Call to Increase Refugee Numbers
18 February 2014 at 9:54 am
The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) has urged Australia to increase the number of refugees it accepts under its annual offshore humanitarian program.
Releasing RCOA’s annual submission on Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program, Chief Executive Officer Paul Power said there was significant community concern about the Coalition Government’s decision to reduce the number of permanent refugee and humanitarian visas from 20,000 to 13,750 annually.
“Many people we consulted as part of the submission process felt that the decision to reduce the size of the program was counterproductive and inappropriate when forced displacement is on the rise and protection needs are becoming more acute,” Power said.
“In 2012, the number of people displaced by persecution, conflict, violence and human rights violations increased from 42.5 million in 2011 to 45.2 million by the end of 2012, with 15.4 million of them being refugees.
“The gulf between refugee resettlement needs and the number of places available remains wide. Across the globe, just 89,007 refugees were resettled in 2012 but the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has identified 691,000 refugees as being in need of resettlement in 2014.”
Power said that Australia must also do whatever it could to improve conditions for refugees who will never be resettled.
“Australia could and should play an important role in supporting diplomatic action to address issues in countries of origin which result in people being displaced as refugees and supporting countries of asylum to improve living conditions for refugees within their borders.
“Participants in our consultations, many of them recent arrivals and with relatives living in various parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East see UNHCR’s role as vital and want to see Australia continuing to give generous support to UNHCR projects.”
Power said Australia needed to lead by example in encouraging other countries to accept more refugees and in modelling asylum policies which provide protection for the vulnerable.
He said RCOA’s consultations on the Refugee and Humanitarian Program reflected widespread community concern about the general direction of Australia’s asylum policies.
“Many community members are distressed to see Australia’s implementation of punitive, deterrence-based policies which are destructive for people seeking Australia’s help but also undermine international efforts to protect refugees.”
“Other concerns centred on the Government’s use of the term “illegal” to describe asylum seekers arriving by boat, the impact of deterrence policies on asylum seekers living in the community, the reintroduction of temporary protection, family separation, the failure to renew Bridging Visas and the new Code of Behaviour that will apply exclusively to asylum seekers,” Power said.
The submission makes 49 recommendations which include: reviewing Australia’s migration program to identify opportunities for refugees to enter Australia through skilled and family streams; revising the Community Proposal Pilot to ease access for applicants; developing a separate Humanitarian Family Reunion Program; increasing support available to asylum seekers in the community; abandoning offshore processing, and; restoring a single statutory system of onshore processing.
RCOA says its submission is based on consultations held late last year throughout Australia with about 845 participants, representing 195 organisations and more than 35 different national and ethnic groups.
The submission and recommendations can be accessed at http://refugeecouncil.org.au/r/isub/2014-15_Intake%20sub.pdf