I'm searching the globe for ideas about better ways to treat people uprooted by war and abuse. We need to reimagine the global refugee system, and Australia's role within it.
I have pretty mixed emotions about the way my country treats refugees.
On one hand, Australia has a generous refugee resettlement program - and refugees who come through that program get some of the best assistance packages available anywhere in the world. That's great!
On the other hand, we severely punish people who try to come to our country by boat. We either push them back to sea or warehouse them indefinitely in poor countries offshore. Offshore processing is horribly damaging - especially when you consider that refugees have already been traumatised by the things that happened to them before they boarded that boat to Australia.
It's a cruel trade-off.
And it's played out in many countries around the world - particularly the wealthy ones. Governments allow a tiny number of refugees to resettle through official programs, while they fortify their borders and punish people for spontaneously seeking asylum. Some of these actions seem practical and understandable, but mostly they are political.
Not all governments behave this way. Germany opened it's borders in 2015, allowing more than a million refugees to enter before restricting the intake. And poor and middle income countries provide safe haven for millions of refugees around the world - although often these countries don't allow refugees a dignified standard of living.
The global refugee system is a bit like a lottery. Win the jackpot and you can rebuild your life somewhere safe. But if you lose, you'll stay in limbo for decades. Most people lose.
There are now 22.5 million refugees in the world searching for a safe place to restart their lives. Most of them are in limbo in poorer countries, without work rights, the right to own property or build a future for their kids. Only half a percent win the lottery and are granted a resettlement place to a safe third country like Canada or the United States or Australia.
The global system designed to protect refugees is keeping them in the margins of society. And I think we need to redesign it completely.
That's why I'm searching for new ideas.
After years of frustration I've decided to make 2018 my year of searching for ways to reimagine the global refugee system, and Australia's role within it. Thanks to a Churchill Fellowship, I'll be visiting a number of countries (Brazil, USA, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Italy) to learn about some of the innovative programs being trialled and scaled to welcome refugees into countries and communities. A lot of these programs are being driven not by governments, but by the wider community.
I'm going to call this the Make Refugee Project, and I'll capture what I learn in this blog.
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