United Federation OF Volunteers for Refugee Action advocates for refugees by urging Australia Government to uphold Australia as proud tradition as a leader in refugee protection and support.
Early refugee settlement
The history of Australia’s refugee program can be traced back at least 170 years. The first easily identifiable group of refugees were Lutherans who began settling in South Australia from 1839 to escape restrictions on their right to worship within the state of Prussia. During the 19th century, other settlers included Hungarians, Italians and Poles leaving situations of religious and political persecution. After Federation, the new Australian nation continued to allow refugees to settle as unassisted migrants, as long as they met the restrictions imposed by the Immigration (Restriction) Act 1901, the cornerstone of the White Australia Policy. In the following three decades, small numbers of Russian, Greek, Bulgarian, Armenian, Assyrian and Jewish refugees were permitted to settle after proving they met Australia’s migration criteria. Between 1933 and 1939, more than 7,000 Jews fleeing Nazi Germany were settled. In 1937, the Australian Jewish Welfare Society pioneered the first refugee settlement support services, with financial assistance from the Australian Government. This settlement program was cut short by the outbreak of World War II. “Australia council of Refugees”
The post-war program
After the war, a much larger refugee program was commenced as Australia launched an ambitious immigration program to meet labour shortages in a growing economy. In July 1947, the Australian Government entered into an agreement with the new International Refugee Organisation to settle displaced people from camps in Europe. In the next seven years, Australia welcomed more than 170,000 refugees, the largest groups being from Poland, Yugoslavia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Ukraine, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. To meet the needs of the refugees and other migrants, ship-board English classes were established (the precursor of the modern Adult Migrant English Program), army camps were converted to migrant hostels for on-arrival accommodation and the Good Neighbour Council was established to foster and coordinate volunteer settlement support. In the following two decades, the overwhelming majority of refugees were Eastern Europeans fleeing persecution in Soviet Bloc countries. Numbers of humanitarian arrivals increased substantially after the crushing of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 and the Warsaw Pact countries’ invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. In the early 1970s, the refugee intake began to diversify. In 1972, 198 Asians expelled by Uganda’s President Idi Amin were settled. Humanitarian settlement from Chile commenced the following year after a military coup deposed the Allende Government. Cypriot refugees began arriving after the Turkish invasion of Northern Cyprus in 1974 and the 1975 war in East Timor brought 2,500 evacuees to Darwin, marking the beginning of a Timorese refugee diaspora in Australia.
The fall of the South Vietnamese Government in Saigon in April 1975 began a chain of events which prompted a rethinking and reorganisation of Australia’s refugee program. The mass flight of Vietnamese refugees into nearby countries prompted an international response to which Australia committed support. By late 1975, the first 400 Vietnamese refugees had been selected by Australia for resettlement from camps in Guam, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. Over the next two decades, Australia was to resettle more than 100,000 Vietnamese refugees from various Asian countries. Only a small proportion, around 2000, came directly to Australia by boat to seek asylum. The first to arrive were five Vietnamese refugees who reached Darwin Harbour in a 17 metre fishing vessel. Another 55 boats followed in the ensuing six years.
Even in the first few months after the fall of Saigon, the scale of the refugee crisis being created was apparent. This prompted the Australian Senate’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence to begin an investigation of how Australia should respond. In 1976, the committee, in its report, Australia and the Refugee Problem, identified an urgent need for a new approach to refugee settlement. Citing the Department of Immigration’s failure to offer any additional assistance to newly arrived Vietnamese refugees, the report said this provided “irrefutable evidence of the complete lack of policy for the acceptance of people into Australia as refugees rather than as normal migrants”. The Senate committee made 44 recommendations about the development of a new refugee resettlement policy. This report marked the beginning of new thinking which transformed the national refugee program from the humanitarian element of a general migration program to a dedicated and planned humanitarian program supported by a sophisticated system of settlement support.
