Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 26 June 2018
Page: 6470

Mr WATTS (Gellibrand) (19:30): Earlier this month I visited the Kakuma UNHCR refugee camp near the border of Kenya and South Sudan. It's a part of the modern international refugee challenge that is little discussed in the Australian political debate. Kakuma is 30 years old, and around 185,000 refugees are currently seeking temporary refuge in this camp. Many residents of Melbourne's west have called it home on their journey to humanitarian resettlement in Australia. Most spent around a decade in this camp before coming to our country. Australian aid and refugee resettlement policies have had a life-changing impact on thousands of people who have been forced to seek refuge at Kakuma. Kakuma exists only because of the goodwill of the Kenyan government and the support of the international community for the UN and non-government organisations operating in the camp. I saw firsthand the role that Australian aid plays in helping both UNHCR and the World Food Programme support refugees living in this camp while they wait for a durable solution that will let them restart their lives. It's literally a life-saving investment.

I also took the opportunity while I was there to make a delivery of a football kit with boots, keeping gloves, balls and jerseys from Barefoot to Boots, an Aussie NGO founded by two Australian brothers and former South Sudanese refugees—professional footballer Awer Mabil and 'Lost Boy' Awer Bul—and supported by Australian businessman Ian Smith. The mission of Barefoot to Boots is to provide the resources necessary to make refugee camps like Kakuma more sustainable, stimulating and accommodating for their residents. The soccer kit, donated by Altona City Soccer Club and Sunshine Heights Soccer Club and Their Beautiful Game—from my electorate—was the latest addition to more than 2,000 kilograms of football equipment delivered by Barefoot to Boots to refugees around the world. I was thrilled to see the Altona City Soccer Club kit worn by FC Talanta in the Kakuma Divas women's league opening round match last week. In addition to the sporting equipment, Barefoot to Boots also provides educational materials, medical supplies and sanitary products, as well as art and musical equipment, to the camps. I saw firsthand how Barefoot's delivery of ultrasound and incubator equipment to the medical facility at Kakuma, which delivers 400 babies a month, has been a literal lifesaver.

Kakuma—and the work of groups like the UNHCR, WFP and Barefoot to Boots—highlights the nature of the international refugee situation today. Last week the UNHCR marked Refugee Week by releasing its annual Global trends report. This report found that the number of displaced people around the world exceeded 68 million in 2017 and that refugees who had fled their countries to escape conflict and persecution now numbered 25.4 million—a 2.9 million person increase on the number of refugees in 2016, the biggest single-year increase UNHCR has seen. UNHCR highlighted that 85 per cent of refugees live in developing countries, and four out of five refugees live in countries adjoining their own—that is, living in places like Kakuma.

The UNHCR also used the release of its Global trends report to reiterate its call for a new global compact on refugees. The areas of focus for this global compact tell the story of the modern refugee situation. The compact's four objectives are to (1) ease the pressures on host countries, (2) enhance refugee self-reliance, (3) expand access to third-country solutions and (4) support conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity. These objectives are designed to enable the international community to respond to large movements of refugees and protracted refugee situations. They are also objectives that Australia can play a leadership role in achieving.

Australian aid plays a key role in easing pressure on host countries by supporting the provision of essential services to refugees in these camps: food, shelter, sanitation, health care and—crucially for prolonged situations—education. This topic was directly raised with me by Kenyan members of parliament in meetings during my visit. Australian aid and diplomacy can also play an important role in resolving conflict and stabilising regions to enable the safe return of refugees to their homes.

Finally, our humanitarian resettlement program is critical, too, for delivering on these objectives, particularly in light of the 40 per cent fall in the number of refugees resettled in 2017—a record increase in the number of refugees but a 40 per cent fall in the number resettled. New pathways like resettlement and like community or private sponsorship of refugees should play an important role in rising to this challenge. The Australian debate on asylum seekers and refugees is passionate and involves many people of goodwill but is also too narrow— (Time expired)