Australian Permanent Mission and Consulate-General
Geneva, Switzerland
Address: Chemin des Fins 2, Case Postale 102, 1211 Geneva 19 - Telephone: 022 799 9100 - Fax: 022 799 9178

Executive Committee of the High Commissioner’s Programme
56th Meeting of the Standing Committee
5-7 March 2013

AUSTRALIAN STATEMENT
ASIA AND THE PACIFIC

Madam Chair, as the Bureau director has highlighted, the Asia Pacific region is a complex mix of source, transit, host and destination countries for people of concern to UNHCR, with varied protection standards and access to durable solutions across each.

Our region continues to be characterised by mixed migration flows which demand nuanced responses to support adequate protection for refugees and displaced persons, and to address the separate challenges of human trafficking and people smuggling.

We appreciate our partnership with UNHCR in addressing the complex challenges in our region.For example, in September 2012 Australia committed to increasing our annual Humanitarian program by more than 40 per cent. Partnership with UNHCR has been critical in helping us deliver the expanded program in 2012-13 as we work towards meeting our planned intake of 12 000 refugees by June.

UNHCR has been highly responsive in building capacity in key locations to deliver referrals. We appreciate efforts to refer vulnerable refugees from Quetta in Pakistan and refugees from other Priority Resettlement Situations in the region.

It is clear that securing durable solutions to protracted refugee situations must remain a priority, including for displaced Afghans in Iran and Pakistan. The Quadripartite Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees is an important mechanism for creating conditions which support the sustainability and durability of each solution and we commend UNHCR’s active advocacy and efforts toward the strategy.

As the inaugural Chair of the Pakistan Contact Group for Afghan refugees, whose objectives closely align with the wider Quadripartite Solutions Strategy, Australia has encouraged greater international refugee resettlement efforts for Afghans in Pakistan.

Madam Chair, Australia firmly believes that regional collaboration is essential to the development and maintenance of favourable protection environments across Asia and the Pacific.

As Co-Chair of the Bali Process together with Indonesia, we are pleased with the progress of the Bali Process Regional Support Office which, as noted by others, was opened in September last year to operationalise the Regional Cooperation Framework, and we acknowledge UNHCR’s contribution to its early work. We welcome the implementation of several foundation projects, including UNHCR’s initiative in partnership with Indonesia, to hold a roundtable meeting on irregular migration by sea later this month.

In 2012-13 Australia has made available additional funding for capacity building activities in the region, as well as to support the upscaling of resettlement activities for our program. That being said, we encourage UNHCR to ensure adequate funding for resettlement processing flows to this important function, particularly as we seek to grow the resettlement places globally.

Madam Chair, Australia recognises the unique challenges UNHCR faces in the region.

We continue to encourage greater humanitarian access to displaced and stateless communities, including in Rakhine and Kachin States in Myanmar. Australia welcomes UNHCR’s efforts to provide protection and assistance to meet the compelling needs of people throughout Myanmar. We look forward to working together to ensure that any potential voluntary repatriation of refugees to Myanmar protects people’s safety and dignity. And in this regard, we acknowledge neighbouring states’ investment and patience in hosting the refugee populations for now.

Australia also remains concerned about the protracted refugee and IDP situation in southern Bangladesh. We are committed to a resolution, including through engagement by UN agencies.

Madam Chair , we are pleased to partner with UNHCR in the delivery of basic humanitarian assistance to vulnerable and displaced populations in the Asia-Pacific region. We recognise the demonstrated ability of UNHCR to respond to rapid onset and protracted crises around the world. UNHCR has a central role in safeguarding the rights and wellbeing of refugees and other persons of concern. Coordination and engagement with UN agencies is critical to achieving UNHCR’s Global Strategic Priorities. We urge UNHCR to continue to work closely with its partners in accordance with principles outlined in the IASC Transformative Agenda.

Australia also encourages UNHCR to continue to prioritise the safety and dignity of affected populations in their operations in the Asia-Pacific and beyond, including through addressing sexual and gender based violence and strengthening the protection of women and children. We recently committed $12 million to UNHCR’s Action against Sexual and Gender-based Violence strategy, and recognise how important this strategy is for preventing and responding to this issue and addressing UNHCR’s Global Strategic Priorities. We look forward to hearing UNHCR’s plans to roll out the strategy, both within the region and around the world.

And finally Madam Chair, in his absence, we would like to acknowledge and pay tribute to the significant contribution to our shared priorities of Bureau Director Mr Kasidis Rochanakorn. His deep understanding and connection to the region, and pragmatic and solution-focused approach have been most appreciated, and will be missed by my government. In saying this, we now most warmly welcome Ms Dell to the role, and we look forward to a close cooperative engagement on regional challenges.