Refugee Resettlement in Tasmania,
an International Context
First of all I would like to thank the Tasmanian Peace Trust for inviting me to give the Trust’s annual peace lecture. I would also like to thank Renee Valentino for her kind words of introduction and for sharing her perspectives on the Tasmanian and Western Australian detention environments that will give this talk some context.
I was reflecting on the importance of “Welcome to Country”, and the importance of having a home, the importance of having a culture, and so many of the people that have been displaced, both nationally and internationally. Many don’t have the benefit of a “welcoming country”, so it’s good to pay respect to those traditions and recognise our indigenous traditions.
Reflecting on some of Renee’s experiences, I thought I’d pull together a slide of the Tasmanian experience of asylum seekers. In April, 2011, Tasmania received its first lot of asylum seekers, or shortly thereafter.
There was a series of bad public meetings at Brighton Council, and I must say, I was disappointed with how some of these meetings unfolded. I don’t believe detention is good for the mental health and the well-being of detainees and people seeking asylum. However, it is national policy. This year at the United Nations High Commission for Refugees Amiual Tripartite Consultations on Resettlement there were mixed opinions on Australia’s mandatory detention regime.
Shortly thereafter, it all turned around. This was due in great measure to the involvement of the Tasmanian Asyltun Seekers’ Support group. Emily Conlon who used to work at the Migrant Resource Centre has been a champion of this cause. She’s the leader of the Tasmanian Asylum Seekers’ Support group. A lot of great work was done out in the community, building support to welcome these people, and now, Pontville is held up as a shining example of effective community engagement in a detention context. Having come out the other side, it’s good to see some of the positive outcomes, and experiences that came out of the Pontville Detention Centre.
Here are the figures for migration to Tasmania over the last ten years, in terms of humanitarian settlement.
Refugee Settlers in Tasmania by Country of Birth, 2002 – 2012
Country of Birth Settlers
Democratic Republic of The Congo 166
Sierra Leone 125
We accept approximately 500 people here in Tasmania from humanitarian backgrounds per year. About 60% of this population have settled in Hobart, and about 40% in and around Launceston. If you look at the trend over the last l0 years, the greatest intake of 2 people was from Sudan, Bhutan, Nepal, Ethiopia and now, Burma. The Karen Burmese in the south and the Chin Burmese in the north of Tasmania.
I might just reflect on some of the policy perspectives I have gained in my capacity as Chairperson of the Settlement Council of Australia. Mandatory detention in Australia as a policy was initiated by the Keating Government in 1992, whereby persons without a valid visa were placed in detention. The Howard Government in 1996 continued with this policy and made adjustments from 2001, and introduced the policy known as the Pacifc Solution. Under the policy asylum seekers were removed to third countries in order to determine their refugee status, namely at detention camps on small islands in the Pacific Ocean. A system of “temporary protection visas” for unauthorised arrivals was also established, and the policy of turning back the boats where possible was instigated, and we all know the results of that.
Many of those detained in Australian detention centres between 1999 and 2006 have been asylum seekers from Iraq and Afghanistan, who sought protection of asylum under Aust_ralia’s obligations of the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. More than 80% of these were fotmd to be refugees by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, with some decisions taking more than 8 months. Few asylum seekers were able to be repatriated to their country of origin.
In 2006 the Federal Government made a $400,000 compensation payout to a young boy, a young Iranian boy, for psychological harm he had suffered while being detained at Woomera and Villawood detention centres between 2000 and 2002.
Dr Sev Ozdowski, the Human Rights Commissioner of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, over the period of 1999 to 2002, held an inquiry into the mandatory detention of children. The inquiry found that between the 1“ of July 1999 and
the 30″‘ June 2003, 2,184 children were detained after arriving in Australia seeking asylum without a visa. A lot of children in detention! The enquiry found that children detained for long periods of time were at a high risk of suffering from mental illness. Mental health professionals have repeatedly recommended that children and their parents be removed from immigration detention.
For the final few years of the Howard Government, people smuggling between Indonesia and Australia had virtually ceased and Australia’s offshore detention centres were near empty. The newly-elected Rudd Govemment, under Immigration Minister Chris Evans, announced a series of measures aimed at achieving what he described as a more ‘compassionate policy’.