The modern history of Australia’s refugee program – The development of coordinated responses to refugee resettlement
Australia’s modern approach to refugee settlement began with the Federal Government’s response to the 1976 Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence report Australia and the Refugee Problem. In May 1977, the then Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, Michael Mackellar, announced a new national refugee policy, including procedures for responding to designated refugee situations, a series of strategies to involve voluntary agencies in resettlement programs and plans to allow the settlement of people in humanitarian need who did not fall within the UNHCR mandate or Refugee Convention definitions. In the following year, Mr Mackellar tabled the landmark Galbally Report, Review of Post-Arrival Programs and Services for Migrants, committing $49.7 million over three years for the implementation of the report’s recommendations on language teaching, settlement services and other migrant services. The late 1970s also saw the establishment of the first Migrant Resource Centre in Melbourne (February 1977), a new loan scheme to assist refugees into home ownership (March 1979) and further expansion of the then Adult Migrant and Refugee Education Program. In December 1979, the Community Refugee Settlement Scheme commenced, involving community groups in providing newly-arrived refugees with on-arrival accommodation, social support and assistance with finding employment.
In the early 1980s, the refugee program expanded to an annual intake of up to 22,000, the largest annual intake in 30 years and a level not seen since. Vietnamese refugees settled from camps in Asia made up the bulk of new arrivals, with significant numbers of refugees also from Laos, Cambodia and Eastern Europe and smaller groups of Soviet Jews, Chileans, El Salvadorians, Cubans and members of ethnic minorities from Iraq (Assyrians, Armenians and Chaldeans).
The Special Humanitarian Program (SHP) was established in 1981, providing a settlement option to people who had suffered serious discrimination or human rights abuses, had fled their country of origin and had close ties with Australia. In 1984, the refugee program included 106 Ethiopians, the first significant group of Africans. The mid 1980s saw increases in the number of refugees and humanitarian entrants from Eastern Europe (Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania), the Middle East (Lebanon and Iran), Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, East Timor and Latin America (El Salvador and Chile), with continued, though declining, settlement of refugees from Indochina. Growing awareness of the psychosocial impacts of persecution and conflict led to the establishment in 1988 of the first torture and trauma services in Melbourne and Sydney. Similar services were established in other state and territory capitals in subsequent years, leading to the development of a national network of torture and trauma agencies.
In 1989, a special visa category within the refugee program was established to facilitate priority resettlement for refugee women at risk and their children. In the 20 years since then, Australia has resettled 8,800 refugee women and their children under this program. In 1991, the Special Assistance Category (SAC) visa was introduced to respond to crises in particular countries, permitting settlement of people in vulnerable circumstances and with connections in Australia. The SAC provided resettlement options for people from the former Yugoslavia, the former Soviet Union, East Timor, Lebanon, Sudan, Burma, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Cambodia and members of the Ahmadi religious movement. However, the SAC was progressively phased out by the Howard Government, which expressed concern that it had, at least in part, become more of a family reunion program. Its preference was for humanitarian family reunion to be handled under the SHP, through the split family provisions it introduced from 1997.
The 1980s and 1990s brought significant changes to the delivery of settlement services, with the shift from migrant hostels to the On Arrival Accommodation program, from the old Grant-in-Aid Program to the Community Settlement Services Scheme and with the replacement of the Community Resettlement Settlement Scheme in 1997 by the Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy. These and later changes in the delivery of settlement services were traced in more detail in our submission for the 2008-09 Refugee and Humanitarian Program.
In this decade, we have seen further changes to service provision and significant shifts in the regional composition of the Refugee and Humanitarian Program. A decade ago, half of the program was focused on resettlement from Europe. Now this makes up less 1% of the program. Resettlement from Africa increased from 16% a decade ago to 70% in 2003-04 and 2004-05, being reduced to a third of the program today. The continuing crisis in Iraq and the commencement of large-scale resettlement of Burmese from Thailand and Bhutanese from Nepal have seen the program shift to one evenly divided between Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
According to the best estimates available, 2009-10 was the year in which Australia, since becoming an independent nation, passed the 750,000 mark in its intake of refugees and humanitarian entrants. From Federation in 1901 until 1948, no official statistics were kept of refugee settlement. However, research published by the Australian Parliamentary Library estimated that Australia received 20,000 refugees in this period. From July 1948 to June 1977, Australia received 269,266 assisted humanitarian arrivals, as well as another 33,000 unassisted humanitarian arrivals, according to DIAC estimates. Since the modern Refugee and Humanitarian Program began in 1977, Australia has received 392,538 offshore refugee and humanitarian entrants and has issued 42,714 onshore protection visas. With the passage of the Refugee Act. Australia resettles the most vulnerable refugees, including: women and children, victims of torture, and religious minorities.
