Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
JOINT STANDING COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE
07/12/2010
Australia's relationship with the countries of Africa

CHAIR —The hearing is resumed. I welcome our next witnesses. Would you care to describe the capacity in which you appear?

Mr Whitfield —I am the immediate past president and a founding member of both the Queensland African Communities Council and the Liberian Association of Queensland. I also serve as an executive member on the board of the Refugee Council of Australia.

CHAIR —Thank you for your submission and your appearance. This hearing is the equivalent of a meeting of the parliament, so all evidence must be truthful. If at any time you wish to discuss a matter in camera, please make a request at that time and the committee will consider it. I invite you to make an opening statement and then we will proceed to questions from members of the committee.

Mr Power —I will begin and then invite Mr Whitfield to add some comments. The fundamental point in our submission is that Australia’s relationship with Africa has changed as a result of the refugee settlement that has happened over the past 20 years. We now have more than a quarter of a million African-born Australians, of whom probably around one-quarter, possibly more, have come to Australia through the refugee and humanitarian program. The refugee and humanitarian program has diversified Australia’s links with countries of Africa, so we now have quite strong links with countries where, in the past, the links were quite weak. I am thinking particularly of countries such as Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Congo, Burundi and Rwanda. Traditionally Australia saw its links in Africa as being with the Commonwealth countries of eastern and southern Africa and that is no longer the case. We have a much more diverse range of links.

If you look back at refugee settlement in Australia since 1945, we can see the qualitative impacts of refugee settlement from eastern Europe and South-East Asia in particular. Australia has very strong personal and trade links with countries such as Vietnam and quite strong links with countries such as Poland and Hungary. This has been forged through people who were born in those countries and who left under very difficult circumstances but, when the situations in their source countries changed, were able to assist greatly in the development of new links between Australia and those countries.

The fundamental point we want to get across is that we are in the early stages of that process happening with a range of countries in eastern, central and western Africa. So we really want to draw it to the attention of the Australian government and encourage some thinking within government about how the government can encourage much more effective strategic links with African diasporas in Australia to put us in a stronger position as the situation is changing in traditionally refugee-producing countries to develop more effective links between our country and those countries. They would particularly be in the area in trade and business, but also there is a strong wish within African communities in Australia to develop aid and development programs in their countries of origin.

Southern Sudanese are the single largest group of people who have come to Australia through the Refugee and Humanitarian Program. Their home country is in a stage of transition. We certainly hope that the progress that has occurred over the last few years will continue and not be jeopardised by the threat what could occur after the coming referendum. But assuming that things continue to progress well, there is a strong wish amongst Sudanese Australians for more effective aid and development programs within their region of origin. So there are quite a number of community efforts in Australia to support education, health and basic assistance initiatives in southern Sudan. They operate largely without the support of AusAID or in many cases of the major Australian development NGOs. We would certainly like to see ways in which those links can be encouraged.

Unfortunately there are still many human rights issues across the African continent which it is important that Australia take up and explore ways in which we can highlight these issues. But of course the African diasporas in Australia are very effective sources of information about the current situation in many countries. Our organisation, the Refugee Council of Australia, regularly gathers information from African communities in Australia to take to UNHCR on an international level about refugee situations across Africa and certainly the Australian government in its work, particularly in foreign affairs, has a very effective sounding-board within the country which is largely not utilised on human rights issues across various parts of the African continent. I now invite Bobby to add to my comments.

Mr Whitfield —I will start by describing my own personal circumstances. Eight years ago I was a refugee living in a refugee camp in abject poverty. Through the Australian Refugee and Humanitarian Program I was resettled in Australia with my siblings. This opportunity really empowered us in such a way that our experience of poverty is now history. I support our recommendation put forward through the submission of the Refugee Council that Australia continue to significantly focus on humanitarian intake from protracted refugee situations in Africa. Last year I went back into some of those refugee camps and what I saw was really appalling and very disturbing. I came through the humanitarian resettlement program but not a lot of refugees have the opportunity to be able to reintegrate into civil society and empower themselves to have an impact on development initiatives in Africa. That is improving and refugee communities already in Australia, a lot of refugees who have come to Australia over the past 10 years or so, are now making significant contributions back home. They are remitting money to their family and friends in those villages, they are involved in construction projects which are developing schools and businesses within those communities. So through the resettlement program of refugees from protracted refugee situations—

CHAIR —We have lost our telephone connection. That is a shame. We will just give it another minute and see if we can get him back on the line. Otherwise we will go to questions for Mr Power. We lost you, Mr Whitfield, but we have you back again.