By the 2911th June 2011, the Australian Government had delivered on its commitment to move the majority of children in immigration detention into community based arrangements. Throughout 2009 to 2010, the flow of boats arriving to our north re-emerged.
Following an extended period of increasing boat arrivals and deaths at sea, the Gillard Government announced in May 2011 that Australia and Malaysia were finalising an arrangement to exchange asylum seekers for processed refugees. The plan was dubbed the ‘Malaysia Solution’.
Unable to secure a passage of the bill through Parliament following an emotional debate, the Government convened a panel chaired by Angus Houston to consider options. In August 2012 the Houston Report found that onshore processing encourages people to jump into boats. It called for the re-opening of offshore processing at Nauru and Manus Island. PM Gillard endorsed the plan in August of 2012.
So in July 2012 Paris Aristotle, [Director of the Forum of Australian Services for the Survivors of Torture and Trauma – FASSTT], and a colleague who was actually supposed to be with me at the United Nations, was pulled away on secondment by the 4 Australian Federal Government for a period of three weeks, to develop recommendations through the Houston Report.
The Houston Report amongst other recommendations increases the total of humanitarian places from 14,000 per anntun to Australia, to 20,000, over the next five years, and it’s to start immediately, and to protect Australia’s borders, bringing in off-shore processing again.
I guess one of the trends we’ve seen has been a large release in the last few years of people moving out of detention into community detention. Now, that’s a good thing, but as Chair of the Settlement Council of Australia, I must say the settlement sector itself, whilst resilient, has struggled with the quantum of these movements. Alone in the last year, around 2,500 people have been released into community detention.
The UNHCR has noted that it does not want to see a return to lengthy delays in remote island centres, and that it is concerned about the psychological impact on these individuals.
In September of 2012 the UNHCR said that as it opposes mandatory detention of people seeking intemational protection, the new guidelines make it clear that seeking asylum is not a criminal act, and that indefinite and mandatory forms of detention are prohibited under international law, yet the first asylum seekers were sent to Nauru in September 2012 after a government policy change.
I was asked to reflect on my role as chair of the Settlement Council of Australia. One of the great privileges I have is working with a national network of like minded CEO’s and multicultural leaders on matters of sector importance. These representations include giving advice to people like Kate Lundy, the Minister for Multiculturalism.
SCOA consists of multi-disciplined, multicultural thought leaders, that have a very strong sense of what effective settlement entails, and a strong commitment to human rights principles. l’m really fortunate to work with such a wonderful team, and also to work in and across the different levels of government, to impact policy change, particularly around human rights, and around refugees and asylum seekers.
As Chair of the Settlement Council of Australia I frequently comment on and contribute to federal government policy. The diagram below depicts how the Department of Immigration and Citizenship evaluate effective settlement. Some of the determinants include: social participation, economic wellbeing, personal wellbeing, independence, life satisfaction and being connected to the community. Settlement is a dynamic process and specific to the individual and their joumey in life.
In a Tasmanian context, there needs to be better access to education, employment, health, housing, justice, language services, transport, civic and social participation and standing, and social support.
It is a great privilege to be able to have those discussions with the Minister, and let them know from a Tasmanian perspective, how we can do things better.
Settlement is a very complex issue. Defined settlement indicators identified by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship form the basis of contractual mechanisms that the settlement sector works with. These indicators are founded in human rights principles and are something that most Australians take for granted.
One of the key determinants is economic well-being and social participation. Dr Graeme Hugo, a well-known Australian demographer, issued a report recently, around the social, civic and economic participation of people from migrant and refugee backgrounds. What he found is people from refugee backgrounds are more likely to stay in the country that they’ve been resettled in, more likely to contribute to the longer term economic goals, and when you look at the second and third generations, they’re actually contributing significantly more to the Australian economy than your Australian born citizen.
The Australian Federal Government in February, 2010 released the ‘People of Australia — Australia’s Multicultural Policy’. One of the key actions of this policy was the development of a national antiracism strategy. In my capacity as Chair of the Settlement Council of Australia, I was able to assist in shaping strategy, which involved working with the Federal Race Discrimination Commissioner, Dr Helen Szoke.
In a more local context, new Tasmanians experience racism in their daily lives. It’s out there at the bus stop, it’s out there in the school, and it impacts people’s access to services and participation in Tasmanian life. It’s good to see the goven1rnent’s renewed commitment to eliminating racism and its impacts.
