Govt Refugee Commitments Welcome But Not Groundbreaking Say NFPs
21 September 2016 at 5:05 pm
Malcolm Turnbull’s commitments to boost the government’s humanitarian refugee program are “welcome but hardly groundbreaking”, according to Not for Profits.
The prime minister announced at the Obama refugee summit in New York on Tuesday that Australia would increase its intake of refugees to 18,750, up from 13,750, on a permanent basis.
It comes a year after Tony Abbott announced the increase would come into place from 2018/19 but it was not guaranteed beyond that.
Global aid agency Save the Children said the commitments belie Turnbull’s “failure” to make real new contributions towards helping ease the worst global refugee crisis in recorded history.
“Claiming that the maintenance of Australia’s already stated humanitarian intake for 2018/19 of 18,750 places into future years is some kind of significant pledge to help the international community deal with the global refugee crisis is disingenuous by the prime minister,” Save the Children chief executive Paul Ronalds said.
“Swiftly increasing Australia’s humanitarian intake to 30,000 places by 2018/19 would have been a much better response to the current scale of the crisis and a truer reflection of Australia’s social and economic capacity to resettle refugees.”
Turnbull also promised a $130 million boost over the next three years in support of peacebuilding and assistance to refugees, forcibly displaced communities and host countries.
And he also pledged that Australia would participate in the US-led program to resettle Central American refugees currently residing in Costa Rica.
Ronalds said while he welcomed the announcement of a $130 million boost, the additional funding “paled in comparison” to what the government was spending on its “deterrence-based” policy.
“While we welcome any additional financial contribution by Australia towards helping children and adults forced to flee their homes from conflict and persecution, the $130 million announced by the prime minister pales in comparison to the $9.6 billion the Australian Government has spent since 2013 maintaining its damaging and isolationist ‘deterrence-based’ asylum seeker policy,” he said.
“It also compares unfavorably to the $11 billion cut the Australian Government has made to the overseas aid budget in recent years.
“Australia needs to play its part alongside the rest of the world to help better protect vulnerable children and their parents who have been forced to flee their homes due to conflict and persecution.”
Turnbull was one of dozens of world leaders who attended the special meeting on refugees convened by US President Barack Obama on Tuesday in New York.
In his speech Turnbull reiterated the need for strong border protection policies and urged other countries to follow Australia’s example.
“Our strategy addresses all parts of the problem – employing strong border protection policies, a very tough stance on people smugglers, while tackling the causes of displacement, with a generous and compassionate resettlement program supporting refugees in our communities,” Turnbull said.
“We must have strong border protection policies that put the people smugglers out of business. We are all too familiar with the tragedy of lost lives at sea and on land caused by those so immoral that they are willing to traffic and exploit human desperation.
“Strong borders are not just about security. They are crucial to ensuring social harmony and public support for migration domestically… Australia is a prime example. Securing our borders has increased public confidence and enabled Australia to have one of the world’s most generous humanitarian systems.”
His comments followed a separate high-level UN meeting on Monday, which saw nations, including Australia, adopted a new set of global standards on international cooperation during times of mass movements of displaced people.
This agreement specifically encouraged nations to boost the number of refugees they resettle.
Save the Children criticised Turnbull’s failure to use his presence at the meetings to announce an “immediate, humane and sustainable” resettlement solution for refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island.
Ronalds said it was “embarrassing” that Turnbull had appeared on this world stage while his government could still not offer a resettlement solution for refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island.
“Upon returning to Australia, the prime minister must immediately redouble efforts to find a solution to the stalemate on Nauru and Manus Island,” Ronalds said.
“We know that this is what Australian voters want to see – just last week our polling revealed that 66 per cent of Australians want the prime minister to find a safe and sustainable solution to get people off Nauru and Manus Island.”
The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) has echoed calls for an urgent solution to the “glaring crisis” in Australia’s offshore detention system.
RCOA president Phil Glendenning said they organisation welcomed the government’s commitments as a step in the right direction but there was a “notable omission”.
“Committing to a permanently increased intake of almost 19,000 people under our Refugee and Humanitarian Program represents significant progress,” Glendenning said.
“We would like to see this figure increase further, particularly in the light of the commitment made by the US to increase its intake by an additional 22,000 people, which represents an increase of more than Australia’s total annual intake.
“We also strongly support the increase of $130 million towards peacebuilding and the delivery of support in host countries. This is an important contribution toward the durable solutions that the UN is seeking.
“However, there is an elephant in the room in the form of our offshore detention system.
“Our government has indefinitely imprisoned over 1,200 people on Manus Island and Nauru, and has made no meaningful attempt to resettle them. Today’s commitments do not excuse this fact.”
Glendenning said the government was “well aware” of the traumatisation, the serious mental health issues and the tragic number of suicides of the people detained in our offshore detention camps.
“We know that there is a systematic pattern of abuse of both adults and children,” Glendenning said.
“We cannot continue to ignore this appalling ongoing human rights tragedy, which our government is funding and managing.
“The UN, international human rights groups, lawyers and, importantly, two-thirds of the Australian population say it’s wrong. We say it’s wrong. The government must resettle these people immediately, and we know that the safest and fairest place for them to be is here in Australia.
“These people have suffered enough.”
Shadow Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Shayne Neumann slammed Turnbull’s speech to the United Nations refugee summit as a “hoax”.
“Smooth talk and empty promises can’t cover up the Turnbull government’s immigration failures,” Neumann said.
“Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton have failed to make any genuine steps to increase Australia’s humanitarian intake and are returning to Australia without securing third country resettlement options for the people on Manus and Nauru.”
He said the Turnbull government had “spent the last two days lecturing the rest of the world” but had “failed” to secure durable third-country settlement arrangements for refugees in the Australian-funded offshore detention centres.
“Peter Dutton’s failure to secure third country resettlement options has directly led to the indefinite detention of many asylum seekers and it’s not good enough,” Neumann said.
“The Turnbull government needs to immediately secure third country resettlement for refugees in offshore detention and increase Australia’s humanitarian refugee intake.”