What civil society organisations can do
If a strategy for change in refugee policy in Australia is entirely reliant on positive action from the government, then we restrict our role to arguing with the Government until it is implemented. We need to take positive action ourselves. Here are some suggestions for things organisations and communities can do – and I’m pleased to say that the Refugee Council is involved in each of these in some way right now. There’s plenty of scope for others to make their own contribution.
The Global Compact on Refugees encourages nations to share what they do well with others. Having had the opportunity to see how refugee support works in a number of other countries, we have identified some positive practices Australian NGOs have to share with counterparts in other countries. European NGOs could learn a lot from the way Australian NGOs engage former refugees in service delivery here, providing refugees with jobs while expanding the cultural expertise of the services. Our refugee youth programs and our torture and trauma services are, I believe, the best in the world. We should share this practical knowledge with others.
The Refugee Council is working diligently on trying to create opportunities for former refugees to be more centrally involved in the refugee policy debate in Australia. We have supported the development of Refugee Communities Advocacy Networks in New South Wales and Victoria and are looking at supporting similar networks in South Australia and other states. We have worked with these networks and the Australian National Committee on Refugee Women on submissions and giving evidence to Parliamentary inquiries, on high-level advocacy with senior government officials and Parliamentarians and with international advocacy with UNHCR and the UN Human Rights Council.
In June, we worked to bring together refugee-led networks from Australia, New Zealand, Asia and Europe in Geneva in the margins of the annual UNHCR-NGO Consultations and are now working with others on the possible development of an international network of refugee-led organisations. People with lived experience have much more than just personal stories to share. There are many articulate advocates in our refugee communities. They need to be given the opportunity to be at the policy makers’ table.
Our government is largely ignoring the vital work in neighbouring countries of national NGOs and refugee community organisations which are involved in supporting refugees. Concerned and interested Australians need to step in. Many of you will have seen the documentary “The Staging Post”, a local initiative of people here in Adelaide which shows the way Australians have worked with refugees in Indonesia to support the development of a refugee-led initiative, the Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre. We need to do more of this.
Despite our financial situation, over the past two years, the Refugee Council has put $30,000 a year into small projects run by impoverished national NGOs in South East Asia to support refugees. These include education projects, interpreter training and information for people seeking asylum. Governments and international NGOs are ignoring these needs. Australian organisations can step in, with money and with volunteer or logistical support.
As a community, we need to respond when we see people seeking asylum being victimised by our government, as is happening now with 60 to 70 people previously transferred from Nauru and Manus who have had all assistance stripped from them. In the past two weeks, people around Australia have been mobilising to meet these needs. There is more that can be done to support other Bridging Visa holders who are really doing it tough.
And we need to continue to advocate for the change we want to see – for an end to policies which treat people harshly and for positive initiatives which can bring people together. We believe that a genuine community-based private sponsorship scheme will be introduced in Australia at some stage in coming years – and we’d like to work with people here in South Australia who want to make that happen.