This brief summarises the many changes to Australia’s refugee and asylum policies in recent years. These changes have largely been a political response to an increase in the number of people seeking asylum by boat (51,637 arrivals in the past five years) and in deaths at sea (at least 862 deaths over the same period). Both of Australia’s major political parties have responded by blocking access to protection in Australia and penalising those coming by boat.
For many years, Australia has set a number of visas under the Refugee and Humanitarian Program to resettle people for humanitarian reasons (offshore resettlement) and for grants of asylum in Australia (onshore protection). In recent years, this was set at 13,750 places, excepting the 2012-13 financial year, when it was increased to 20,000 (the largest increase to the program in 30 years).
This reverted to 13,750 places with the change of government in September 2013, before increasing to 16,250 in 2017-18. In September 2015, the Australian Government announced a one-off intake of another 12,000 resettlement places for refugee fleeing the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. All of those visas were granted by March 2017. The Government has confirmed that in 2018-19 the Program will increase to 18,750, although this number is now referred to as a ‘ceiling’.
Refugees assimilate into the fabric of Australia Society. They become commercial holders and landowners, bringing not only economic opportunities, but a sense of community. They are actors, agriculturalists, Lawyers, Doctors, CEOs, and Secretaries of Australia. Most importantly, they are our neighbour’s.
No. Though the UNHCR recommends or refers people for resettlement, the ultimate decision to grant a visa rests with Australia’s Immigration Department. Australia has four offshore refugee category visas: Refugee (visa subclass 200); In‐Country Special Humanitarian (visa subclass 201); Emergency Rescue (visa subclass 203); and Woman at Risk (visa subclass 204).
Applications for an Australian refugee category visa, whether self-referred or referred by UNHCR must be made on the prescribed form which is available from Australian overseas missions and from the Department’s website. Applicants are expected to provide as much documentation as possible (including certified copies) at the time of application to assist in identity verification. The application must be lodged outside Australia at an Australian diplomatic or trade mission and will be processed at designated Australian missions around the world. Unsuccessful applicants receive a letter indicating that one or more of the legal criteria have not been met. Though there is no mechanism to appeal an adverse decision, unsuccessful applicants may re-apply.
It is not known how many people lodged offshore refugee visa applications in 2015 (it was approximately 35,000 in 2013–14) but the average processing time for refugee visas from time of application to the grant of visa in 2014–15 was approximately 14 and a half months (62.7 weeks).
Refugees seeking to enter Australia on a Refugee visa (subclass 200) must satisfy numerous criteria that are more onerous than onshore Protection visas. For instance, in addition to being subject to persecution and meeting health, character and national security requirements, the Minister must be satisfied that there are ‘compelling reasons for giving special consideration to granting the visa’ having regard to:
Also, the Minister must be satisfied that their permanent settlement would be the appropriate course for the applicant and would not be contrary to the interests of Australia. Moreover, the visa grant must be consistent with ‘the regional and global priorities of the Commonwealth in relation to the settlement of persons in Australia on humanitarian grounds’. In other words, there must be a visa available under the Humanitarian Program for the given program year.
Asylum seekers can lodge an application to be granted an Australian offshore refugee category visa of their own volition without UNHCR involvement. However, it is not known how many such applications are made and successfully lead to visa grant. The reality is that the majority of asylum seekers who have fled persecution will, by practical necessity, register with UNHCR for protection, assistance, and if necessary (and if deemed eligible) resettlement to another country.
