Refugee Alternatives Conference

Refugee Alternatives Conference

Report by Helen Putland

If we felt lucky to have been chosen to attend this conference before the event, we felt privileged afterwards. While the program was demanding, it was, in many instances, delivered by people with rich lived experience of the refugee life as well as those who work closely on the international stage fighting for justice for the world’s refugees, displaced persons and those classified as “stateless”. On the administrative side, it was well organised and supported by many young volunteers, and the food - an important componenet of conferences - was very wholesome and tasty.

The Day 1 Key Address was given jointly by Yiombi Thona (Chair of Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network) and Carolina Gottardo (Director of Jesuit Refugee Service, Australia) who updated us on the 2016  New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants and introduced us to the development of a Global Compact  which has sprung from that.       

Mr Thona urged Australia to use its influence in countries in the Asia Pacific region by offering support in order to reduce the number of boat arrivals. He noted that most displaced people are in the Asia Pacific – an area which lacks most facilities for the safe, orderly and regular migration of refugees demanded by the Compact –and that the number of people of concern has been doubled by the Rohingya and Syrian crises.

Ms Gottardo said that Australia had been very active pushing its stance on the Compact. She said that while Australia wants to be seen as a leader in orderly migration, the anti-people-smuggling measures adopted by Australia indicate a desire to protect borders rather than to save lives. In stressing that no one should be left behind, she made special note of forcibly displaced women (who are not recognised as valid refugees) and victims of climate change, and that there should be no division of people into good or bad.

Session 2 highlighted the sheer numbers of people seeking protection – an example was 2,700 people per day leaving south Sudan – and that while resettlement is the best option, the opportunities are decreasing relative to the need.

Sharon and I chose different parallel sessions. I have given a brief outline of the sessions I attended, with links to speakers for further information.

Day 1 – A Continuum of Experience: Refugee Women in Australia

Day 2 –Getting Serious About Refugee Self-Representation and Statelessness.