On 21 November 2016 the ACMRO was privileged to attend a public lecture by Mr Volker Turk, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner (Protection). In his lecture, Mr Turk identified some issues currently of particular concern to UNHCR, he also looked at the current situation our region as well as the impacts of the New York Declaration to UNHCR and the global community. Below is a summary of the main points raised.
Germany and the EU asylum system
Mr Turk made the observation that the EU refugee asylum system was designed to have the ability to deal with individual cases. However, it was never envisioned to cope with large masses of people. As such, the situation that we saw in 2015-2016 became a defining moment in the debates for asylum and protection.
Mr Turk noted that the success of the EU system lies in solidarity and in proper mechanisms of screening. Without this system of solidarity with all countries in the EU working together, the program will not succeed.
The Atmospherics of Protection
One large concern of the UNHCR is the type of language and attitude when it comes to talking about refugees and asylum seekers. In some parts of the world, we have seen deterioration of attitudes and empathy for people fleeing for their lives. Mr Turk lamented that a deep sense of humanity is missed, which is in turn leading to a steady process of dehumanisation.
The Situation in Australia
Historically, Mr Turk observed, Australia has had a great tradition built on immigration. One only needs to look at the influence of Italian, Vietnamese, Lebanese food and culture in Australia.
Historically, Australia has also contributed significantly when it comes to providing a place for refugees to settle, both after the world wars and more recently with the conflicts in South-East Asia.
However, Mr Turk noted that UNHCR has had particular concerns with the current domestic asylum situation. Offshore processing currently doesn't respond to the human dignity of these persons.
Refugees have contributed greatly economically to our countries. Therefore, what is needed is to support finding solutions for those of Nauru and Manus. Currently there is the deal announced with the United States of America. UNHCR has said that it will support this proces as well as continue to work with Australia to be part of a regional solution. Mr Turk also said that UNHCR wants to work hard with the Australian government to find solutions to the 31,000 onshore asylum seekers on TPVs.
The New York declaration and what it means to UNHCR
Mr Turk noted that, whilst not perfect, the declaration shows the way of the future. It has shown that member states have been able to get together and send the world a collaborative message about refugees.
The declaration also shows that the private sector also needs to become more engaged in this area. This is not just an issue for governments, but rather one that affects the whole of society. Mr Turk noted that, if we can get this right, we can make huge contributions to those who seek asylum.
By ACMRO Staff