JRS calls for a regional response to forced migration

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JRS proposes a standardised system of regional protection which is underpinned by principles of justice and compassion. 

The need for cross-border and regional collaboration on refugees has never been greater, and Australia has the potential to play a leading role in the development of a regional response to forced migration in the Asia-Pacific region, says Jesuit Refugee Service.

JRS’ recently-released paper titled A Regional Response to Forced Migration says Australia can no longer ignore its duty in helping to establish an agreement that will ensure governments share the burden of displacement and provide safe pathways for the 8.4 million displaced people currently living in the Asia-Pacific region.

JRS’ Head of Policy and Advocacy, Oliver White, writes in the paper that while Australia’s Operation Sovereign Borders policy may have slowed the boats, it has failed to solve the broader issue of the lack of protection for refugees further upstream in host and transit countries.

“If Australia is to effect broad and long-term change, its core objective should not be to ‘stop the boats’; rather, it should join affected states in Asia Pacific to develop a regional approach which manages the movement of people and provides durable solutions for those in need of protection. It is essential that such an approach would place the protection of refugees ahead of national politics and border protection,” he says.

The paper comes as Immigration Minister Scott Morrison is said to be preparing to sign an agreement with Cambodia for the handover of refugees transferred to Nauru. Such an agreement would not offer a long-term solution for people moving through the region, not least because the Asia-Pacific region has the lowest number of signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention in the world. Consequently, people transiting through the region face numerous and often insurmountable challenges including the risk of arrest, indefinite detention and trafficking.

JRS proposes a standardised system of regional protection for refugees which is underpinned by principles of justice and compassion. It includes the recommendations that refugees be recognised as distinct from other migrants; that funding be earmarked to increase capacity to register and process refugees; that refugees be issued with temporary documents to avoid being detained under immigration laws, temporary work permits and access to public utilities, including schools and hospitals; and that safe repatriation be assured for those deemed not in need of international protection.

As part of a regional framework, states’ respective roles and responsibilities would be clearly defined, and clear mechanisms for accountability introduced. Australia should play a leading role by increasing the number of refugees it resettles, on the proviso that other states in the region do more to protect refugees on their own territory, the paper says. Local integration could be encouraged through an incentive system, thereby removing the demand for people smugglers.

“Finally, there is no place for deterrence, deflection and containment in a regional approach to managing the flows of refugees. If refugees moving through the region can have their claims for protection assessed in an orderly and timely manner, and solutions can be found for those found to be refugees, then the harsh and punitive conditions in places like Manus and Nauru will become redundant,” says Mr White.

Read the full paper here

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