Refugee Council of Australia
People sleeping in jumble

Intake submission on Australia’s 2013-2014 refugee and humanitarian program

Our recommendations

Global refugee situation

RCOA recommends that, in view of the pressing need for resettlement from Africa, the 2013-14 regional target for resettlement from Africa be set at no lower than 25% of the offshore program.

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government review its approach to resettling refugees who are unaccompanied minors, at risk of detention or classified as being “out of region”, giving careful consideration to the vulnerability of refugees most isolated in countries of asylum.

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government work with the United States, Canada and other nations involved in the Working Group on Resettlement to explore how the host nations which have benefited most from resettlement (particularly Thailand, Nepal and Malaysia) can be encouraged to improve protection standards for refugees who remain in their territory.

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, the promotion of family unity, the strategic use of resettlement and the consideration of global resettlement needs in the development of regional allocations.

Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government consult with settlement service providers and mainstream agencies involved in providing support to refugees, to determine the additional resources necessary to ensure ongoing quality service provision (particularly SGP services) in light of the expansion of Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program.

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government:

  • Immediately end the numerical link between the onshore and offshore components of the Refugee and Humanitarian Program.
  • Should the Recommendation 6(a) not be implemented, expedite the implementation of Recommendation 21 of the Expert Panel of Asylum Seekers by conducting a review of the linkage between the onshore and offshore components of the Program, to set a timeframe for the end of the linkage.

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government urgently review its plans for the pilot private sponsorship program, revising the proposed visa application charge to a level more affordable for community organisations and exploring ways of providing incentives for sponsors who work together to assist newly arrived refugees towards financial self-sufficiency.

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government conduct a thorough review of how humanitarian family reunion is addressed in policy and planning within the broader immigration program, with due consideration given to how to enable refugee families to be prioritised for timely reunion either within the Refugee and Humanitarian Program or in the general Migration Program.

RCOA recommends that DIAC allow the proposers of split family SHP applications subject to reassessment longer timelines for responding to letters requesting additional information. Responses received after the requested number of days should be considered by DIAC in making an assessment.

RCOA recommends that DIAC issue a clear statement about how prioritisation in the SHP will be implemented, what this will effectively mean for those deemed ‘the lowest priority’ and expected timeframes.

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government reconsider the decision to remove eligibility to the SHP for refugees who arrive by boat after 13 August 2012 as a fundamental denial of the right to unity and protection for families.

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 (particularly Pakistan and Thailand) and prioritising them for referral for resettlement under Australia’s offshore Refugee Program.

RCOA recommends that DIAC consider strategies for ensuring the 4,000 additional places in the family stream of the Migration Program are quarantined for humanitarian entrants and are accessible through:

  • Introducing application fee concessions for humanitarian entrant proposers;
  • Introducing some flexibility in documentation requirements for people from refugee backgrounds;
  • Reviewing eligibility requirements that effectively exclude applicants from refugee backgrounds; and
  • Resourcing DIAC’s offshore and Australian processing offices to identify and consider applications from humanitarian entrant proposers separately from applications from non-humanitarian proposers.

RCOA recommends that DIAC implement a targeted communication strategy to increase refugee community understanding of alternative family reunion pathways.

RCOA recommends that DIAC increase short-term funding to registered Migration Agents funded through the SGP to support the reassessment of SHP split family applications in the most efficient, fair and timely fashion. RCOA also recommends that consideration be given to increasing the overall amount of funding allocated for migration advice within the SGP in the upcoming funding round.

Refugee protection in the Asia-Pacific

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government continue to work through the Bali Process to:

  • Accelerate operationalisation of the Regional Cooperation Framework;
  • Prioritise initiatives aimed at addressing the most pressing protection challenges across the region; and
  • Foster opportunities for civil society participation, including in the activities of the Regional Support Office.

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government fully implement the Expert Panel recommendation to allocate $70 million a year in additional funding for capacity building initiatives in the region, with a particular focus on funding NGOs involved in supporting refugees and people seeking asylum.

RCOA recommends that UNHCR actively consider promoting the development of sub-regional eminent persons groups in South Asia and South-East Asia to consider and promote effective responses to the protection needs of refugees.

Offshore processing

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government abandon offshore processing of people seeking asylum who arrive by boat and return to a single statutory system of onshore processing for all people seeking asylum, regardless of their mode of arrival. Should Recommendation 19 not be implemented, RCOA recommends that the Australian Government develop the following as a matter of urgency:

Clear criteria and timeframes for resettlement from offshore processing facilities;

  • Improved mechanisms to protect the rights and wellbeing of people subject to offshore processing, including basic infrastructure, legal advice and guardianship arrangements for unaccompanied minors; and
  • Arrangements for independent monitoring and oversight of status determination and resettlement processes and conditions in offshore facilities, including avenues for seeking resolution of or redress for any identified issues of concern.

Pathways to protection and settlement

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government streamline and consolidate existing support programs for people seeking asylum into a holistic, consistent and client-driven service delivery framework, based on the following core principles:

  • A central focus on the needs of the client;
  • Equal access to services and support regardless of status or mode of arrival;
  • Adopting a settlement-centred model focused on outcomes such as employment, education, English language tuition, housing and orientation;
  • A focus on early intervention to ensure the best outcomes for clients;
  • Safeguards to prevent destitution and ensure resolution of all cases;
  • Basing support services on existing service delivery platforms (such as Medicare and Centrelink) where possible, to avoid unnecessary administration and duplication; and
  • Inbuilt mechanisms to facilitate regular communication between all departments, agencies, organisations and communities working with people seeking asylum.

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government review and streamline transition processes for refugees and people seeking asylum moving through various stages of status assessment, with a particular focus on supporting vulnerable groups such as long-term detainees and unaccompanied minors.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government support people seeking asylum to secure employment through:

  • Enhancing provision of employment support and other relevant services (such as English language tuition); and
  • Working with employers to raise awareness about the entitlements of Bridging Visa holders, the value of workforce diversity and strategies to support employees from refugee backgrounds.

RCOA recommends that the Australian Government, in consultation with relevant service providers, develop a strategy to support capacity-building amongst groups providing support to people seeking asylum in the community.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government maintain its commitment to using detention only as a last resort and for the shortest possible time by working to further reduce the amount of time spent by people seeking asylum (particularly children) in closed detention facilities.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government work towards resolving the situation of refugees subject to negative security assessments by:

  • Establishing a statutory review mechanism for security assessments made in relation to Protection Visa applicants; and
  • Exploring alternative community-based arrangements to prolonged indefinite detention for these individuals.

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