As we mark World Refugee Day (WRD), recognising the contributions and experiences of refugees everywhere, the UN refugee agency reports that we have surpassed 100 million people displaced by persecution, conflict, violence, and human rights violations.
That is about one in every 80 people worldwide. It follows ten years of escalation, during which the number of forcibly displaced people has more than doubled, along with the number of conflict-affected countries. In a rapidly worsening trajectory, the speed and scale of forced displacement is drastically outpacing solutions for refugees, availed by 5.8 million people last year.
And those awaiting a solution are often denied access to essential services and disproportionately exposed to the ravages of food insecurity, COVID-19, sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), the escalating impacts of climate change and multi-layered discrimination.
Urgent course correction is required. Most importantly, it must involve the fairer sharing of responsibility amongst the whole international community for protecting refugees and addressing root causes of displacement. Wealthier countries, such as Australia, can and must do more. And there is a role for all of us – faith-based actors, refugee leaders, civil society, donors and others – to continue leaning in and digging deep, making our contributions, big and small, as we can from wherever we are.
We heed Pope Francis: “In light of what we have learned in the tribulations of recent times, we are called to renew our commitment to building a future that conforms ever more fully to God’s plan of a world in which everyone can live in peace and dignity”.
This year, the global theme for WRD is: Every person has a right to seek safety – whoever they are, wherever they come from and whenever they are forced to flee.
That means access to asylum, always. It means never turning boats back at sea without a fair and full assessment of people’s claims for protection.
The Jesuit Refugee Service was established in response to the mass exodus from Vietnam of people seeking asylum, often in boats. Our founder Fr Arrupe called upon Jesuits worldwide to help as they could and received an overwhelming response comprising material aid, technical support, pastoral care and advocacy in spaces of influence.
42 years on, JRS works in 57 countries with over a million beneficiaries. And there is so much more to be done in the face of unprecedented need. In Australia we worked with 3,000 beneficiaries last year, delivering a record near 30,000 instances of service, as we scaled to meet increased demand across Western Sydney for our emergency relief, complex casework, SGBV-prevention and response, and employment services. And not only the volume of referrals grew, but also the severity of presenting circumstances amongst those whom we serve. This is the legacy of long-term exclusion.
In Australia, the theme for World Refugee Day 2022 is healing.
That seems apt. Australians have voted for a more humane, inclusive and reconciled future with strengthened climate action and justice. Long-sought reforms to Australia’s harsh refugee policies may finally be realised, with life-saving effect and the beginnings of healing for many so horrendously affected by them.
We are promised an end to temporary protection, the prospect of family reunification for refugees who have endured years of enforced separation, an increase to Australia’s humanitarian intake, an end to the damaging ‘Fast Track’ visa process, a safety net for refugees, constraints on indefinite immigration detention, and more.
It is a time for hope, determination, and swift, careful action. We embrace the opportunity to work with diaspora colleagues and other wonderful supporters and partners for the fair treatment of all who seek Australia’s protection. We will strive to support the new Australian Government to meet its commitments while holding it and ourselves to account.
Tamara Domicelj, is Country Director of JRS Australia, one of several Catholic organisations which support refugees in the Diocese of Parramatta.