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Refugee Council of Australia
Home > Reports > A platform for change: Reforming Australian refugee policy

A platform for change: Reforming Australian refugee policy

Improve engagement in Asia

Australia’s improved engagement in Asia

The problem

  • Most countries in the Asia Pacific region are not signatories to the Refugee Convention but several (Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia) host large numbers of refugees.
  • An urgent crisis in the region is the persecution of the Rohingya, which is rapidly coming close to genocide, without any durable solutions in prospect.
  • Refugees in these countries face many challenges, including most critically:
    • They are often not able to live or work legally, resulting in constant fear of deportation, destitution, illegal employment, and exploitation. In Indonesia this destitution is driving refugees to present themselves to detention in order to survive.
    • They are often unable to access basic services, including health services and education.
  • Calls by Australia for regional cooperation by Asia in relation to refugees often fail to recognise:
    • The far greater numbers of irregular migrant workers in those countries, which pose a greater challenge for those countries, and the comparatively small number received by Australia.
    • The fear of those countries that greater protection will act as a driver for further irregular migration and a shifting of the moral burden.
    • The lack of Australia’s credibility in the region when it comes to refugee protection.
    • The complexity of regional politics and the region’s attitudes to Australia.

Proposed policy solution

Our vision: Australia recognises that the interests of people and governments in the Asia-Pacific region are best served if nations work together to find the best answers available for people displaced by conflict and persecution, using its diplomacy, aid and refugee resettlement program to address the causes of displacement and increase access to durable solutions.
This can be achieved by:
The Australian Government must shift its focus from promoting deterrence and detention for people on the move in Asia, bringing the aid and diplomacy activities of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the refugee resettlement program of the Department of Home Affairs together into a coherent strategy to support:

  • The early identification of causes of displacement in the Asia-Pacific region.
  • Rebuilding after conflict and supporting the process of voluntary and safe repatriation of refugees when that becomes possible, viable and appropriate.
  • Efforts to encourage host nations in the region to address the needs of refugees within their borders, particularly the need for safety, freedom from detention, legal status, the right to work and access to education and health programs.
  • Continuing engagement in refugee resettlement from the region, working with other resettlement states (particularly New Zealand, Canada and USA) to focus on the protection of the most vulnerable and those with fewest options for durable solutions, while also using engagement in resettlement strategically to push for improved protection of refugees in host nations.
  • Greater engagement with civil society across the region, encouraging governments to work with NGOs, refugee community networks, business and local leaders to work together on better answers for refugees, returnees and host communities.

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