Australian Permanent Mission and Consulate-General
Switzerland, Liechtenstein


Statement on International Protection

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

Dr Wendy Southern
Deputy Secretary
Department of Immigration and Citizenship

Geneva, Switzerland
5th October 2011

Mr Chairman, this year, as we commemorate the anniversaries of the Refugee and Statelessness Conventions, the need for an effective and robust protection regime is greater than ever.

Australia is concerned that the number of refugees and displaced people worldwide remains at record high levels. Entrenched conflicts and protracted refugee situations remain unresolved, while security, economic and environmental factors are prompting further displacement.

Over 60 years, the Refugee Convention has demonstrated its flexibility and relevance amid ever changing global circumstances. The core principles of the international protection regime are still relevant to today’s complex mix of displacement challenges.

The ministerial meeting in December is an important opportunity for States to reaffirm their commitment to these principles and work together to find practical solutions to the complex mix of 21st Century challenges.

We commend UNHCR for its focus on themes that will reaffirm and strengthen the protection regime, particularly the renewed focus on addressing statelessness. The 50th anniversary of the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness is a timely reminder that up to 12 million people still remain stateless. We encourage States to accede to, and bring national legislation and practice in line with, the 1954 and 1961 Statelessness Conventions.

Mr Chairman, securing the basic rights and freedoms of displaced populations is a fundamental protection challenge. Australia strongly supports UNHCR's efforts to protect persons of concern from violence, abuse and exploitation.

Australia is concerned that sexual and gender-based violence continues at an alarming rate. Australia strongly condemns sexual violence against displaced women and girls in refugee situations around the world.

We encourage UNHCR to continue its efforts to protect and assist survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. We also encourage UNHCR to consult with and include women and girls in decision-making that affects their lives. Women themselves have a role to play in monitoring and preventing these incidents.

For its part Australia will continue to offer a guaranteed component of its resettlement places under its ‘Woman at Risk’ program for vulnerable refugee women.

We note that the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Kevin Rudd MP, and the Australian Minister for the Status of Women, the Hon Kate Ellis MP, have recently appointed Australia's first Global Ambassador for Women and Girls. The Ambassador will engage in international advocacy in support of Australian Government policy and activities that promote the social, political and economic empowerment of women and girls. Priority areas for the Ambassador’s work include: eradication of violence against, and trafficking in, women and girls; protection in conflict and promotion of women in peace-building; and better educational and health outcomes. The Asia-Pacific region is a particular focus.

Mr Chairman, refugee numbers rose last year in the Asia-Pacific region. The region hosts a large proportion of the world’s people in refugee-like situations, including many in protracted situations, and a growing proportion in urban areas.

The Asia-Pacific is characterised by a high level of mixed flows, with protection standards and access to solutions in the region variable. Many asylum seekers hoping to have their asylum claims assessed quickly are moved irregularly throughout the region by people smugglers.

Australia therefore welcomed the landmark decision on the 30th of March this year when delegates at the fourth Ministerial Conference of the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime agreed to a Regional Cooperation Framework.

This milestone demonstrates a clear recognition by Bali Process members of the need for a cooperative international response to address the challenges of people smuggling, and to discourage asylum seekers from taking life-threatening journeys in overcrowded boats.

Importantly, the Regional Cooperation Framework builds a bridge between Refugee Convention signatory and non-signatory countries to facilitate burden sharing and cooperation in managing irregular migration.

Mr Chairman, Australia considers that resettlement remains vital in addressing both immediate and long term protection needs of persons of concern and as a tangible demonstration of responsibility sharing with countries of first asylum. As Chair of the Resettlement Working Groups, Australia looks forward to working more closely with UNHCR, resettlement states, civil society and international organisations as we continue to advance the resettlement agenda.

Australia will continue to offer places every year under our Humanitarian Program to refugees identified by UNHCR to be in need of resettlement. We call on other countries to consider providing resettlement places and stand ready to provide support to new resettlement countries.

Thank you.