If UNHCR assesses a refugee to be eligible for resettlement it does not mean that they have joined an orderly ‘queue’, and that they will be guaranteed resettlement to another country when their ‘number comes up’. Though refugees may be assessed by UNHCR as eligible for resettlement, in reality they face a potentially indefinite waiting period for a resettlement country to offer them a resettlement place depending on the urgency of their individual needs. This process has been likened to a hospital triage system in which needs are constantly reassessed in order to prioritise the most acute cases. Moreover, the ultimate decision as to whether they will be granted a refugee visa is dependent on the country which has agreed in principle to resettle them.
Of the 145 States Parties to the 1951 Refugee Convention, only about 30 participate in the UNHCR resettlement program and accept quotas of refugees on an annual basis. UNHCR estimates there are currently approximately 80,000 resettlement places offered by resettlement countries around the world but that there are currently in excess of one million refugees in need of resettlement.
No. There is no requirement under Australian law that a person be registered with UNHCR prior to applying for an Australian refugee category visa but in practice most have been recognised as refugees by the UNHCR and have been referred to Australia’s Immigration Department for resettlement (UNHCR referred cases). However, that does not mean that Australia only accepts refugees from UNHCR camps. Despite the iconic image of refugees living in white tents in a sprawling emergency camp, the reality is that over 60 per cent of the world's 19.5 million refugees live in urban environments.
The perception that resettlement is the ‘right way’ to seek protection has been described as ‘misguided’. This is because refugees do not have a right to be resettled and countries including Australia are not legally obligated under the 1951 Refugee Convention or any other international instrument to accept refugees for resettlement.
Refugee resettlement is a voluntary scheme coordinated by the UNHCR which facilitates burden and responsibility sharing amongst countries that are party to the 1951 Refugee Convention. Significantly, UNHCR emphasises that resettlement should complement and not be a substitute for the provision of protection to persons who apply for asylum under the Convention (for example, spontaneous arrivals such as asylum seekers arriving by boat.How many refugees does Australia accept for resettlement?
As the following table indicates, the number of offshore refugee category visas granted since 1975 has varied greatly, the highest number being in the early 1980s under the Fraser Government when Australia granted 20,795 visas mostly to Indochinese, and the lowest being 1,238 ten years later under the Hawke Government. From 2000 onwards, the Government has slightly increased the annual quota of refugee visas to its current level of around 6,000 visas where it has remained for the last ten years with one notable exception. The most dramatic increase was under the former Labor Government in 2012 when the number of offshore refugee visas granted doubled to over 12,000 in one year in response to the recommendation of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers.
The security of the Australia’s Refugee Assistance Program is of the utmost importance to all refugee resettlement advocates, including united federation of volunteer for refugee action. We work to suggest advocacy voice to Australia Government and the public on the already rigorous vetting that refugees undergo before arriving to the Australia and emphasize the multitude of national security experts who believe in the security of the Program, including the former head of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Refugees are the most vetted population coming to Australia. Australia Government and the Department of Home Affairs, Immigration and citizenship. Australia shares responsibility for protecting refugees worldwide. Share responsibility for screening refugee applicants, and use biographic and biometric data to vet individuals against multiple intelligence databases. The entire process from referral to the Australia to completion of security checks takes an average of 14-36 months.
Providing a safe haven for refugee’s means adequately funding which provides assistance to newly arrived refugees while they become self-sufficient. Additionally, this funding assists the local communities that welcome refugees. UFVRA advocates on behalf of refugee and asylum related funding accounts.
Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program, administered by the Department of Home Affairs (Home Affairs), is designed to ensure that Australia can respond effectively to global humanitarian situations and that support services are available to meet the specific needs of these entrants.
The offshore component of the Refugee and Humanitarian Program (‘Humanitarian Program’) helps people who are subject to persecution or substantial discrimination amounting to gross violation of their human rights in their home countries and have fled their home country.
People who are resettled in Australia under the Humanitarian Program are referred to as ‘humanitarian entrants’.
