As part of the global #WithRefugees campaign, UNHCR has worked since 2016 to demonstrate the solidarity of people all around the world with displaced people and encourage governments towards positive action and solutions. World Refugee Week 2018, June 18-24, will continue this theme.
Australia has a long history of successfully resettling refugees and humanitarian entrants. Since Federation, Australia has offered a permanent home to more than 800,000 refugees and others in need of humanitarian protection. Many former refugees are prominent in Australian business, government, education, the arts, sport and community life.
MiNDFOOD sits down External Relations Officer at UNHCR’s Regional Representation in Canberra, Catherine Stubberfield, as she shares her experiences and the many positive contributions refugees bring to the Pacific region. For, Stubberfield advocating for refugee protection and compassion is about making sure that humanity and care are always at the forefront of public policy and debate.
Share with us a story that highlights the plight of refugees globally?
I will always remember interviewing a young Syrian family as part of their UNHCR refugee status determination procedure in Sudan. The father of the family was around my age, with three young children. He and his wife had been through so much to try to protect their family during the war and finally make it to safety. As he was leaving the interview room, he said, “You know, I don’t know what happened to my life. I was just an ordinary high school teacher.” It was a real reminder of what we see every day at UNHCR – that refugees are people just like the rest of us, with great resilience and courage impossible circumstances.
Tell us about the current refugee situation in Australia?
Australia has such a proud tradition of humanitarianism and refugee resettlement. Since Federation, close to a million refugees have found a new home here and enriched our country over generations. More recently, the policy of “offshore processing,” under which thousands of men, women and children have been transferred to Papua New Guinea and Nauru, has caused immense harm and suffering to truly vulnerable people. More work is critically needed to make sure solutions are urgently found for all of these people, who have been left in limbo for almost five years now. There are also thousands of people in Australia who are seeking asylum, but who remain in a temporary and precarious situation due to the removal of legal assistance for many, and the recent withdrawal of financial and material support. So the situation is a fragmented one, with many achievements to celebrate, and much left to do.
What does the UNHCR in Australia do to assist refugees in the country?
In Australia, UNHCR works particularly on protecting the rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and displaced people, the resettlement of the most vulnerable refugees from all around the world and raising awareness about refugee realities and key issues. We support governments throughout the region through training for officials, working with asylum-seekers and refugees, and advise authorities on best international standards in respect to legislation, policy and procedures.
How can the average person get involved and help refugees better integrate?
Big statistics and the scale of global displacement can make the challenges of forced displacement feel overwhelming for all of us. But behind the number, there are just millions of ordinary human beings who have survived extraordinary circumstances and need safety and protection. The smallest gestures of welcome from each of us can make a huge difference – whether it be volunteering with newly arrived Australians of refugee background, helping a new student in your class at school or university settle into a new life, or donating to those who lead the response on the ground – like the UN Refugee Agency. Australia for UNHCR supports members of the community to get involved in fundraising through events such as fun runs, school activities, or special events.