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Government Refugee Week Citizenship Event

Speeches and statements

Government Refugee Week Citizenship Event

Speech given by UNHCR Representative for Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific for the Department of Home Affairs at Parliament House, Canberra.
21 June 2023
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Dear impressive new citizens of Australia, and your supporters; Minister Giles, High Commissioner King, Secretary Pezzullo and Associate Secretary Foster,   

Distinguished guests. So many friends, 

Thank you very much Aunty Violet and for your warm welcome to country.

And I too acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we are all here today, the Ngunnawal. And I pay my respects to the Elders past and present.

My name is Adrian Edwards. I am UNHCR’s Representative for Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific. I am delighted to be here with you on this occasion, and in Refugee Week. Yesterday, around the world as well as here in Australia, countries and communities also celebrated World Refugee Day.

Today is an occasion for optimism and hope. It’s hard to think of a better end to any refugee story (or the beginning of a new one) than seeing the moment of becoming a new Australian citizen.

Around the world, the journey of many refugees from the point of fleeing to finding a lasting solution such as citizenship or being able to safely return home can be a remarkably long one, often taking years or even a lifetime. And trying to change this can take a long time too.

In 1959, in an era when thousands of displaced people had been living in camps in Europe for over a decade, the UN proclaimed a World Refugee Year. UN member states were urged to do more for refugees, provide more funding, and expand refugee resettlement. Australia was among those who responded.

Today in 2023, we still ask States to do more for refugees, provide more funding, and expand resettlement [plus other pathways]. And hope Australia will respond and it does respond.

The truth is that finding solutions for the world’s refugees will always be complex work. It’s one of the things we want to do not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard.

Among the most striking factors of today’s world is a rise in conflict in many countries on the one hand, and too few solutions for refugees on the other – the net result of which is growing forced displacement – now at over 100 million, or one in every 74 people – that’s three times what it was just 20 years ago. 

When UN High Commissioner for Refugees Grandi was here in April, fighting had just erupted in Sudan and we were getting by-the-minute updates from our colleagues there (including about their own safety). As of May, UNHCR was working with 22 active emergencies – a number unimaginable only a few years ago. We also face new challenges, for example climate displacement or the worldwide trend of growing migratory movement.

But there are changes for the good as well. And I’m glad to say those include here in Australia. Australia itself has outstanding advocates in academia, in its legal, human rights and refugee sectors, in parliament and in government. And today ever more strongly among refugees and in diaspora communities too. The commitment at political level towards more humane approaches including as exemplified through the Government’s decision earlier this year to give permanent protection to thousands of refugees on temporary visas – is very welcome; Support for the voices of those with lived experience. Closer collaboration with humanitarian partners such as UNHCR – which in turn helps us to do more to manage pressures in the world’s biggest refugee hosting countries; Australia’s work in settling vulnerable refugees and building an inclusive and embracing multicultural society – of which the Adult Migrant English program and CRISP community sponsorship program represent two stand-out parts.  

Both these programs, and today’s citizenship ceremony are about inclusion. And for a world in which too many are displaced inclusion - along with inclusivity for building a true all-of-society approach - really is where the answers lie. These ideas resonate closely with the theme of Refugee Week which is Finding Freedom. And the theme of World Refugee Day which is Hope away from Home.

In just a few days from now Australia is taking on Chair of the Annual Tripartite Consultations on Resettlement – the world’s most important forum for advancing resettlement. In a few months from now, UNHCR and the Government of Switzerland will be hosting the world’s biggest refugee gathering of the 2020s to date – The Global Refugee Forum. These will be important opportunities to advance inclusion and solutions further, and we look forward to hearing Australia’s voice there. Please let that voice be loud. For we need you. 

I will leave you with one of my favourite quotes about refugees by artist Ai Wei Wei who once said, ‘the refugee crisis is not about refugees, it is about us’.

Now is about us too. Together we have a moment to shape the global discussion about refugees for the better.

Happy Refugee Week everyone and congratulations to the new citizens.

Thank You