All humanitarian entrants resettled in Australia undertake strict health, character and national security checks before being granted a visa. This is consistent with the requirements to be met by all applicants for an Australian permanent visa.
The Australian Government provides a range of settlement services aimed at assisting humanitarian entrants and eligible migrants within their initial period of settlement. These services assist clients to become self-reliant and participate equally in Australian society and minimise longer-term reliance on support services.
Service providers deliver the initial settlement support for humanitarian entrants on behalf of the Australian Government. Support is provided on a needs basis, which means that not all clients will require all available services.
Humanitarian entrants over the age of five are eligible to attend an Australian Cultural Orientation (AUSCO) course before their departure for Australia. AUSCO gives practical advice about the journey to Australia, including quarantine laws and information about what to expect on arrival.
Humanitarian entrants may also be referred to community organisations funded under Settlement grants. Settlement grants provide support for humanitarian entrants and other eligible migrants in their first five years of life in Australia, with a focus on fostering social and economic participation, personal well-being, independence and community connectedness.
Activities funded under Settlement grants aim to help people become self-reliant and participate to their full capacity in the Australian community. The services funded under Settlement grants include: casework/coordination; youth settlement services; community coordination and development; and support for ethno-specific communities.
We live in a multicultural society. The Australian Government and agencies have an obligation to provide equitable access to services regardless of the cultural and linguistic background of clients.
The Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) (administered by the Department of Education and Training) is designed to help eligible visa holders, including humanitarian entrants, learn foundation English language skills to assist with their successful settlement in Australia.
English language skills are essential for newly-arrived migrants to secure employment, access further education and training and better connect with the Australian community.
All AMEP clients have access to up to 510 hours of English language courses in their first five years of settlement in Australia. Participation in the program is voluntary.
Eligible humanitarian entrants may also access the AMEP sub-program called the Special Preparatory Program (SPP). The SPP provides up to 400 additional hours of tailored English classes to eligible humanitarian entrants in recognition of their greater learning and support needs arising from difficult pre-migration experiences, such as torture or trauma, and/or limited prior schooling.
In addition, the Australian Government provides the Free Interpreting Service to eligible organisations when communicating with clients with no or low English language proficiency. Eligible organisations include private medical practitioners, pharmacists, non-government organisations, real estate agencies, local government authorities, trade unions and parliamentarians. The service aims to provide equitable access to key service that are not government funded.
The Australian Government also provides the Free Translating Service, to people settling permanently in Australia, for the translation of essential personal documents. Applications for the Free Translating Service can be lodged online at translating.dss.gov.au. The service aims to support participation in employment, education and community engagement.
Yes, humanitarian entrants are eligible for the full range of Australian Government employment services assistance, and also income support, from the date of their arrival in Australia. They have an initial 13 week exemption from activity test requirements. During this period they are not required to engage in employment services, but the opportunity is available for them to volunteer.
HSP and Settlement grants caseworkers can provide clients with information about Government employment services, including jobactive and Disability Employment Services; the job seeker assessment processes; and accompany clients to Centrelink, where job-ready clients may be referred to a Job Capacity Assessment. After this, the client may be referred to Australian Government employment service providers, who will assist them to find employment. HSP Case Managers may attend a client’s first employment services appointment, contribute to employment services planning and support clients to implement employment strategies.
When humanitarian entrants arrive in Australia through the Humanitarian Program, they arrive as permanent residents and can immediately access income support payments under the same eligibility criteria as any other Australian permanent resident.
This is in recognition of the difficult circumstances they have faced, and the fact that they come to Australia with limited money, possessions and social networks to assist them to meet basic living expenses.
Humanitarian entrants do not receive higher benefits than other social security recipients. They have the same entitlements as all other Australian permanent residents.
Humanitarian entrants are often located close to family members or their proposers (‘links’) living in Australia.
DSS is responsible for determining the settlement location of humanitarian entrants who arrive in Australia without a proposer or close family link. Where possible, DSS settles these humanitarian entrants in regional locations across Australia that provide the best access to reasonable housing, education and employment prospects.
