Politics Analysis

Australia is capable of taking more refugee action

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(Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons)

The current worldwide refugee crisis needs wealthy countries such as Australia to assist the UN and take in higher numbers of impoverished refugees, writes Dr Mehmet Aslan.

CURRENT REFUGEE displacement and settlement issues are a complex international problem affecting many countries including Australia. This complexity created by global political instability, in turn, creates problems for the UN and its member countries.

Australia has recently blamed COVID-19 for reducing refugee intake even though there is an economic need for refugees to work in our workforce. Employers continually remind the Government that they need more workers in all areas of the economy, yet the Government is slow to react.

Former PM Scott Morrison finally announced visas for Ukrainians early in 2022, but ignored the plight of many other refugees from around the world. The new Albanese Government has promised to speed up the intake of refugees and to allow family reunions to bring people who are living in very difficult conditions to Australia.

The refugee crises around the world demand immediate action, especially from rich countries such as Australia. Australia can take more refugees and help them resettle and build their lives in a peaceful, democratic country with a strong economy.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that more than 2 million refugees globally will require resettlement next year. This is up dramatically by 36 per cent from this year’s 1.47 million. This rise is attributed to the impacts of the COVID pandemic, the emergence of new displacement crises, the world shortage of grain and food, global warming and the growing number of armed conflicts. 

Climate change has also had a dramatic impact on all countries around the world. Wealthier and stable countries such as Australia have been able to lessen the impact of climate change and avoid famine and conflict. However, many African countries, particularly people from central and northern Africa, have experienced severe heat, famine and drought resulting in economic chaos and in growing numbers of people wishing to migrate.

These countries have also experienced local armed conflicts and wars that have displaced many and increased poverty. What is Australia doing to assist these refugees in dire circumstances?

By the end of 2021, around 60 million people worldwide were displaced following natural and man-made disasters. Tens of millions were forced to leave their homelands according to an annual report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC).

As the issues surrounding the COVID pandemic have eased and with greater safety requirements in place, countries like Australia can increase their intake of refugees. Australia still has a responsibility for increasing immigration and taking higher numbers of refugees. Australia has a strong economy and is well placed to assist disadvantaged refugees.

Many people from refugee backgrounds living and working in Australia already support families left behind in dysfunctional and poor countries. Family reunion visas must be increased and the process to bring families to Australia needs to be improved.

Early in 2022, the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) outlined some major issues that require immediate attention and action.

Two of their priorities are:

  • Priority 2 — The Federal Government needs to increase family re-union visas as the pandemic resulted in a suspension of TPV and SHEV holders.
  • Priority 3 — Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program needs updating and streamlining. The annual program needs to return to the 2013 level with at least 20,000 places per year to cope with refugees fleeing conflicts in Myanmar, Ethiopia, Syria, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Yemen and Venezuela and recently Ukraine. 

From a different perspective, Australian Research Council (ARC) research conducted by Professor Jock Collins has shown that refugees in Australia enjoy living in regional areas and found they have been warmly received by locals. In countries like Canada, many refugees have been successfully resettled in country and regional areas.

Research in Australia has shown that refugees are willing to reside in regional areas if they can find employment and job security. I personally assisted in this field research and I believe that more immigrants would settle in regional Australia if they had family reunion incentives.

From my experience with refugee families while in the education sector and being aware of challenges faced by people from refugee backgrounds, I have found that the following issues often emerge and need to be addressed. These issues have been documented in a number of studies.

These issues are:

  • finding employment;
  • language and communication barriers;
  • racism and discrimination;
  • community attitudes;
  • visa insecurity (temporary visa holders);
  • separation from family members and family reunion issues; and
  • ongoing mental health issues due to trauma.

Given these critical issues, much needs to be done by our federal and state governments to overcome refugee resettlement problems.

Major political parties have different political approaches to refugee issues. The former Liberal Government took a hard line on refugee issues. The results from the 2022 Election have strongly rejected this politics of fear approach and clearly shown that Australians want a more humane and compassionate country for refugees.

While the current Labor Government is more sympathetic, it still needs to find practical solutions to this problem. This is a humanitarian responsibility to assist refugees resettling in a land of opportunity. The Labor Party has made positive comments concerning family reunions, but more clarity is needed to ensure all people can be reunited with their loved ones quickly.

Why should reunion visas be delayed when families here can support their loved ones who live in difficult conditions with daily threats to their health and lives?  

It's not altogether inconsequential that the Liberal and Labor Parties’ promised strategies clearly differ from one another. Liberal Party strategy by preceding Liberal governments has been well-documented. In contrast, by 2025, Labor plans to raise the number of humanitarian positions to 27,000 annually (capped at just over 13,000 by the Coalition) and end temporary protection visas, which deny holders various rights.

Positive action on refugee issues is a matter of life and death. We do not want tragic deaths at sea as we experienced in the past. Refugees are desperate people, living in fear and without hope. We must all work together to give them a chance to rebuild their lives.

We should not underestimate the contribution of refugees and immigrants to Australia. There are many success stories highlighting the positive contributions of refugees and immigrants to our multi-cultural country. Talk will not solve the problems faced by our fellow human beings. Governments must take measures to bring refugees and newly arrived immigrants to our country and set up programs to ensure successful resettlement.  

Newly arrived refugees and immigrants need basic economic and financial support. Why would we bring these people to our wealthy country if we are not willing to ensure their successful resettlement?  

Dr Mehmet Aslan is an Industry Adjunct Fellow, Education Futures, Centre for Research in Educational and Social Inclusion (CRESI), University of South Australia. He received a PhD degree in an interdisciplinary field (Education Studies, Sociology, Cultural Studies) from Western Sydney University.

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