Mr Whitfield —Thank you. I just kept talking. I was referring to the Europe-Africa summit. Currently in Africa there are a lot of issues with respect to transparency and implementation of projects to meet true value. It comes from some historical point of view that African governments or African individuals may have issues with respect to Europe regarding their colonial past.

CHAIR —I think we have lost him again. Are you on a mobile, Mr Whitfield?

Mr Whitfield —Yes, I am on a mobile.

CHAIR —Stay in the one place.

Mr Whitfield —In regard to the issue of where one party is not trusting another, I think Australia has a very significant position. I quickly realised that Australia has a potential which is important for the development of the continent of Africa in the sense that it is fully utilised. Australia has a very big task for African communities which have come here and emerged through very genuine development programs. These communities will be able to make significant contributions in regard to impacting development back in Africa. I want to re-emphasis Australia’s position in terms of development on the continent of Africa. Australia can make a great impact whereas other countries are not verifiable by African countries or individual cases, professions or whatever. I think Australia stands in a position very much ahead of the rest of the world in terms of making significant and meaningful contributions in development in Africa.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Given that Australia is a very small country and obviously our aid and our refugee intake by world standards has to be tiny with a country of 20 million people, are we not better concentrating on refugees from places like perhaps South-East Asia, PNG or Indonesia where there are, I understand, camps? I acknowledge the conditions in Africa are quite difficult, to put it mildly, but there does seem to be a greater emphasis by the Europeans and perhaps even the Americans in Africa. Would we not be better concentrating our aid in and taking our refugee intake from places closer to home?

Mr Power —The important thing is to look at what is happening globally in refugee resettlements. Refugee resettlement, unfortunately, is only a very small part of the solutions offered to refugees. Last year, 2009, according to UNHRC statistics, 112,000 of the 15.2 million refugees around the world were resettled and that was significantly higher than for the last several years. We are talking about less than one per cent of the world’s refugees being resettled in any given year.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —That almost emphasises my point.

Mr Power —Yes. UNHCR attempts to use resettlements strategically to focus on highly vulnerable people and to focus on situations where a pressure on a country of asylum by re-settling some may open up possibilities for other solutions, particularly integration in the local population, as an answer. It is important that Australia work collectively with other countries of resettlement to ensure there are appropriate responses across the globe. This is one of the things we find frustrating. I am involved with UNHCR’s annual tripartite consultations on resettlement and have been for the last few years. I do not see a lot of cooperation in terms of planning between the different resettlement countries.

It could be argued that Australia should be put less emphasis on Africa, Asia or the Middle East—any part of the world—if this was something that was negotiated with other major countries of resettlement. For instance, if Australia was to withdraw from resettlement in one of the major regions of resettlement in the world it could do that if it negotiated, particularly with the United States and Canada, arrangements in which different countries were focussing on resettlement from different regions. Unfortunately, I do not see much of that happening currently in terms of the planning of resettlement. It is largely a case of the UNHCR pushing as hard as it can for resettlement from a whole lot of countries and taking whatever resettlement places that it can get.

The other thing to be aware of is that, of the resettlement places around the world, 90 per cent of people currently resettle in three countries, the United States, Canada and Australia. In fact, last year 70 per cent were resettled in the United States alone. If we are looking at global planning on resettlement, the key relationships are between the Australia, the United States and Canada. You would have to ask what the countries of Europe are doing on resettlement.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —The thought crossed my mind. They are always good at lecturing.

Mr Power —In the current environment, the short version of my convoluted answer is that if Australia, Canada and the United States were negotiating a collective approach to resettlement then it would be more possible for us individually to focus on a particular region. If you look at the current situation globally, at least a third of resettlement in the world should be happening from the African continent if you look at the needs of protracted refugee situations. What we are saying is that Australia has a role to play in that.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Thanks for that.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —You note on page 2 of your submission that the increase in migration from Africa creates opportunities for expanding Australia’s bilateral relations with African nations. This builds a little bit on Senator Macdonald’s question, too. Can you give any examples of where that has happened?

