The inquiry into migrant settlement outcomes
On 17 November 2016, the Joint Standing Committee on Migration was asked to inquire into and report on migrant settlement outcomes. Submissions closed on 31 January 2017. The Committee reported on 8 December 2017.
For further information about this inquiry and related research, see our page on the inquiry on migrant settlement outcomes.The Committee was asked to inquire into:
- the mix, coordination and extent of settlement services available and the effectiveness of these services in promoting better settlement outcomes for migrants;
- national and international best practice strategies for improving migrant settlement outcomes and prospects;
- the importance of English language ability on a migrant’s, or prospective migrant’s, settlement outcome;
- whether current migration processes adequately assess a prospective migrant’s settlement prospects; and
- any other related matter.
The Committee was also asked to ‘give particular consideration to social engagement of youth migrants, including involvement of youth migrants in anti-social behavior such as gang activity, and the adequacy of the Migration Act 1958 character test provisions as a means to address issues arising from this behavior.’
Our key concerns
Political rhetoric and harmful discourses
One of the main barriers to people settling well in Australia is the divisive political rhetoric, punitive policies and racial discrimination directed towards refugees and migrants in Australia. Both research and refugee communities themselves make it clear that racial discrimination and media stereotypes effectively ‘sets people up to fail’.
RCOA therefore addressed the terms of reference relating to gang activity as a harmful device which frames young people from refugee backgrounds as criminals.
Expulsion on the basis of ‘character’
Another key concern was the suggestion that former refugees could be detained or expelled on the basis of ‘character’, rather than be dealt with by the law of the land like any other Australian. RCOA strongly rejects this suggestion. It undermines the principle of equality before the law and non-discrimination, and causes unnecessary fear, anxiety and social isolation within these vulnerable communities.
We are particularly concerned about this term of reference because the ‘character’ test has been used increasingly in the last few years to punish people from refugee backgrounds, through the extension of powers to cancel visas. This has resulted in a significant increase since December 2014 in the number of people detained due to visa cancellations on ‘character’ grounds, putting many at risk of indefinite detention and causing unnecessary suffering.
Any further extension of ‘character’ tests will be counterproductive, undermining the safety that Australia has promised to refugees and people seeking asylum.
In particular, RCOA rejects the potential application of ‘character’ requirements to young people from refugee or asylum seeker backgrounds. As the criminal system has long recognised, young people should be rehabilitated.
Distinguishing between refugee and migrant settlement
The terms of reference of the inquiry fail to recognise the key differences between migrants and refugees. This failure has profound and harmful policy implications.
The fundamental purpose of Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program is to address humanitarian need. The need for protection must remain the primary criterion when selecting people for this program. RCOA therefore strongly rejects any attempt to select refugees based on religion, English language skill, or like factors.
- This Committee should clearly reject the political discourse that demonises refugees and people seeking asylum.
- This Committee should publicly recognise the need to support and invest in the inclusion of young people from refugee and asylum seeking backgrounds, and reject the harmful media stereotyping that fosters their exclusion from our community.
- The current powers to cancel visas on the basis of ‘character’ should be repealed, and there should be no further extension of ‘character’ requirements.
- This Committee should recognise and reaffirm that selection of refugees for resettlement in Australia be fundamentally based on the need for protection.
- This Committee should recommend that the Department of Social Services lead the development of planning infrastructure to facilitate the implementation of a whole-of-government approach to settlement that involves the non-government sector. This should be institutionalised through additional resourcing, the requirement of reporting against benchmarks, and through the appointment of a national coordinator at a senior level.
- This Committee should recommend funding for community education programs to address key settlement issues.
- Funding for SGP should be increased and include a broader range of activities.
- This Committee should reaffirm the value of the AMEP as instrumental in improving English language proficiency for new arrivals, and recommend extending eligibility to AMEP to people awaiting decisions on their protection claims living in the community.
- This Committee should recommend that TIS National be made available to refugees granted temporary protection visas and people seeking asylum to ensure their safety and the safety of others in the community.
- This Committee should recommend that all refugee and humanitarian entrants should be granted full access to specialist settlement services based on need and not on visa subclass and how they arrived in Australia.
- This Committee should recommend an independent review of jobactive services and how they meet the employment transition support needs of refugee and humanitarian entrants, along the lines outlined in RCOA’s 2016 paper, Jobactive: Refugee Community and Service Provider Concerns.
- Each jurisdiction should, as part of the process of improving implementation of the National Settlement Framework, conduct a whole-of-government review of settlement services provided within the jurisdiction to identify improvements in policy and practice
- Local governments should be supported in their initiatives to settle refugees and humanitarian entrants through funding to enable them to share best practice and collaborate on projects.
- Collaboration and coordination within settlement policy, including in the further development of a coordinating framework, should include the full spectrum of civil society including those providing services which are not funded by government.
- The Australian Government should increase the level of funding available to refugee community-based organisations within the Settlement Grants Program, and as part of the implementation of the National Settlement Framework, identify ways to improve engagement with, and support of, refugee community-based organisations.
- The Australian Government should extend the Building a New Life longitudinal research project beyond the initial five years of settlement.
- This Committee should ensure it hears from refugee communities themselves as to ways to improve their settlement outcomes, learning the lessons from previous generations of refugees and humanitarian entrants. The Committee should focus on current challenges identified by communities, including the need for more flexible education and English language learning practices, the need to combat racism in all forms, and the need for better support of families adjusting to new cultures.
- The Australian Government should foster further research into settlement outcomes for humanitarian migrants, building on existing research, combining qualitative and quantitative data, and addressing identified gaps in research.
- The Australian Government should repeal the laws and reverse the policies that effectively exclude people seeking asylum from settling in Australia, including temporary protection visas.
Read the full submission