As part of the new multicultural policy, a group was formed called the Australian Multicultural Council, and heading up the Council is Judge Rauf Soulio. I have the great privilege in my capacity as Chair of interacting with Rauf in various capacities.
One of the key recommendations from the Australian Multicultural Council is the commitment to have multicultural ambassadors. The role of the ambassador is to give positive messages on multiculturalism at the local level including commentary on matters like racism, better access to health, education and employment opportunities.
I’d like to acknowledge Isaiah Lahai and Sajini Smnar, who are People of Australia Ambassadors and are with us today. Now there are forty of these ambassadors nationally, and it’s very pleasing that Southern Tasmania has two of our very own.
Another key product of Australia’s multicultural policy was a commitment to strengthen access and equity. I meet regularly with Pino Migliorino, the Chair of the Federation of Ethnic Community Councils of Australia to develop strategies that improve access and equity in treatment for people of multicultural backgrounds.
In the lead-up to the trip to Geneva to represent Australia at the UNHCR, there was a working group in Melbourne with representatives from 22 different countries, and 87 delegates. The discussions in the working group emphasised strengthening cultural orientation programs for refugees selected for resettlement, ensuring adequate reception and integration support; reinforcing the engagement of local authorities; developing a welcoming 8 multicultural and refugee-friendly environment, and establishing twinning arrangements between member states.
At the working groups I sat next to a lady from Japan who was settling 30 Burmese families of refugee background in Japan. I asked, “How do you settle families from Burma in Japan?” and she mentioned, “Well, We put them out in the countryside, we try to connect them with the community.” I said to her, “How do they connect with the community? How do they get to engage with each other? What are the language barriers? What are the support structures that you need to wrap around these individuals, to ensure that they have a healthy quality of life in their new country?”
I got a really interesting response which showed a lack of development in their practices. With that in mind, I approached the Head of the UNHCR Asia Bureau and said, “Wouldn’t it be good to have a set of standards that applied across all countries, such that settlement for people of refugee backgrounds was consistent, and founded in human rights.”
That idea was taken up and Australia is in the process of developing settlement standards through the Settlement Council of Australia’s work in this area.
Some reflections on the working group in Melbotune in February, 2012 include the sophistication of Australia’s resettlement programmes. Comments from partnering countries like the US, Canada, the United Kingdom and New Zealand were very complimentary.
New and emerging resettlement cormtries have had some really good experiences and are becoming more involved with the international resettlement movement. It was particularly pleasing to hear about their experiences in resettling refugees and some of the twinning or mentoring arrangements that exist, for example between Australia and Argentina to ensure of their success.
My topic, the importance of settlement standards, was raised to ensure a consistent settlement experience internationally. One of the things noted was the importance of the lived experience of resettlement and how it supports resettlement practice. One of the things Australia does well, in an intemational context, is using people with the lived experience of being a refugee or asylum seeker, in delivering programs of support. In places like the US, in places like Canada, there is less involvement of bicultural support workers with the lived refugee experience.
The other positive comments that came out of the trip to Melbourne were compliments by the intemational audience, on the extent of research that Australia undertakes. Organisations like the New South Wales Centre for Refugee Research and Dr Graeme Hugo are doing some interesting longitudinal studies that have the power to inform better practice in service delivery.
The United Nations Annual Tripartite Consultation in July of 2012 was a bit of a daunting experience. There was dialogue over a period of a week which was quite intensive. The theme of the Consultation was “One refugee resettled, many lives protected.” A particularly nice touch was including refugee representatives in the conversation on international resettlement.
Daniel Zingifuaboro was the Australian refugee representative. Daniel is a resettled gentleman from Sudan, who works in Queensland. Daniel has since gone back to undertake an interior ministry position within the South Sudanese government. It’s a great testament to Australian resettlement programs that we can provide a safe space for people to develop their talents and bring this expertise back to new governments in foreign lands.
So, what is a refugee? The defifnition of a refugee is grounded in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, which recognizes the right of persons to seek asylum from persecution in other countries. The Convention, as a post-Second World War instrument, was originally limited in scope to persons fleeing events occurring before l January 1951 and within Europe. The l967 Protocol removed these limitations and thus gave the Convention universal coverage. It has since been supplemented by the progressive development of international human rights law.