Mr Power —It takes a period of time. If you look at Australia’s relationship with Vietnam, that is a classic example. There was resettlement of Vietnamese refugees from about 1976 through to the early 1990s. In the early 1980s, there were not too many refugees involved in developing bilateral trade arrangements with Vietnam. But as time wears on it becomes more possible for people who have resettled—and often this can be 10 or 15 years after they have resettled in country—to start to build a relationship with their country of origin. Then you see trade links start to develop. Obviously, it is not an immediate process. For instance, Eritreans who have resettled in Australia are still in a situation of being quite worried and cautious about the situation within their home country. But if at some stage there is a change in situation in Eritrea, there are many Eritrean Australians who will be quite critical in developing much more effective business links with Eritrea. Southern Sudan is an example. There are people who resettled in Australia from there 10 to 12 years ago who have gone back and participated in the development of the government of Southern Sudan. One of our board members went back in 2006 to take up a senior role in the bureaucracy and a Melbourne Sudanese community member has been elected to the Southern Sudanese parliament. It is in the early stages, but what we will see over time as conditions change in source countries are opportunities for business and other links to develop.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —Should there be more targeted assistance to the countries these migrations—these refugees—are coming from? We would then be able to speed up that process. Sudan would be a classic example.

Mr Power —Bobby, do you want to comment on that?

Mr Whitfield —Yes. The refugees coming into Australia, especially those from Africa, have brought in knowledge of Australia. A lot of family members here communicate regularly with family members overseas who are part of governments and part of businesses in Africa. An example of that was in December 2008. I had a businessman from Guinea who requested that I support him to come to Australia because he wanted to talk with business investors here. I asked him, ‘How did you get to know that Australia has got investors?’ and he said, ‘Look, at the ministry we were discussing honest business partners and Australia’s name kept coming up. This is why I want to explore such opportunities.’ This man sponsored his own trip and everything. He stayed in a hotel for almost three weeks. We could not get a link to any interested investor. As for that confidence, even though Africans have started to build such confidence I do not think it has already been built from Australia. I think that, as for the experience that Africans—those who have come here through the refugee program or as migrants or as international students—have gained from Australia, it is very important that they be able to go back and contribute to development through NGOs or through whatsoever has been mentioned. They would be able to make a real impact because they would know exactly where they have come from in terms of poverty and they would know exactly where development is needed the most. They would be very honest because they have been imbued with the discipline of transparency, they have been imbued with the discipline of democracy and they understand what it means that they have to contribute back to their own country of origin to make Australia very proud. So they would be very important in terms of contributing towards development.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —Thank you, Mr Whitfield.

Ms PARKE —Thank you, Mr Power and Mr Whitfield, for your evidence today before the committee. I have two questions. Firstly, the Refugee Council recommends that the Australian government engage more with the African diaspora communities. Do you have any specific suggestions as to what the government should do to do that? Secondly, I note that in your report, at page 4, you say:

  • Sierra Leonean community in West Africa—amputation was used as a tool of torture during the ten year civil war in Sierra Leone; however amputee visa applications continue to be rejected; inappropriate pre-departure health check processes for people who have suffered torture/trauma.

Are you saying that people are being rejected as to visas for Australia because of a concern about ongoing health costs to Australia? Is that what is happening?

Mr Power —Yes. Certainly people in the Sierra Leone community are saying that, and we would agree. The Joint Standing Committee on Migration, which Mr Danby was chairing until recently, has been working on this question of the immigration treatment of disability. One of the points that we raised was about how people who have been disabled through the process that led to them becoming refugees, through conflict, are unfortunately in certain circumstances discriminated against in the resettlement process. In fact, last week I was in Thailand talking to people involved in resettlement. Certainly the people on the ground who have been recommending people for resettlement have received fairly clear messages—I am not sure that they are entirely in accordance with the official Australian policy, but certainly those on the ground are hearing these—that Australia does not seriously consider people with serious illnesses or disabilities. So we will certainly be looking forward to the joint standing committee’s recommendation. It is an issue that we have raised with the department of immigration.

