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A Migrant and Refugee Week stocktake

  • 20 August 2018


During Migrant and Refugee Week 2018, Catholics are being asked to reflect on Pope Francis' 2017 call for a shared response to 'welcome, protect, promote, and integrate migrants, displaced people, refugees, and victims of human trafficking'.

As part of such a reflection it is important to consider how our society is heeding this call and putting it into action, and where we can do better. There are key things to be positive about.

The Australian government has increased the number of visas granted to UNHCR-recognised refugees from 16,250 to 18,750 in 2018–2019. Multiple state and territory governments have provided study and travel concessions to people seeking asylum who would otherwise not be able to afford and therefore avail of these basic rights. More than 140 local government areas and councils around the country have declared themselves Refugee Welcome Zones.

Thankfully, there has been vocal bipartisan opposition to Fraser Anning's performance in parliament last week, although such a response is something we should expect and not have to congratulate.

Nonetheless, on the whole, our leaders' approach to migrants and refugees has been far from welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating. For the first time in decades, an Australian government is actively challenging the multicultural consensus that has dominated the public and policy discourse on migration since the 1980s. In the international sphere, Minister Dutton's recent threat to pull out of the Global Compact for Migration is the clearest indicator of the government's current approach to migration.

Domestically, a new bill making it more difficult for migrants to become citizens is once again on the table. Moreover, specific migrant and refugee communities continue to be damagingly singled out for spikes in crime as has been the case with the poisonous rhetoric on the South Sudanese community in Victoria.

Many recognised refugees arriving by boat do not receive permanent protection visas. They have to restate their claims every three to five years, living in a situation of limbo and separated from their families, as if memories of persecution in chronically fragile states such as Afghanistan and Myanmar dissipate after these time periods. There is ample evidence to show that temporary protection visas do not deter future arrivals, but in fact worsen long-term settlement outcomes.


"What we are likely to see is a manufactured humanitarian crisis of unprecedented scale in our main cities."


More than 1500 people seeking asylum languish on Manus Island and Nauru, including 170 families and at least 158 children,