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Launch of Australian Refugee Welcome University Sponsorship Consortium

Old Parliament House, Canberra – 6 November 2023
Speech by Paul Power, CEO, Refugee Council of Australia

Thank you, Professor Parry, for your welcome and for the invitation to speak today. I also begin by acknowledging the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people who are the traditional custodians of the Canberra area and pay my respects to elders past and present and to all Indigenous people.

It is an honour to speak at the launch of the Australian Refugee Welcome University Sponsorship Consortium. It is wonderful to see universities from each state and territory in Australia stepping up to participate in the development of a complementary pathway through education for refugees with few, if any, opportunities in the countries where they have sought protection from persecution.

We are all aware of how dire the global situation is for people who are forcibly displaced. The total number of people forcibly displaced passed 110 million this year for the first time. Among those displaced are 36.4 million people living as refugees outside their country of origin and 6.1 million people currently seeking asylum. Around 85 per cent of the world’s refugees live in low and middle income countries where, in most cases, there is no possibility for them to build a long-term future for themselves, to find a durable solution.

Unfortunately, last year just 114,000 refugees were resettled to 21 countries. Resettlement, which is seen by many in Australia as the solution for the situation of refugees, was available last year to fewer than one in 320 refugees, to just 0.3 per cent of the global refugee population.

We collectively need to do everything possible to increase resettlement but we also need to find other ways of supporting solutions for refugees. Over the past decade, there has been increasing international interest in finding pathways which are additional to resettlement, exploring how we can develop and expand the pathways refugees have been able to find themselves in small numbers through employment, education, family reunion and other forms of migration.

US President Barack Obama’s Leaders’ Summit on the Global Refugee Crisis in 2016 laid the ground work for the Global Compact on Refugees adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2018. That Compact called for, among many other priorities, the development of a three-year strategy to expand access to durable solutions for refugees through resettlement and complementary pathways.

The task of developing that resettlement and complementary pathways strategy was given to the Annual Tripartite Consultations on Resettlement (the ATCR), which brings together governments, NGOs and refugee representatives from nations involved in resettlement, along with UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration and other international bodies. In 2019, the ATCR, under the leadership of the United Kingdom, laid out a very ambitious plan to find solutions over the next 10 years for three million refugees – one million through resettlement and two million through complementary pathways including labour migration, community sponsorship, humanitarian pathways, family reunion and education.

Within one year of this strategy being launched, the world found itself in the grip of the COVID pandemic and resettlement reduced to a trickle in 2020 and 2021. But in 2022, the ATCR, under the leadership of the United States, looked again at that ambitious 10-year plan and decided to stick with the goal of finding durable solutions for three million refugees but push the deadline back two years to 2030.

Each year, a different resettlement country takes on the leadership of the resettlement dialogue and in June this year Ireland handed the baton on to Australia. For the 12 months until July next year, the Department of Home Affairs and the Refugee Council of Australia are working together on the co-leadership of what was the ATCR but has now been renamed the Consultations on Resettlement and Complementary Pathways (or CRCP). We share this responsibility with UNHCR and with the CRCP’s global Refugee Advisory Group.

In December, the United Nations in Geneva will host the second Global Refugee Forum, a four-yearly gathering to assess progress on the implementation of the Global Compact on Refugees and to seek pledges for concrete action over the next four years. Governments and organisations around the world are developing or considering pledges on many forms of action to better address needs and opportunities for refugees.

Just two weeks ago, the Department of Home Affairs, the Refugee Council of Australia, UNHCR and the CRCP Refugee Advisory Group hosted two international online forums to discuss and promote pledges relating to resettlement and complementary pathways. Our goal is to do everything we can to encourage states and organisations to make concrete pledges of their own or to sign on to joint pledges developed by others to increase opportunities for refugees seeking long-term solutions for themselves and their families. Immigration Minister Andrew Giles will be among the international leaders attending the Global Refugee Forum in Geneva in five weeks’ time. We will all be interested to hear the pledges being made by the Australian Government.

In February, we and the Department of Home Affairs will be inviting people from around the world to come to Sydney for a Working Group on Resettlement meeting to explore how to improve practice in the post-arrival support of resettled refugees. This will give us as Australians an opportunity to showcase what is happening in this country and also to learn more from international colleagues about approaches to refugee settlement and integration. The role of complementary pathways, including education, will be an important part of that discussion.

Then in June, Australia will chair the 2024 Consultations on Resettlement and Complementary Pathways, a three-day meeting in Geneva to share information on what has been happening since the previous year’s meeting and to share plans for the future.

So, at a time when Australia is so engaged in international leadership on durable solutions for refugees, it is important for us to be collectively working on the development of the one key complementary pathway which has not previously existed in Australia. That is why the launch of the Australian Refugee Welcome University Sponsorship Consortium is so timely.

I look forward to seeing education pathways for refugees in Australia develop with the support of the universities involved in this consortium. When we see what is occurring in countries around the world – from Canada where an education pathway has operated successfully for 40 years to the Philippines where De La Salle Araneta University has recently welcomed its first four Rohingya students from Malaysia – we know that there is great potential for an education pathway for refugees. We know that this pathway will transform lives and also that Australia as a nation will benefit greatly from the life-long contributions of those able to access it, in the same way that our country has benefited from the ambition and drive of the nearly one million refugees settled here over the past 75 years.

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