Ms PARKE —That is even if the disability is a direct result of torture.

Mr Power —Yes.

Ms PARKE —The other part of my question was about what the Australian government can do.

Mr Power —The links are not strong at the moment, and there are different approaches for different agencies. AusAID is an agency that a lot of African communities in Australia are interested in. I think the Southern Sudanese are a classic example: people are being repatriated to Southern Sudan often to situations where there are not even the most basic facilities and in quite a number of villages it is not viable for people to return. Their friends and relatives in Australia are attempting to raise funds to support small projects to make it more possible for people to survive after they have returned. But it is very hard for them to get those priorities on the agenda of AusAID or even on the agenda of the major development agencies in Australia.

So we would encourage AusAID to consider beginning to reach out to the African communities in Australia and then talking to them about what they see as being the development needs; what sorts of partnerships could be forged—between local communities in Australia, international NGOs potentially and AusAID; what would need to change before AusAID would seriously consider some sort of development partnership with an African community in Brisbane, Sydney or wherever. I think with Australia’s trade work it would even be useful to begin with talks between the African councils—and I have not heard of any such discussions with the African community councils in the different states, and Bobby represents the Queensland body—and Australian trade officials to discuss what opportunities exist and also how to begin to break down the sort of negativity—or lack of links—that Bobby spoke about as to the businessman who came from Guinea. He was not even able to begin to start having serious discussions with business people in Australia because there was not much of a precedent for Australian investment in Guinea. So I am thinking of getting some discussions going to build links and to build confidence and to encourage people in the African community, those who have an interest in trade and aid and development, to understand more about how those partnerships can be developed and to assist the Australian government agencies to understand who in the African community is interested in these issues, what their ideas are and what potential they see.

Mr RUDDOCK —Thank you very much for the data that you have prospected from UNHCR reports. I am surprised that, as shown in appendix 2, the numbers of Burundians in Tanzania still remain as high as a quarter of a million. When we agreed to resettle a number of Burundians, it was on the basis that there were only a small number who needed resettlement and most of them were able to go home safely and securely. That does not seem to have happened. That is one figure I want you to comment on. The other is that I am surprised that the number of Sudanese, particularly in Kenya, is now so low. I see that we only have 19,000 Sudanese in Australia, so I assume that the great majority of the 90,000-odd that were in Kakuma must have been able to go home. Does that mean that there is little demand now for Sudanese resettlement, given the political change? What has sabotaged the Burundian returns?

Mr Power —In terms of Burundi, I would have to go back and have a look at the figures in a little more detail. There certainly has been a process in Tanzania of the recognition of and the granting of citizenship to Burundian refugees who have basically been in Tanzania for the past 38 years—they refer to them as the ‘1972 group’. Quite a number of them received Tanzanian citizenship last year.

Mr RUDDOCK —Those figures should have come off, shouldn’t they? I visited the camp there, and the 2008 figures—

Mr Power —Yes, it would be interesting to compare the 2008 figures and the 2009 figures. I do not have the 2009 figures with me. There was some significant progress during the course of 2009 in the situation of Burundians in Tanzania. I could certainly look at that and give back information to the committee as to whether there has been any significant change. It has been a situation where UNHCR, as you rightly point out, felt that by resettling some Burundian refugees from Tanzania there were other possibilities that may open in terms of integration within the country of asylum. There has been some level of return, but perhaps what I could look at is how those figures have changed over a period of years.

In relation to Sudan, the numbers have dropped quite a bit because of repatriation to Southern Sudan. The success of that repatriation mostly depends on two things. One is the referendum which will occur next month, which opens up the possibly of a level of independence for the Government of Southern Sudan. If that goes badly in terms of the Government of Sudan’s response then it may make it more difficult for people who have returned. The other concern of Sudanese communities in Australia has been the lack of facilities and the lack of viability of people returning to particular communities. Development is fundamental to successful voluntary repatriation, and I think Southern Sudan is a classic illustration of that.

