Asylum Seekers, the Refugee Crisis


Peter Khalil: I am also very pleased to speak on this motion put by the member for Gellibrand, my friend, and the member for Mallee. It relates to an issue that is close to my heart, because my parents came to Australia from Egypt 47 years ago. They escaped a region where conflict was the norm and opportunities were very limited. We know that the most recent report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the statistical yearbook, states that there are some 65 million forcibly displaced people around the globe. That includes around 21.3 million refugees in UNHCR camps. Half of that number are under the age of 18. Global numbers of displaced people have trebled since World War II, and the global community must confront what I think is the reality: that we are in the midst of a global humanitarian crisis. The UNHCR validates this assertion by noting that the number of displaced people fleeing from war, conflict or persecution is at present the highest since World War II. This includes in our region around half a million refugees and asylum seekers just in South-East Asia.

I have said previously in this place, including in my first speech here, that Australia must put aside partisan politics to work to find sustainable and compassionate solutions for the international refugee crisis, so I am heartened by the bipartisan support for this motion that has been put by the member for Gellibrand. Australian governments, businesses and community organisations exploring ways to provide private sponsorship and expand the resettlement of refugees in Australia through formal channels is a very good idea. Community or private sponsorship programs would allow non-government entities such as businesses, religious organisations, community groups and individuals to meet the costs of visa applications and resettlement services for refugees, either via direct financial contributions or the provision of in-kind goods and services. It is one creative and compelling initiative that can help tackle the global crisis which I have mentioned. I note, as previous speakers have, that Canada is a very good example of this model being successfully employed. Since 1978 it has resulted in Canada successfully settling more than 275,000 people over and above those resettled through government funding.

This motion also acknowledges the efforts of the UNHCR and the Open Society Foundations to advance this model in many other nations. During the United Nations Summit for Refugees and Migrants in New York last year, the UNHCR, the government of Canada and the Open Society Foundations launched a joint initiative to increase private sponsorship of refugees around the world. Business and civil society groups, I understand, will be campaigning for this objective in Australia and around the world over the next 12 months. It is a good cause and a good initiative.

In the past I have expressed a desire for Australia to take a leadership role in brokering a multilateral solution for the 21 million refugees in UNHCR camps worldwide. I have talked about an international agreement between 10, 15 or 20 countries to take an additional 30,000, 40,000 or 50,000 refugees a year, which would start to be a real solution, resulting in half a million to a million refugees being resettled to a safe haven each year. We can only do this with an international framework that involves multiple countries. This particular initiative of private and community sponsorship is just one such way that Australia can have a positive impact on the challenges the international community faces with this humanitarian crisis.

I note the previous Labor government commenced a community sponsorship pilot program in 2012, and I note that this government committed to making the program permanent as part of US President Obama’s refugee summit last year. That was a very good initiative by both the past Labor government and the present coalition government. The current program is capped at 1,000 places within our current intake quota. Australia certainly cannot solve the global humanitarian crisis on its own. It cannot solve the international refugee problem on its own. But it is important that we play our part by meeting our obligations as a good global citizen. I think together multiple nations can do their part to have a positive impact on the situation that we are all facing. So I will take this opportunity to once again state that we as a nation can and must do more when it comes to the global humanitarian and refugee crisis which is upon us. Every action we take will have an impact, and this initiative, I believe, will ensure it is a positive impact. Of course, what will flow from that is the potential to save lives. Every life saved is a victory.