Settlement, citizenship and policy topped the agenda at the annual Settlement Council of Australia (SCoA) conference in Melbourne today, as dozens of settlement professionals, academics and community leaders shared their views on the major issues facing settlement globally.
Held at Federation Square in Melbourne, the three-day conference will see dozens of presenters tackle the theme ‘Settlement and Citizenship in Civil Society’ and discuss the impact of the global domain on communities, societies and active citizenship.
Starting with an opening address from SCoA Chair Dewani Bakkum, the first round of speakers discussed the need to support vulnerable communities including over 60 million people – 20 million refugees and 40 million displaced people – who are currently displaced worldwide.
UNHCR Regional Representative Thomas Albrecht described the current state of play as the “largest displacement on record”, while United Nations Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees Dr Volker Turk said that the global crisis presented opportunities for improvement.
“Many people are referring to [the current number of displaced people] as a crisis, but I encourage you to think of it as a call for action with many opportunities,” he said in a video message.
“There are opportunities to refine and expand integration support, which is the foundation of settlement in Australia.”
Speakers discussed Australia’s role in supporting the "unprecedented" number of displaced people and agreed that a more collaborative approach would deliver the best settlement outcomes.
“The needs of displaced people far outweigh that of available resources,” David Wilden from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection said. “Resettlement requires cooperation and collaboration, and we need to look closely at how we use places for resettlement.”
Special mention was also given to the need to consider integration more broadly, with Department of Justice Canada Attorney Afsoon Donna Houshidari making a heartfelt address about her own experiences as a former refugee from Iran.
“Integration is an ongoing journey, but the process of integration begins before we have stepped foot in a new country,” she said, adding that integration begins in the “hearts and minds” of communities.
Australian Human Rights Commission Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Tim Soutphommasane also raised questions about perceptions of citizenship in Australia and the role of the media in shaping the settlement discussion.
“If you don’t have a society that says everyone belongs, the formal mechanisms we do have [in place] will remain incomplete,” he said.
Day two of the conference will cover a range of topics by renowned speakers, including SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis who will discuss the role of partnership building and collaboration in the settlement sector.