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Refugee Week

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Philip Ruddock MP Federal Member for Dundas Shadow Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs

Tel: (02) 858 1011 Fax: (02) 804 6739

Electorate Parliament House

Tel: (06) 277 4343 Fax: (06) 277 2062


Refugee Week is a time set aside in the public calendar when we are asked to focus our attention on the terrible plight of the world's refugees.

Australia has international obligations towards refugees as a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Convention the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees.

The world today is currently facing its most serious crisis in regard to refugees that at any other time in history. There are some 17 million people who have been recognised as meeting the United Nations Convention definition of a refugee which is defined in Article 1A(2) as a person who:

"...owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country o his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it."

There are also an estimated 1.5 million displaced people in the former Republic of Yugoslavia and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) (1991) has placed the number of internally displaced persons worldwide at more than 30 million.

Australia's ability to assist in the resettlement of genuine refugees has been severely tested and compromised because of the current government's inability to deal efficaciously and fairly with our on-shore problems.

The refugee determination process in Australia is backlogged by over 23,000 claims, many of them unfounded and there is also the spectre of increasing numbers of unauthorised and undocumented people arriving on our shores.


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Australia has been generous in its refugee settlement program accepting over 500,000 refugees since World War Two.

The Coalition parties in Government have had a particularly proud record of refugee resettlement. In 1982-83 the number accepted for re-settlement was over 23,000.

However, the Labor Government has slashed that number in the past decade. Less than 6,300 places have been set aside in the 1992-93 program years' program for refugee resettlement. There is also provision for 3,700 places in the special assistance category. It must not be forgotten that it is in the last 10 years that the refugee population of the world increase several fold.

This represents an unacceptable decline in the level of Australia's commitment to assist those in genuine need of protection. Against the background of an enormous escalation of the refugee population, such a decline throws into question Australia's international standing in human rights and refugee matters.

It is imperative that Australia regain control of the refugee determination process so that we may once again be well placed to assist in the

resettlement needs of genuine refugees. .

As a nation we must also meet our obligations in respect of finding ways to ameliorate the conditions which force the mass migration of people. Increasingly the task will have to be focussed on the issues of causes, and of prevention, and of return.

Only then can our claim to a just, fair and compassionate approach to the refugee problem be honoured.

June 17 1992