Advocacy is an essential facet of our work at JRS in that it seeks to improve the conditions experienced by current refugees and asylum seekers and to influence policy for future generations of people seeking asylum in Australia.
Advocacy is empowering for refugees in the practical sense in that it raises awareness around the rights to which they are entitled and helps them to exercise those rights.
We lobby for and promote the rights of refugees through our positions on governmental and institutional committees, advising government and NGOs on appropriate policy and program responses with the aim of developing a fairer asylum process and more dignified treatment of asylum seekers and refugees in Australia.
An important part of our work is the undertaking of research into forced displacement, particularly in the Pacific Region. We are engaged at various levels in the development of a regional cooperation framework to solve the refugee crisis in the Asia-Pacific region.
At JRS we base our advocacy policy on the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which is widely acknowledged as the cornerstone of refugee protection.
However, to guide our advocacy and service, we have expanded the definition of ‘refugee’ to encompass ‘de facto refugees’ including victims of armed conflicts, erroneous economic policy or natural disasters and internally displaced persons (IDPs). JRS’ advocacy is characterised by the following principles:
- It stems directly from our close engagement with refugees
- It is based on Jesuit values, inspired by Ignatian spirituality
- It is built on solid research
JRS advocates by:
- Seeking opportunities to advocate for those whose needs have been forgotten by others
- Addressing both the immediate needs and the longer-term policy objectives of specific groups of refugees and other forcibly displaced people
- Being close to the people concerned, and supporting their hopes and aspirations
- Creating spaces for dialogue between the centres of power and those who want to bring about positive change
- Ensuring that our approach is appropriate to local conditions and reflects local needs, resources and opportunities
- Prioritising our efforts by considering how they supplement the work of others
JRS advocates at the following levels:
- In the community or in detention centres, where our staff members undertake person-to-person advocacy on behalf of individual refugees or request practical help from outside organisations on behalf of the refugees they are accompanying
- Nationally, when lobbying for the implementation of fair and humane government policies and laws
- Regionally, while monitoring the movement of refugees and IDPs, collecting information on developments and helping to draft position papers on relevant issues.
- Internationally, when our offices in Rome, Geneva, Brussels, Nairobi and Washington present the concerns of the JRS network to governments and institutions that can improve conditions for refugees and lobby other actors to do the same. These offices work closely with the JRS regional offices in areas of broad concern, such as education, detention and urban refugees
Aware it is rare for one organisation alone to achieve major policy changes, JRS cooperates with other groups with common aims at a variety of levels: local, national, regional and international.
Although most of the time cooperation takes place at project level in an ad hoc manner, some of these issues need to be tackled internationally and in a more structured way.
For this reason, JRS International is a member, in some cases a founding member, of four international coalitions: the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Cluster Munitions Coalition, International Detention Coalition and Child Soldiers International.
Governments increasingly detain refugees, asylum seekers and migrants upon entry to the country and while final asylum decisions or other requests to remain in the country are pending.
Hundreds of thousands of people are held in administrative detention centres and closed camps around the world where living conditions frequently fall below international human rights standards and restrictions are placed on access to asylum for people in need of protection from serious human rights abuses.
Men, women and children, the elderly and disabled – the great majority of whom have committed no crime – are held against their will in removal centres, immigration detention centres, jails, prisons, police stations, airports, hotels, ships and containers pending a final decision on their cases or removal from the country that may take months or years to effect, often in overcrowded and unhygienic conditions.
Several governments around the world host large refugee populations and often place significant limits on the movement of resident refugees.
Cost of detention
Apart from the extremely negative human costs (psychological, physical and social) of detention, it is very expensive in financial terms. Alternatives to detention are much more cost-effective.
With regard to encamped refugees, keeping refugees in closed camps has economic implications for both the refugees and host communities, because refugees could be self-sufficient and contribute to the local economies.
Refugees who have been de-skilled by effective “warehousing” policies lose their economic capacity at great expense to their current and future human potential. This cost is borne by the country of asylum if they are unable to return to their country of origin or be resettled in a third country. Years of enforced idleness also undermine their ability to successfully re-integrate in their home countries, should conditions improve, or integrate into countries of resettlement.
- Under international law, governments do have the right to protect their national sovereignty. However, also enshrined in international law is the right to seek and enjoy asylum. Moreover, international laws protect against arbitrary and unlawful detention.