A refugee is defined according to the Convention as “a person who has fled their country of origin and is unable or unwilling to retum because of a well-founded fear of being persecuted because of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”.
The United Nations makes it very clear, and it was a very humbling moment for me to understand that Australia is, through its mandatory detention program, contravening this international law.
What is an asylum seeker? An asylum seeker is an individual who is seeking intemational protection. In countries with individualized refugee status determination procedures, an asylum-seeker is someone whose claim has not yet been finally decided on by the country in which he or she has submitted it. Not every asylum- seeker will ultimately be recognized as a refugee, but every refugee is initially an asylum-seeker, and that’s a very important point to remember.
Developments in human rights law also reinforce the principle that the convention be applied without discrimination toward sex, age, disability, sexuality or other prohibited grounds of discrimination. The Convention further stipulates that subject to specific exceptions, refugees should not be penalised for their illegal entry or stay, including Whether or not they come by boat. This recognizes that seeking asylum can require refugees to breach immigration rules in and across borders.
For six consecutive years, the number of forcibly displaced people worldwide exceeded forty-two million: a result of persistent and new conflicts in diverse parts of the world. By the end of 2011, the figures stood at 42.45 million. Of these, 15.2 million were refugees and 10.4 million under the UNHCR’s Mandate.
In 2011, more than 800,000 people were displaced as refugees across international borders, the highest number in more than a decade. And this of course, has been only compounded by the Syrian situation. Another three and a half million were newly displaced within the borders of the country.
Of the world’s displaced, 25.9 million people — 10.4 million refugees and 15.5 million IDPs were receiving protection or assistance from UNHCR at the end of 2011. This was 700,000 people more than in 2010.
It was interesting to hear some of the accounts at the UN on people of the Rakhine State. The Rakhine people are not recognized by either the Bangladesh or the Burmese Governments, and are therefore referred to as internally displaced peoples and as such are extremely vulnerable populations.
Statelessness was estimated to have affected up to 12 million people by the end of 2011. However, efforts to assess the magnitude of the problem were hindered by the fact that the data captured by governments and communicated to UNHCR were limited to 3.5 million stateless individuals in 64 countries.
Presently, the top country is Afghanistan, and I thought it interesting that resettlement is presently only occurring formally in 22 countries. It doesn’t take into account countries like Italy, presently receiving forty thousand-odd people by boat.
One of the really concerning statistics was the number of unaccompanied children in refugee camps: 17,700 in total.
In 2011, some 876,100 individual applications for asylum and refugee status were submitted to government or UNHCR offices in 171 countries and territories.
Some of my key observations whilst at the UN was the intense focus on the power of language. Some of the feedback from member countries was why refugee resettlement in an international context is referred to as ‘burden sharing’ when it is part of member state countries commitment under the refugee convention. Australia has committed to resettle twenty thousand refugees for the 2012/2013 year. People bring skills, they bring expertise, they bring life experience. It‘s not a burden.
Twinning arrangements between Australia and Argentina is a mentoring approach towards refugee resettlement. In Argentina, they’re settling refugees mainly from Colombia, who’ve been displaced mainly as a result of a lot of the drug trafficking and wars.
New resettlement countries have the benefit of some 30 years of Australian experience to leverage. These new countries include: Romania, Argentina and Japan.
Europe has a strong history of irregular arrivals across borders, as such there has not been a strong commitment historically to UNHCR humanitarian programs. One of the interesting movements in the European resettlement space is a commitment to increase humanitarian intake through a movement called ‘20,000 by 2020’. This will mean that the combined humanitarian intake by 2020 will be equivalent to Australia’s present commitment. This is something that the Australian Govemment and the NGO sector can be very proud of in terms of its intemational commitment.
I spoke with the Canadians on their sponsored community placement program. There were some concerns around it creating a two tiered resettlement structure. This is something that the Australian Government is presently considering and already human rights activists and the NGO sector are advocating that this is a costly exercise for individuals seeking resettlement.
Next year, the focus of the UNHCR Dialogue will be on special interest groups, particularly LGBTI, women at risk and unaccompanied humanitarian minors. I have been invited back for a second year to represent Australia and I’m looking forward to continuing the dialogue with international subject matter experts on refugee resettlement.
