situations; those who are particularly vulnerable due to factors such as gender, age, disability, risk of detention or isolation from community support; and those facing untenable living conditions in countries of asylum due to ongoing violence and insecurity, harsh conditions and lack of basic humanitarian assistance. Consultation participants also spoke of the importance of Australia and UNHCR working together to promote resettlement, with a view to increasing the pool of resettlement countries and encouraging greater sharing of responsibility with the principal host countries.
In last year’s submission, RCOA drew together the feedback on resettlement priorities into a set of principles for Australia’s response. Those principles remain relevant and, we believe, are useful in reflecting on planning for the 2013-14 Refugee and Humanitarian Program:
- The need for resettlement to be made widely available as a durable solution, through considering further expansion of Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program, reviewing the numerical link between the offshore and onshore programs and advocating with other nations for an expansion of their resettlement programs.
- A focus on resettling the most vulnerable, including those who vulnerability is heightened by disability, risk of sexual and gender-based violence, separation from adult support (in the case of unaccompanied minors), risk of detention and isolation from community support.
- An emphasis on family unity, in light of concerns raised over a number of years regarding the impact of family separation on successful settlement in Australia.
- The strategic use of resettlement to promote broader refugee protection, with Australia working with other resettlement nations to encourage countries of asylum to improve conditions for refugees who remain in their territory.
- The need to balance resettlement needs in different regions, with targeted resettlement from Asia and the Middle East associated with efforts to improve regional cooperation balanced with pressing resettlement needs from the Africa region.
- A coherent overarching government strategy for refugee protection, articulating the roles of the Refugee and Humanitarian Program, official aid and development, involvement in multilateral forums and diplomatic action in addressing refugee situations worldwide.