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27 Jul 2015


An international voice for refugees

SSI was able to remain true to this commitment through its recent participation in a series of meetings in Geneva, Switzerland, with the Office of the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), government representatives and NGOs.

SSI Case Manager Najeeba Wazefadost at the UNHCR NGO Consultations.

During our time in Geneva SSI representatives participated in three key UNHCR meetings and a number of bilateral meetings with key UNHCR and United Nations Human Rights senior staff with a view to raising the profile of issues experienced by refugee communities in Australia. In addition to these meetings, there were many opportunities to network with government representatives and NGOs from around the world who are all eager to learn from each other.

SSI has decided to participate in these meetings in Geneva for several reasons:

  1. ensure the voices of our clients are represented internationally
  2. maintain a global perspective to our work with refugees and asylum seekers
  3. exchange practice experiences with other NGOs including identifying potential opportunities for  innovative responses to refugee and asylum seeker needs in Australia

In relation to the above three objectives we were able to raise specific client/staff/community concerns with senior UNHCR staff, and we gained valuable insights into refugee crises and responses worldwide including an appreciation for the good work that settlement services are doing in Australia. We were also able to form new relationships with other NGOs who work with refugees around the world.

There were two main meetings with NGOs and Governments in relation to resettlement and broader responses to the refugee crisis. A summary of the meetings are outlined below:

Annual Tripartite Committee on Resettlement (ATCR) 

This meeting is a joint meeting between UNHCR, NGOs and member states to negotiate international resettlement needs and aims to encourage governments to make commitments for resettlement for the next year. UNHCR and NGOs use this meeting to advocate for targeted resettlement of groups most in need and to encourage increases in resettlement commitments.  Australia is allowed four NGO representatives, which were Foundation House, RCOA, AMES and Settlement Council of Australia. SSI was invited to also join in the capacity of an international NGO. In this meeting SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis took a role in raising the need for targeted approaches to the resettlement of children and youth at risk due to separation, abuse or being orphaned.

UNHCR – NGO Consultations 

This is an annual meeting with two aims. Firstly, to inform UNHCR of areas and issues where greater attention is needed and, secondly, to encourage the exchange of best practice between NGOs. There are also two significant plenary sessions at the beginning and end where the High Commissioner and the Deputy/ Assistant Commissioners take questions from NGOs. The plenary sessions, along with a number of concurrent sessions, were recorded and live streamed and can be viewed at:

The consultations are much like an international conference where there is a series of panel presentations with Q&A time. It included over 500 NGO delegates from 270 organisations from all over the world. SSI had the opportunity at these sessions to ask questions aimed at seeking greater focus from UNHCR on managing corruption and on ensuring that young people get adequate access to protection claims independent of a guardian. SSI was involved in organising a youth led youth session which was live recorded and was one of the best! Click here to access a summary of the three days.

SSI participates in this event along with a number of other Australian NGOs who work together to ensure that issues relevant to the Australian refugee cohort are represented in Geneva and that issues requiring advocacy in Australia are followed up. This group is known as the Australian Refugee Rights Alliance (ARRA) and is led by RCOA. Some of the key themes discussed with stakeholders in Geneva included:

  • protection challenges for vulnerable refugee children and adolescents
  • UNHCR funding shortages and the need to establish greater cooperation between development and humanitarian sectors in responding to refugee crises
  • the need to identify creative alternatives to detention
  • the need for governments to consider new ways of offering protection including temporary protection and skilled migration in an attempt to offer solutions to a greater number of refugees (less than 1% of the world’s 50 million refugees are offered resettlement each year)
  • a challenge to reframe the language used in relation to refugees to be less focussed on burden and more on their potential. This includes ceasing to refer to refugees as potential terrorists
  • recognition of the fact that greater numbers of refugees are living in host communities rather than in refugee camps

Further to this, SSI is a member of an international youth network called the Youth and Adolescents in Emergencies (YAE) group. The YAE will be assisting to coordinate a series of Global Refugee Youth Consultations throughout the world aimed at informing next year’s consultations that will be focused on youth.

SSI will be leading consultations in Australia under our Youth Collective Program and in partnership with MYAN, SCOA, RCOA and FECCA. One of SSI’s staff members, who is a former refugee, Najeeba Wazefadost had the privilege to launch the youth theme for next year’s UNHCR-NGO consultations and the global youth consultations.

In her speech she stated that youth are not a burden and that hope and belonging for youth are essential. You can view her excellent and inspirational speech that she delivered at the final plenary sessions below (starting from 17:00 minutes).

Our involvement in international activities, while relatively new, is playing a critical role in ensuring our ongoing relevance as a significant provider of resettlement services and community integration support for refugees and asylum seekers.

David Keegan

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