Mr Whitfield —I want to contribute to that and give an example of the situation of Liberian refugees in Guinea and Ghana. For quite a number of years now Liberia have had democratically elected leadership, but there are still refugees in Guinea and Ghana. Whether refugees stay in refugee camps when they have been expected to go home depends on the refugees’ own assessment of the situation in their home country. We may say, ‘The situation in your home is stabilised and you can go back,’ but a lot of refugees remain in camps because they fear returning to countries where the people who were involved in prosecuting them are running the government or the people who were involved in killing their family members are living in their communities and would be their neighbours. So fear is one of the factors that keep refugees in refugee camps. Since repatriation is voluntary, the United Nations cannot force refugees to go home when the situation in their country has stabilised. A lot of refugees prefer to stay in refugee camps even when there is no support. Given that one of the durable solutions is resettlement, a lot of refugees continue to hope for resettlement as a solution for their situation rather than voluntarily going back home.

CHAIR —Thank you.

Senator TROOD —Recommendation 1 of your submission is that we ‘continue to provide durable solutions to refugees from the countries of Africa’. Then, in (b), you say that we should give ‘special consideration to the needs of African refugees in seriously protracted situations’. I am just wondering what you think that may mean for our refugee program.

Mr Power —What we are saying is that Australia—unless there was very effective sharing of responsibility among the major resettlement countries, which would open up other possibilities—should continue to have a resettlement program for refugees from Africa. It is also important that there be a resettlement program for refugees from the Middle East and Asia. There are serious situations that will need to be responded to over the coming years in each of those three regions. Of course, as I mentioned, few of the world’s refugees actually get to resettle. So the question is: what can Australia do to support people while they are in countries of first asylum and what can it do to support people who voluntary repatriate when things improve?

From that point of view, education programs for refugees in seriously protracted refugee situations is fundamentally important. People who have been in camps or urban settings for years and years will at some point need to repatriate, to be integrated in the country of asylum or to be resettled. Education is fundamentally important for the success of any of those three solutions. When people choose to repatriate, they have to be able to return to something, and in many cases basic facilities and infrastructure have been destroyed. UNHCR is often not in a position to guarantee the viability of the situations that people are returning to. So it is important that in our aid program we do whatever is possible to assist refugees when they choose to return to their country of origin.

Senator TROOD —This is an argument for more of our aid resources to be directed to the needs of people in camps across parts of Africa, in this particular instance. Is that right?

Mr Power —Certainly. We would certainly favour an increase in the refugee and humanitarian program but the sort of increase that we can imagine is always going to be far too small to address the needs of everyone who needs some sort of more effective solution. So Australia has to look at other solutions—and does to some extent—but we feel we can do it on a larger scale and more effectively.

Senator TROOD —But does the problem of displacement in Africa mean in your view that there ought to be an increase in the refugee numbers from Africa?

Mr Power —Yes, I think it does, but that is one of the answers. It goes for other regions of the world as well, particularly South and South-East Asia. Australia needs to be looking simultaneously at resettlement, at education and support for people in countries of asylum and at supporting more viable repatriation. All three of those things need to be addressed. We have to recognise that resettlement is important but, given the numbers of people involved, any opportunity which offers greater protection for people in countries of asylum and which builds opportunities for people to return, is going to assist more people than can be assisted through resettlement alone. It is a package of messages that Australia needs to explore.

Mr MURPHY —You mentioned trade. When I met the President of Sierra Leone he said, ‘Mr Murphy I am not interested in aid; I am interested in trade.’ I am interested whether you have any examples of where any African refugees have promoted trade between the African countries and Australia.

—On a very low scale, members of African communities here are involved in importing goods from Africa for their local communities. I am also aware that other community members from various refugee backgrounds in the African communities are linking investment opportunities in Africa to investors here. An example I can give is of a businessman wanting to explore opportunities in Australia. He has dealt with business partners all over the world. He has been to America and he has dealt with business partners in Asia—South Korea—but he wanted to deal with business partners in Australia because deep down in him something told him that Australian businesses are honest and he will get a very good return when he is working with Australian businesses. His visit to Australia was not very fruitful because the connection was not well established in linking into potential business investors in Australia to get involved with his business. That sort of thing is not very well developed yet but with time and resources put into community initiatives we could develop these business links and make sure that Australian businesses that are going to be involved work through communities that are already here to utilise their local knowledge. These are communities of people that have lived in those countries. They have local knowledge of the economy, they have local knowledge of how people perceive strangers, and they will be able to make a very big impact in terms of getting rewards for business investment.