- Never use threats of detention to deter people fleeing human rights abuses from seeking asylum;
- Avoid the use of detention and seek alternatives to detention, e.g. supervised release, open centres etc;
- Where absolutely necessary, and where all other alternatives have been exhausted, ensure that detention is used only for identification or legitimate removal purposes, is subject to ongoing judicial oversight, and does not exceed a reasonable time limit;
- Do not detain individuals solely because they have applied for asylum – particularly vulnerable individuals such as children, torture and trauma survivors, pregnant women, the physically infirm and the mentally ill;
- Permit access to detention facilities by civil society organisations, legal representatives, representatives of religious institutions, and friends and families of detainees;
- Sign and observe the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, which provides for regular visits to and monitoring of detention centres;
- Provide conditions of detention that comply with basic human rights standards, including access to a lawyer, healthcare, education, and adequate food and water;
- In particular to governments of industrialised countries – provide additional development assistance for refugee-hosting areas in developing countries, encouraging host governments to permit refugees more freedom of movement;
- In particular to governments of developing countries – move from policies of encampment of refugees towards policies that allow refugees to become self-reliant.
To humanitarian agencies:
- Join the international coalition on detention of refugees, asylum seekers and refugees established by leading refugee and human rights organisations (www.idcoalition.org) and join in their advocacy work;
- Seek access to detention facilities in order to provide care and services for detainees;
- Alert the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention regarding any specific abuses you encounter.
To the general public:
- Learn about your own government’s policy on detention;
- If detention is used in your country to deter asylum seekers and refugees, raise public awareness of the effects it has on detainees and urge your political representatives to ensure human rights standards are respected;
- Establish visitor groups in your area to visit detainees;
- Visit the website of the International Detention Coalition and support its work.
Landmines/ cluster bombs
Up until the 1990s, antipersonnel landmines were used by almost all the world’s armed forces, in one form or another. Thanks to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, landmine use has dramatically dropped. Today, although the weapon is only used in a handful of conflicts, it continues to pose a significant and lasting threat.
JRS helped establish the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) in 1994, to accompany those injured by landmines, help survivors tell their stories, promote solid ethical reflection and support national campaigns.
The awarding of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize to the Campaign gave a boost to the many of our tireless staff who participated in the campaign. Tun Chunnareth, who has worked with JRS Cambodia for years and is himself a landmine victim, has been a prominent spokesperson for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. It was he who accepted the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo on behalf of the campaign.
JRS continues to lobby for the signing and ratification of the Mine Ban Treaty by other countries. We provide information for the ICBL’s annual ‘Landmine Monitor’, an in-depth study into the on-going use, production and destruction of landmines, as well as a watchdog style report on states’ commitments under the Mine Ban Treaty (1997 Ottawa Convention).
JRS has played a leading role in the campaign and contributed research on Cambodia, Thailand, and Indonesia for the ‘Landmine Monitor’. In addition we continue to support landmine survivors in countries such as Bosnia, Cambodia, Thailand, and Kosovo, and actively raise awareness of the issue in these and other landmine-affected countries.
Following the signing of the treaty banning landmines, civil society groups, including JRS, established the Cluster Munitions Coalition, and shifted their advocacy activities to concentrate on the prohibition of cluster munitions. These weapons, when fired, release hundreds of submunitions and saturate an area as wide as several football fields.
Like landmines, cluster munitions, or cluster bombs, often fail to explode on impact, representing a fatal threat to anyone in the area. Most cluster munitions, therefore, hit areas outside the military objective targeted.
After years of campaigning, in May 2008 in Dublin, Ireland, 107 countries negotiated and adopted a treaty that bans cluster bombs and provides assistance to affected communities.
The Convention on Cluster Munitions, CCM, prohibits all use, stockpiling, production and transfer of cluster munitions. Separate articles in the Convention concern assistance to victims, clearance of contaminated areas and destruction of stockpiles. It became binding international law when it entered into force on 1 August 2010.
Some reasons to campaign for a total ban on landmines and cluster munitions socio-economic costs
The presence of these weapons poses a threat to displaced civilians returning to their homes, hampers post-conflict development, renders agricultural land inaccessible and forces people to work in contaminated areas because there is no other means for them to earn an income. It also hinders the provision of aid and relief services and threatens, injures and kills aid workers.
The human costs
Antipersonnel landmines and cluster munitions still maim and kill ordinary people every day. They blow off their victims’ legs, feet, toes and hands. They fire shrapnel into their faces and bodies. They kill. Moreover, medical treatment for survivors, where available, is costly, burdening already overstretched healthcare systems.
Civilians bear the brunt
The vast majority of victims are civilians and not soldiers. This is not just during a conflict – most of the countries where casualties are reported are at peace.
Under international humanitarian law, parties to an armed conflict are obligated to protect civilians. Weapons that cannot discriminate between civilian and military targets or cause excessive humanitarian harm constitute a grave concern, and this is why countries signed a treaty banning antipersonnel landmines in 1997. It is important that countries do the same for cluster munitions.