When considering referrals of humanitarian entrants to urban and regional locations, DSS will consider the adequacy of local infrastructure, availability of settlement services, suitable accommodation, employment opportunities and a welcoming community.
Humanitarian entrants must meet the same requirements as other Australians to be eligible for public housing. They are not given preferential treatment and must remain on waiting lists, as do other Australians in need of public housing. Most find accommodation in the private rental market, where they apply for properties on the same basis as other Australians.
Humanitarian entrants arriving in Australia naturally face challenges in adjusting to the Australian way of life. Despite these challenges, most humanitarian entrants settle successfully and make a positive contribution to the Australian community.
Research undertaken in 2011 by Professor Graeme Hugo from the University of Adelaide, (Economic, Civic and Social Contributions of First and Second Generation Humanitarian Entrants) shows that humanitarian entrants make an important contribution to Australia in many areas including social engagement, workforce participation, business ownership and volunteering within the community.
The research has also found that most humanitarian entrants’ families, especially those in the second generation, are able to adjust effectively over time and eventually match, and in many cases exceed, Australian-born levels of economic and social contribution.
The Australian Government also provides a number of services to Temporary Humanitarian Stay (449), Temporary Humanitarian Concern (786), Temporary Protection (785) (TPV) or Safe Haven Enterprise (790) (SHEV) visa holders. This includes:
Australia Refugees Law Amendment
Over the past decade a large number of amendments have been made to the Migration Act 1958 for the purposes of restricting onshore access to Australia's humanitarian migration program. The measures which have been proposed include enhanced border protection powers, restructuring of unlawful entry arrangements, mandatory detention of illegal non-citizens, codification of merits review and restriction or ouster of judicial review. A brief overview of legislation proposed between 1992 and 2001 is provided in Appendix 6.
More recent legislative proposals include targeted border protection powers, excision of areas from the migration zone for the purpose of protection visa applications and partial codification of the definition of refugee for the purpose of protection visa processing. The more recent proposed legislation is discussed below in this Current Issues Brief.
To some extent the measures have been and continue to be under threat from the courts. In gross terms there has been a battle between government policy setting and the rule of law. One academic commentator has spoken of 'ongoing conflict between ministers for immigration and the Federal Court involving public criticism of the judiciary by politicians and more subtle criticism of public policy by individual judges.(1) It is in this context of action and reaction that the current legislative proposals are situated. In the wider context is an apparently exponential increase in the number of 'unauthorised arrivals by sea' and thus onshore applications for protection visas under the Migration Act 1958.
Accordingly to the new Law, united federation of volunteers for refugee action has brought tens of thousands to safety through awareness and referral mechanism for refugee’s resettlement. As the global refugee situation has evolved, Migration Act 1958 for the purposes of restricting onshore access to Australia's humanitarian migration despite being a crucial part of Australia’s refugee policy, the current Migration Act 1958 must be reauthorized. UFVRA works alongside partners to ensure that the Migration Act 1958 for the purposes of restricting onshore access to Australia's humanitarian migration program continues to help safety.
To discuss the Migration Act 1958 for the purposes of restricting onshore access to Australia's humanitarian migration program with a UFVRA staff member, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Policy and Advocacy team works closely with our Community Engagement department to engage the Australian community in local, grassroots advocacy. Visit our webpage to learn more about volunteering and find resources, attend an even, and get more information about Australia refuges laws.
We also works with a resettlement partners throughout the Australia and international to support the integration of refugees and asylums and to advocate on their behalf. To find out where our resettlement partners are, click here.
HIAS participates in Refugee Council Australia a coalition of thousands, Australian-based non-governmental organizations dedicated to refugee protection, welcome, and excellence in the Australian refugee resettlement program.
For another example of united Federation of volunteers for refugee action’ work with local communities, program which helps combat anti-refugee sentiment and supports innovative local initiatives that highlight the benefits of refugee resettlement and their long term existence. www.ufvra.org.au