Senator MARK BISHOP —I have two issues. Apart from ad hoc emergency situations that might arise for whatever reason in particular countries in Africa does the Refugee Council have any formal dialogue on an ongoing basis with AusAID and if not why not? Secondly, in terms of developing links, have the African communities that have settled here in more recent times got to the stage yet where they have been able to develop chambers of commerce possibly as a link for trade as opposed to going through organisations like AusAID?

Mr Power —The Refugee Council of Australia is a membership based organisation. Our organisation itself, the secretariat, is quite small with around five full-time equivalent staff but our main strength is our membership which includes some of the major international development agencies. We are also involved as a consulting member of the Australian Council for International Development. Through ACFID—and ACFID agencies are also members of the Refugee Council—we have links with AusAID. It is actually one of the questions that we have been thinking about that we need to build more effective direct links with AusAID.

Senator MARK BISHOP —Particularly in view of the fact that their budget has been significantly increased over the last three or four years and is likely to increase even more in the next five to seven.

Mr Power —Certainly. We see many opportunities and possibilities for much more effective cooperation between Australia’s refugee and humanitarian program and its aid program. One of the points that we have been raising with the government generally is that the links between the department of immigration, the Australian Federal Police and Customs on border security issues are very strong but the links between our refugee and humanitarian program and our aid program are not as strong as they could or should be. If we are looking at refugee protection issues in Asia, Africa or the Middle East, much more effective cooperation between the refugee and humanitarian program and the aid program is really fundamental.

Senator MARK BISHOP —Is the short answer that you are thinking about ways of strengthening links to AusAID?

Mr Power —We have been raising issues in different ways with AusAID and with the department of immigration, with the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship and with the Minister for Foreign Affairs. We are at the point of raising issues but we really need to take it to the next level. One of the difficulties has been that there is quite an amount of support for refugees through different forms of the aid program but the situation of refugees generally does not actually have a particularly high profile in the thinking of AusAID at the moment. That is certainly our view. I think there needs to be significantly improved strategic thinking within the government about how to draw together its work in refugee and humanitarian protection through resettlement and through aid.

Senator MARK BISHOP —The second issue was have the more recently arrived African communities got to the stage where they have functioning chambers of commerce that you might be able to work through or with?

Mr Whitfield —I have heard about some organisations who are developing African chambers of commerce but I do not think it is widely known within African communities. I also know of African academics having their own organisations who want to reach out to the broader African and Australian community. But these are still in developmental stages that I am aware of. Along the lines of the chambers of commerce I do not think they are developed to the extent that we would start to talk about them as full organisations. This is where I think the new community will need support in organising some of these chambers of commerce to be professionally functional. What we have now is that various African countries are forming African organisations within their communities.

Those community leaders are working tirelessly, around the clock, to make sure that they are able to support members of their own communities in settling. That is their first priority: settlement support for newly-arrived African members within their communities. Once they start to work on the settlement and people start to integrate into the broader community they broaden their vision and some would include working back home or building links with government and businesses back home. Right now it is still very informal within those new-arrived African communities, but I am aware of African academics and professors having groups and linking it into commerce.

CHAIR —Proposals have been put to the committee in earlier hearings from a range of people from academia and business and also former ambassadors or high commissioners for the establishment of some sort of peak body, like an Australia-Africa council, or more formalised African studies networks within the universities.

Mr DANBY —Mr Power, I have been concerned for some years about the focus of the Australian government in Sudan now that the conflict in the south is reaching some kind of political resolution. As Mr Ruddock noted, the number of refugees in Kenya is going down. If you look at the statistics on Chad, though, you see that there 268,000. It is no fault of the statistics in your program that there are no references to the number of refugees in Egypt, because I understand the Egyptian government prevents the UNHCR classifying people from Sudan as refugees, for political reasons. Is that still the case? Do you think the Australian embassy in Cairo should perhaps take a role in looking at some of these refugees—in Darfur, in particular? That is where the current conflict is more important and a bigger tragedy than what is happening in the south. What is your evaluation of Darfur versus the south? Perhaps we can refocus our concern on a place where there is a problem.