Once planted or fired, cluster munitions and landmines remain unless they are cleared. The only way to prevent long-term damage is to stop their use altogether and devote resources to clearing contaminated areas and helping survivors.
Children are victimised
A child who is injured by a landmine or a cluster bomb may face months of recovery. A growing child with a prosthetic limb will need it refitted each year. Some never return to school after their accident. Many face social exclusion. Like adult victims, they will face enormous practical, economic, social and psychological challenges in their rehabilitation and reintegration process.
Border protection: there are alternatives
Mines are largely ineffective in protecting border regions, for example from non-state armed groups. Instead of offering protection, minefields terrorise and impoverish the communities living in the area. Alternatives exist and include the use of mobile and fixed border patrols and motion detection equipment and barriers.
Rape and gender violence destroy individuals and families, entire communities and the fabric of society. These acts have increasingly become a deliberate tactic of terror in war and other conflict situations.
Exile is a ramification of war, so there is synergy between our work and this campaign, particularly as SGBV is a constant and pressing issue in so many places like Colombia, DRC or Burma.
We believe that with enough of us working together we can make a difference in stopping these horrors and ending impunity.
Large numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons suffer sexual- and gender based violence in their homes, while they flee and once they arrive in their new host communities, be they urban areas or camps.
Present in more than 50 countries worldwide, JRS teams are often witnesses to these atrocities on a daily basis, and membership in the campaign offers enhanced opportunities to raise awareness of these crimes and promote political action.
It is a priority of ours to spread the word about this new initiative and find innovative solutions to this heinous crime, affecting an ever-growing number of women and girls each year.
Following the 2011 decision by the 10 JRS regional directors to select sexual- and gender-based violence as an advocacy priority, we’ve been seeking ways to raise public awareness of and public action on this issue.
Until now, commitments to end rape and gender violence in war and other conflict situations have been either seriously inadequate or simply not enforced. JRS supports the view that it is time to demand powerful, urgent leadership at the local, national, regional and international levels to:
- prevent and stop rape and gender violence in conflict situations.
- dramatically increase prevention and protection resources, psychosocial and physical healing for survivors, their families and communities, including a concerted effort to end stigma of survivors; and
- justice for victims including prosecution of perpetrators at all levels of society, and comprehensive reparation for survivors.
As well as bringing the perspective of refugees and internally displaced persons to the campaign, our teams have large and diverse networks with which to share information on sexual violence, and a grassroots organisational focus on prevention and protection supporting women and communities.
JRS teams provide psychosocial services and assist working groups and committees to develop appropriate advocacy and protection actions.
The global cooperative effort was launched on 6 May 2012 by Nobel peace laureates, international advocacy organisations and groups working on conflict at regional and community levels.
The mission statement of the new campaign is to unite organisations and individuals into a powerful and coordinated effort for change and to demand bold political leadership to prevent rape in conflict, to protect civilians and rape survivors, and call for justice for all – including effective prosecution of those responsible.
Although the geographical focus is expected to expand, the campaign is currently focusing on Burma, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya, because they represent places where immediate, coordinated action is most urgently needed.
We have teams present in all of these countries except Burma, in which case the organisation is working on the Thai-Burma border.
Australian refugee policy should be based in respect for the claim that people make on us by their plight and by the fact that they arrive on Australian shores.
What respect entails is codified in the United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees to which Australia is, and should remain, a signatory.
We can be proud of the number of people to whom we have offered protection, both those accepted from overseas camps and those who have applied for protection in Australia.
- People who claim protection should have their cases processed promptly and fairly. They should not be referred to as illegal or in other derogatory terms. Nor should the commitments Australia makes under the Convention be evaded by legal fictions.
- The principles of deterrence or of no advantage, by which the members of one group of people who have come to Australia to seek protection are treated harshly in order to modify the behaviour of others, should form no part of Australian policy.
- People who come to Australia to seek protection should not be transferred from Australian territory to other nations for processing or protection unless there is a firm regional agreement that assures they will have equivalent rights and support in the countries to which they are transferred, and will be promptly resettled if found to be refugees.
- Detention should be used only for necessary processing or when ordered by the Courts.
- People who seek asylum should generally live in the community. They should be treated with a respect for their human dignity that expresses itself in the right to work and to some financial support if they cannot find work. The financial burden of their support should be accepted by the Government and should not be shifted on to charities.
- Children should not be held in detention, but should be housed in the community with the full range of services necessary for their welfare. Young unaccompanied adults, families with children and those with mental and physical health issues should also be carefully supported when living in the community.
- The humanity of people who seek asylum is intimately bound to their connections with family. Their reunion with close family members should not be delayed.