This year’s Refugee Alternatives conference in Adelaide took place within a landscape of renewed optimism for refugees and people seeking asylum in Australia.
In October 2018, community organisations, faith leaders, and NGOs came together to challenge all candidates in the Wentworth by-election to get children off Nauru and oppose the cuts to support services for people seeking asylum. Dr. Kerryn Phelps took her strong commitment during the by-election into parliament, championing access to medical treatment in Australia for those who cannot get it on Manus Island or Nauru.
Less than a month ago, the last children left Nauru. The MedEvac Bill was also adopted by a parliament that, a year ago, would not have been willing to discuss refugees and people seeking asylum at all.
In December 2018, on the back of much advocacy by civil society organisations including JRS Australia, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) committed to abolishing all forms of temporary protection, and reintroducing appropriate safety nets for people seeking asylum.
The Conference itself brought together people with lived experience, academics, civil society practitioners, campaigners, activists, and professionals from across the Asia-Pacific and Australia to reflect on these successes, popularize a longer term civil society Platform for Change, identify pathways for achieving this change both pre-election and post, and continue discussions on outstanding issues.
A key highlight of the conference was the fact that more than 60% of speakers were experts and leaders with lived experience of being forcibly displaced.
In line with the broad theme, JRS Australia Policy and Advocacy Coordinator Nishadh Rego shared our insights into the successes and challenges of the #RoofOverMyHead campaign, a national civil society initiative to highlight the detrimental impacts of cuts to support services (SRSS) for people seeking asylum, local services, state governments, and NGOs and to oppose them.
A defining factor in the campaign was the constructive collaboration between peak bodies, faith organisations, international NGOs, and grassroots groups such as Rural Australians for Refugees (RAR). As was a clear, and layered strategy involving federal level lobbying, state level advocacy, media engagement, and grassroots action across 2018.
The Conference also provided an opportunity to consider how civil society could support the community to put what are fundamentally humanitarian issues on the election agenda in a non-partisan, constructive manner.
JRS Australia Director Carolina Gottardo presented at a Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum (CAPSA) community forum, with Catholic leaders and community members to discuss these challenges on Monday night.
JRS also supported Justice for Refugees SA (J4RSA) and the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) to host a community action workshop for people interested in hosting positive, values-based conversations on refugees and people seeking asylum around Adelaide in the lead up to the election.
Our commitment and participation in what was a jam-packed week in Adelaide demonstrates JRS Australia’s commitment to the fundamentals of our mission. Serving and accompanying people seeking safety must go hand in hand with advocacy for social and policy change. In Australia, the complementarity of this holistic approach is more vital than ever.