Mr Power —I think the figures illustrate that quite a number of people have been able to repatriate voluntarily to southern Sudan. One of the points that Bobby made was in relation to remnant refugee populations. In terms of the resettlement of people, there can often be people within those groups of refugees who are left behind—and, for a whole of reasons, it is not safe for them to return—whose situation needs to be looked at on an individual basis. Bobby gave the example of Liberians and Sierra Leoneans in Ghana and Guinea. There are only quite small numbers but, for a whole lot of reasons, when you look at the individual situations of those refugees, resettlement is probably the only real viable solution for quite a number of them.

So we would not say that, because the situation has improved in southern Sudan, there should be no refugee resettlement of southern Sudanese from Kenya. What we are saying is that obviously the pressure has decreased and it is worth looking at, on a case-by-case basis, what—

Mr DANBY —For the record, I was not suggesting that either.

Mr Power —No. Certainly the increase in the numbers in Chad definitely reflect the flows of Darfurian refugees from eastern Sudan or from west of Sudan. The situation in Egypt—you are right—is quite difficult. In fact, UNHCR figures often have to be read in the context of what UNHCR is permitted to do. As I said, I was in Thailand last week and certainly the view of NGOs and community based organisations there is that there are many, many more people within that country who meet the UN definition of a refugee than the statistics ever will show. Egypt is in a situation where that would certainly also be the case. We certainly agree that Australia needs to be discussing with the UNHCR and the government of Egypt—as well as a number of other countries—the question of the recognition of people who genuinely need refugee protection within their borders.

CHAIR —Are we bringing enough of the Darfuris in the Sudanese refugee quota to Australia?

Mr Power —Probably not. It is always difficult because we have a limited program. Any of those questions are loaded from the point of view that it means taking away numbers from elsewhere. But there certainly is a pretty strong case for greater resettlement of Darfuris from Egypt and from Chad in particular.

Mr FITZGIBBON —This question would probably have been better directed at our friend Bobby on the phone, but we have lost him. I will just make the comment anyway. The idea that Africans settling here in Australia can make a contribution to development in Africa is without contest, both here and when resettling. What has surprised me throughout the course of this inquiry has been the very small amount of representation we have had from diaspora groups. Do you have a view about that? Given the inquiry has some way to go yet, do you believe there is something we could do to stimulate more representation from those groups?

Mr Power —It is largely a product of the stage of people’s settlement in Australia. Many of the people who have come to Australia as refugees from Africa have arrived within the past decade, so it is quite natural that not many of them are at the stage where they are forging trade links with their country of origin. Very large numbers of African born people who have come through the refugee program are studying at university, getting their families established and getting their homes established. Over a period of time we will see a development in the communities in Australia and in the nature of their links back to countries of origin.

Also, the situation has to improve or change appreciably in their countries of origin for people to be able to interact in any effective way other than direct support to families and personal networks. Southern Sudan is an interesting case where things have changed appreciably and there is a community that is now, as the years go on, becoming more established in Australia. So we actually have seen personal connections with the government of Sudan from Sudanese in Australia.

In terms of this committee engaging with Africans in Australia, I would suggest talking directly to the African communities councils that exist in different states. The Federation of African Communities Councils is the national body. They are quite strong bodies, particularly in Queensland and South Australia. Queensland and South Australia have a very strong and effective African communities councils, and a new one has just developed in Tasmania. But in each state there would be people within the African communities you could talk to. I suppose many people in those communities are not necessarily concentrating on the work of parliamentary committees—

Mr FITZGIBBON —Surely that is not true!

Mr Power —so it may have slipped their notice.

CHAIR —I will finish not with a question but with a comment. Last week I had the privilege of opening up some new facilities at a high school in Coffs Harbour. There are around 21 or 29—I cannot remember the number—African students attending that school, from a range of countries. They put on a dance and drum performance in front of about 600 other students, which was magnificent. They made the paper, which was probably more interesting than my face. It was a great event. It was good to see how they were participating in the community and in the school. Thank you, Mr Power and Mr Whitfield, who unfortunately is no longer on the line, for attending this morning, for your evidence and for your submission.

[11.40 am]