UNHCR estimates the global resettlement needs at over 859,300 persons, including populations where resettlement is envisioned over a period of several years. This represents a 10 per cent increase of the estimates reported in 2012 (78l,3O0 persons). ln 2013 alone, UNHCR estimates the 2013 resettlement needs to be some 181,000 persons, which represents a five per cent increase from the projections for 2012 ( 172,200 persons).
By refugees’ country of origin, Somalis, Iraqis, Myanmarese, Afghans, and Congolese (COD) are the top five refugee populations in need of resettlement in 2013.
Now, to bring it back to a more local context, I put up a slide before that shows how many Bhutanese people there are in Tasmania. The Bhutanese have had an interesting journey to our shores usually via lengthy stays in Nepalese refugee camps.
Through our work at the Migrant Resource Centre, we have been trying to place them in active employment. To do this we ran a number of employer consultations which were well received. In an employment context, it is general practice to look at skill sets of individuals. The employers we met with were quite engaged and surprised to lean of the refugee experience. As a strategy, we were able to let employers know the resilience and commitment of these individuals to their new life and were able to dispel their previous deficit model approaches to these individuals. As a result of these consultations we were able to place six people in full-time employment, not a bad outcome given Tasmania’s high unemployment rates.
Another example of the Tasmanian resettlement experience is a group of Hazara men wanting to create an organisation to welcome new Hazaras in to Tasmania. Hazaras are an ethnic minority of Afghanistan. What struck me was the significance of their journey and their selflessness in wanting to create a better space for others who have arrived after them. We had a series of workshops with the community and consequently the foundations for an incorporated community organisation were forged. I’m really pleased to say that two weeks ago I had the great privilege of taking them all into Service Tasmania to register their organisation.
There is an Hazara community of about sixty-odd people here, and a lot of these individuals and families have transitioned through Pontville Detention Centre and now call Tasmania their home.
I would like to relay a story to you in closing that represents a positive resettlement experience to Tasmania.
The very first client from Pontville Detention Centre to be seen at Phoenix was a young Hazara man being held in continuing detention. He had made the journey to Australia 2 years previously, at the age of l7. The effects of such a long time in detention were both obvious and tragic in this young man. He left Afghanistan at the age of l4, illiterate, traumatised through suffering the loss of most of his family and then spent a few years in Pakistan, constantly in danger. He came to Australia via Indonesia and that perilous boat journey to then experience the isolation of Curtin Detention Centre. The 4 months he spent in Pontville began his process of healing and recovery. Surprisingly, he said that the connections he made with MRC staff, TASS volunteers, staff at Pontville and the “feel” of Hobart convinced him he had made the right decision coming to Australia.
His time in detention was well-spent; leaming English, maths, history, engaging in whatever activity was available and doing everything he could to heal and recover, even though he still lived behind wire. He was granted refugee status and released in December, 2011 and transferred to the mainland. We heard from him occasionally, letting us know of his progress and adventures. A young man thoroughly exercising his freedom and enjoying his choices. Then, several weeks ago, he was back in touch. He told us he is retuming to Hobart to live. He has felt a deep connection to Tasmania that has not diminished. He is coming back to study law at UTAS. He wants to give back to the country that (eventually!) embraced him while making a difference to the people who have known journeys similar to his. Welcome back.
— CEO, Migrant Resource Centre (Southern Tasmania) Inc
Cedric has been the CEO of the Migrant Resource Centre (Southern Tasmania) Inc. since April 2007, working with refugees and migrants in the areas of settlement, aged care, employment, youth and community development. Prior to this, Cedric had 25 years of experience in corporate development and has lived travelled and worked in 43 countries spanning five continents. Cedric has completed post- graduate studies at London Business School, undergraduate studies at Newcastle University, NSW, and Sydney University of Technology.
From 2008-2011 Cedric held the position of Chairperson of the Mental Health Council of Tasmania, the state peak body representing the mental health sector. Cedric has been the Chair of the Settlement Council of Australia since 2010 working alongside Federal Govermnent ministers and stakeholders in improving settlement outcomes for people of migrant and refugee backgrounds. Cedric was awarded the 2010 Tasmanian Public and Community Sector Manager of the Year Award at the Tasmanian Business Leader Awards, in recognition of his significant community sector management achievements. In July 2012, Cedric was part of the Australian delegation to the Amiual Tripartite Consultation on Resettlement at the United Nations in Geneva, which is the primary international forum for dialogue and planning on resettlement of refugees.