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Rebuilding a Principled and Strategic Refugee Program: Response to the Australian Government Discussion Paper on the 2022-23 Humanitarian Program (August 2022)

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The Refugee Council of Australia has made its submission on this year’s Humanitarian Program. We focused on rebuilding a principled and strategic program.

The past few years have seen major challenges and changes to the Humanitarian Program, introduced by the previous government. These have included:

  • Major cuts to the Humanitarian Program and creation of a ceiling – cuts in both 2020 and 2021 have meant that fewer refugees can be resettled through our Program. These cuts coupled with the move toward a program ceiling instead of a planning target has meant that over 14,000 life-saving places have been lost.

  • Costly and poor-performing Community Sponsorship Program (CSP) – the exorbitantly costly CSP has not provided a meaningful way to engage communities in expanding resettlement and, as a result, is the only resettlement program in the world that has not been fully subscribed.

  • An effective cap on onshore Protection visas – for two years in a row, the grant of onshore Protection visas was exactly 1,650 places. Last year, it was even fewer. This effective cap contributes to the significant, years-long delay in visa decisions.

  • Discriminatory practices – The Program has been tarnished by discrimination based on religion, ethnicity, gender, and mode of arrival.

  • UNHCR refugee priorities ignored – in 2021, Australia resettled just 350 refugees through UNHCR referrals. As global resettlement needs grow, ignoring these needs corrodes trust in the Program.

  • Refugee protection ignored for those in the Asia-Pacific region – there has been no proactive work to support refugee protection in our region, with Australia’s funding and policies focused mostly on deterrence of onward movement.

These troubling developments have come with the negative tone and tenure of public discussion about refugees, often fuelled by some members of the previous Government. What is needed is a new approach, both in the policies and practices and also in the tenure of the discussion.

We can restore the Humanitarian Program and Australia’s unique role in global resettlement by:

  1. Expanding the Refugee and Humanitarian Program
  2. Reorienting the Program towards humanitarian needs and a focus on UNHCR priorities
  3. Conducting a formal review of family reunion options, to be conducted in a co-designed process with communities
  4. Expanding and extending the Skilled Refugee Labour Agreement
  5. Replacing the CSP with a genuine community sponsorship model
  6. Ending the link between the offshore and onshore protection programs and abolishing the cap on onshore places
  7. Building a Humanitarian Program which works effectively to support solutions for refugees in the Asia-Pacific region

In our submission, we outline our responses, ideas, and recommendations related to the 2022-23 Humanitarian Program and beyond. In order to make our recommendations more accessible, we have colour-coded and categorised these based on the urgency and timeframes required for the proposed change:

  • RED: Recommendations in red are urgent and should be implemented in the short-term, by either the October 2022 budget for decisions with budgetary implications or by the end of the calendar year (December 2022) for policy decisions.

  • GREEN: Recommendations in green are medium-term needs often requiring further consultation and co-design, with changes required in the next 12 months, to be implemented in the new fiscal year 2023-24.

  • BLUE: Recommendations in blue are longer-term asks and require progressive implementation over the next three years until 2025.

A summary of the recommendations are included at the end of the submission.