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Refugee Week launch: speech to Victoria University, Melbourne

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Refugee Week launch Saturday, 15 June 2013

Speech to Victoria University, Sunshine

Firstly I join with others in acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we stand today, the Boonwurrung and Wurundjeri tribes of the Kulin Nation. I too, pay respect to their elders and to all Aboriginal people here today.

I am immensely pleased to be here today to mark the beginning of Refugee Week in Australia.

There's probably not a more appropriate place to be than the western suburbs of Melbourne. The west is home to an extraordinary number of refugees from all parts of the globe.

As the Federal Member for Gorton, as well as the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, I'm extremely proud to represent and to live in such a wonderful place.

I'd like to extend my thanks to Victoria University for hosting this event. Victoria University are a fundamental part of the western suburbs, providing opportunities for young people from the west, including so many migrants, refugees and their children. I acknowledge all the distinguished guests here today, noting that so many of you are refugees. Even three of my staff, two of whom are here today with their families, are from refugee backgrounds.

I would particularly like to acknowledge my colleague from the state parliament, Mr Telmo Languiller, who is a refugee, having escaped persecution in Uruguay in the 1970's. From refugee to member of parliament is a great story.

There are many other great stories here today in this room.

For our government, and for all of us here today, Refugee Week is an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the rich diversity of refugee communities and people who have settled in Australia and the profound impact they have made on our community, our economy and our civic life.

This week there will be celebrations in all states and territories. There will be public forums, citizenship ceremonies, cultural and other events all over Australia. During this time we celebrate our differences and strive to build a greater understanding between our communities.

People may come here under our Humanitarian Program, but then they become Australian permanent residents, and then they become Australian citizens. The majority of humanitarian entrants take up citizenship as soon as they are eligible which is a demonstration of their commitment to Australia.

Ms Paxton has mentioned the citizenship ceremonies that will be held during Refugee Week.

I would also like to tell you about a citizenship ceremony taking place tomorrow in Adelaide for 185 Bhutanese people who arrived under the Humanitarian Program.

This was the first cohort of Bhutanese who arrived in 2008.

They are one of our newest refugee communities and they have clearly wasted no time settling in and becoming citizens of their new country. Minister Butler will be representing me at this event and will be welcoming our newest Australian citizens.

In their past life they may not always have been refugees. Like us they had lives, families, communities, jobs and homes.

As we know, people become refugees not of their own choosing…Refugee situations are usually the result of war and conflict; they typically involve persecution and human rights abuses in different parts of the world. People flee - not because they want to, because they have to.

Australia plays an important role as a member of the international community, in the system of international protection of refugees.

We do this at a number of levels:

 through international engagement on refugee issues with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organisation for Migration and with NGO partners

 through targeted development assistance and emergency humanitarian relief  through peacekeeping and conflict resolution measures  through assistance to countries who have been

hosting refugees for decades  through capacity building and rebuilding infrastructure in countries of origin to support

refugees who return home and  through our resettlement program.

On this occasion, I am pleased to announce that we have reached a major milestone. Australia has welcomed 800 000 refugees and other humanitarian entrants since World War II.

This figure includes the onshore and offshore components of the Humanitarian Program, and there are a number of people here today who are representative of the program that has spanned almost 70 years.

It began with around 170 000 Eastern Europeans who had been displace by World War II and who arrived between 1947 and 1954.

In the next two decades we welcomed thousands of refugees from crises throughout Europe, including the Hungarian uprising of 1956 and the Warsaw Pact military intervention in Czechoslovakia in 1968.

The 1973 coup d'état in Chile resulted in the first of more than 16 000 people from Central and South America.

In 1975, civil war compelled around 18 000 Lebanese to migrate to Australia and the end of the Vietnam war sparked massive outflows of Lao, Cambodian and Vietnamese refugees seeking safety in South East Asia and directly in Australia.

The Indochina refugee crisis prompted the government of the time to introduce a clear refugee policy and administrative machinery - the forerunner of today's Humanitarian Program.

In 1981 the Special Humanitarian Program was introduced to provide resettlement for people who faced substantial discrimination in their home country and who had family or community ties in Australia.

By the mid-1980s the program had diversified with up to 40 nationalities represented, including significant Eastern European, Latin and Central American and Middle Eastern caseloads.

The Gulf War and the war in former Yugoslavia resulted in growing resettlement from those regions in the 1990s.

At the same time, the Special Assistance Category was introduced to provide for other ethnic groups with close links to Australia.

The proportion of resettlement from the African region increased between 1998 and 2005.

Various conflicts in the Middle East and South West Asia (predominantly Afghanistan and Iraq) resulted in large numbers of people in need of humanitarian assistance, and since 1998-99 about one third of the program has gone to people from this region.

Since 2005-06 the focus has shifted to include Asia with groups such as the Burmese in Thailand and the Bhutanese in Nepal increasing in numbers.

This has been our proud history.

Australia's Humanitarian Program is something of which all Australians should be proud.

I don't have to tell you all here today, that our refugees and humanitarian entrants have made an important contribution to Australia.

Research by Professor Graeme Hugo on the Economic, Social and Civic Contributions of First and Second Generation Humanitarian Entrants affirmed that humanitarian entrants have made a distinctive and significant contribution to the fabric of this nation and our economy.

I have already announced the good news about this coming year's Humanitarian Program:

 Australia will maintain the increased program of 20 000 people through the humanitarian program in 2013-14.

 This is in line with the recommendations of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers in their August 2012 report.

 Vulnerable women will again be a priority through our Woman at Risk program which the government increased to 12 per cent of the refugee component of the program in 2009-10.

 Included will be up to 500 places for people proposed under the recently announced community proposal pilot (CPP).

 Places will also be included for the resettlement of eligible Afghan locally engaged employees at risk of harm due to their employment in support of Australia's mission in Afghanistan.

We do this in co-operation with our international partners, the most important of which is the UNHCR.

Australia is a middle sized and generous nation in international terms but we can't possibly protect everyone who needs it. Nevertheless, we are consistently one of the top three resettlement countries in the world, along with the United States and Canada. We are one of a small number of countries that operate well-established and successful resettlement programs.

We certainly do our fair share and it's also something of which we can all be very proud.

I see many people here today who have come to Australia as Refugees or under other humanitarian programs, who have worked hard, have studied, have learnt a new language, and who are now making a great contribution to our community, to our economy and to our culture.

So there is cause to celebrate during Refugee Week, and to acknowledge the extraordinary people who have lost and suffered so much and who now contribute so greatly to our country.

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URL: Last update: Monday, 17 June 2013 at 15:11 AEST