Australian Permanent Mission and Consulate-General
Switzerland, Liechtenstein


General Debate Statement

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
62nd Session of the Executive Committee

Dr Wendy Southern
Deputy Secretary
Department of Immigration and Citizenship

Geneva, Switzerland
3-7 October 2011

Mr Chairman, this year, the anniversaries of the Refugee and Statelessness Conventions provide the international community with an important opportunity to reaffirm and strengthen the founding principles of the protection regime and to tackle the pressing problems we still face.

Emerging global trends are creating an evermore complex pattern of human movement and displacement which poses a range of new challenges for the international protection regime. Only through enhanced international cooperation between States, UNHCR, civil society and other international organisations can we begin to address these issues.

We commend UNHCR for its focus on themes that will reaffirm and strengthen the protection regime, particularly the renewed focus on addressing statelessness. We encourage States to accede to, and bring national legislation in line with, the 1954 and 1961 Statelessness Conventions and to commit to practical ways of improving the lives of displaced people.

Mr Chairman, UNHCR remains a key partner in the delivery of Australia’s humanitarian assistance and immigration programs due to its unique mandate to protect refugees and resolve refugee situations worldwide.

We acknowledge UNHCR’s extensive experience in dealing with situations of conflict-related internal displacement and that protection issues associated with natural disasters are in many ways comparable. The expertise and capacity acquired by UNHCR in coordinating a protection response in complex emergencies is invaluable.

In recent years the world has seen devastating natural disasters that have resulted in immense loss of life and human misery. We commend UNHCR for its efforts in dealing with these humanitarian crises.

Australia supports the proposed pilot period for UNHCR to lead the protection cluster, at a government’s request, in response to internal displacement following a natural disaster. We urge States to work towards consensus on this protection role. We highlight that UNHCR has indicated that it remains committed to its core mandate and that there would be no risk of additional funds being needed.

Mr Chairman, the Asia-Pacific region experiences the full range of human displacement challenges.

In addressing these challenges, Australia is committed to working with UNHCR and regional partners to improve consistency in the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, to undermine the people smuggling trade and so enhance the region’s response to irregular migration.

Mr Chairman, we note that developing countries have assumed a substantial responsibility by hosting some 80 per cent of the global refugee population. Many of these countries, which already have considerable refugee populations, have kept their doors open to new arrivals.

Australia commends these States for making an immense contribution to the protection of displaced people. Without such international solidarity and cooperation the international protection regime could not operate. We support UNHCR’s calls to better recognise this contribution. We also encourage UNHCR to continue its efforts to promote self-reliance as a way to prepare refugees for durable solutions.

Mr Chairman, in the spirit of international cooperation and burden sharing, Australia will continue to offer resettlement places through our Humanitarian Program for those refugees identified by UNHCR to be in need of resettlement, particularly from Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

We welcome Bulgaria, Hungary, Spain and Paraguay as new resettlement countries and we congratulate Japan and Romania on commencing pilot programs. We commend States who are continuing to provide resettlement places and we encourage other countries to consider offering resettlement places.

Australia will continue to work with UNHCR, resettlement states, civil society and other international organisations to enhance the role of resettlement as a durable solution and as a protection tool for individual refugees.

Mr Chairman, Australia also considers the right of refugees to return to their home countries important for solving protracted situations around the world. In this regard, we urge the Government of Bhutan to contribute to a solution to the protracted situation of the refugees from Bhutan in Nepal by accepting for repatriation cases of special humanitarian concern.

Mr Chairman, the challenges I have mentioned are part of an increasingly complex set of factors driving population movement. UNHCR cannot carry this burden alone. Governments must support UNHCR politically and financially, and we must all share this responsibility.

The Australian Government will increase its core contribution to UNHCR next year and will continue to make significant additional allocations to UNHCR operations and appeals as they arise. We value UNHCR as one of the most effective humanitarian agencies.

Thank you.