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Opening Speech to Fiji Asylum and Refugee Protection Joint Workshop

Speeches and statements

Opening Speech to Fiji Asylum and Refugee Protection Joint Workshop

12 September 2022
Thumbnail image displaying UNHCR logo

Suva, Fiji

Bula Vinaka and warm Pacific greetings to the honorable Permanent Secretary, the Director of Immigration, the Managers of the Department of Immigration, the Border Police, customs officials, and other distinguished guests gathered here today, including other UN Agencies, namely the office of the Resident Coordinator, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the International Office for Migration (IOM).

I am excited to be back in Fiji after only one month since the Pacific Immigration Annual Meeting and also particularly delighted that this workshop could take place. For the last two years, despite the travel restrictions, UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency) has maintained a strong relationship with Fijian authorities through the Immigration Department and conducted some great work together despite the distance.

However, it feels great to be able to finally meet in person and extend the relationship and collaboration to other very important governmental agencies that play a key role in refugee issues. With the Immigration Department, we wanted to organize a comprehensive workshop with the main goal to walk together through the life of a refugee. From arrival at the border, through the refugee status determination process, to their daily life towards a durable solution.

To take up this journey alongside the refugee, we divided the content into 3 parts:

  • Today, as Objective 1, Immigration, Border Police and customs will work together with UNHCR to strengthen the identification and referral of asylum seekers. The right to seek refuge is a fundamental right and in a world with more and more complex migration patterns, it is of the utmost importance to be able to identify persons that need protection. We recognize that as borders re-open, the government is focused on controlling and regulating this and we hope to work together to ensure that border protection is maintained, whilst also allowing and promoting safe entry for persons with international protection needs.
  • On days 2 and 3, we will then continue our journey with Immigration officials to tackle our second objective. Anyone has the right to claim asylum and then have their claim assessed to determine whether they are a refugee. This is the technical part and the role of Fiji Immigration jointly with UNHCR is to ensure that a thorough assessment of the claim is swiftly done. 
  • On days 4 and 5, we will then continue our journey through the third objective because obtaining refugee status is not a goal. So, we extended the invitation to the Human Rights Commission, Ministries of Health, Education and Employment because refugees are people like you and me. Giving them the right to access these services not only empowers them as human beings but will allow them to contribute to the Fijian community, thrive, and remove the burden from the Government. Empowering and building resilience will help them to find a permanent solution through an alternative legal status, whether they become Fijian, decide to return home, or be permanently resettled in a third country. Refugee status is a key protection status, but together we must seek alternatives.

I trust that this week will allow great discussions between these agencies and UNHCR, sharing experience and expertise. This will for sure lead us to draw out good practice and pragmatic recommendations for each of our respective agencies.

Therefore, I wish us all a successful workshop and thank the Government of Fiji for the initiative and the warm hospitality.

Thank you.