Policy paves way for hope

What does Australia’s New International Development Policy mean for refugees and people affected by displacement?

Last month, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Penny Wong, released the government’s new International Development Policy, outlining its priorities for Australia’s international development program.  

The policy’s main aim is outlined as being to create a peaceful, stable, and prosperous Indo-Pacific region. Within this, it talks of forging better partnerships, supporting locally-led development and enhancing Australia’s input into sustainable futures for people in the Indo-Pacific region.  

The Policy speaks to several new strategies and approaches set to tackle major challenges like climate change and displacement caused by conflict or disaster. To do so, it’s also committed to strengthening support for locally-led development, promising more support for locally-led organisations, like our partners, civil society organisations — which are facing heavy restrictions in authoritarian countries — and refugee and indigenous organisations with unique knowledge, experience and capacity; a welcome shift which Act for Peace has been calling for.   

Cause for celebration 

For the first time, the policy recognises that the world faces a global displacement crisis. Global forced displacement has more than doubled in the last decade. By June this year, over 110 million people had been forced from their homes by conflict or violence and were still living in camps and urban areas, without a solution. Another 24 million people, on average, are also being displaced each year by disasters.  

Importantly, the government has committed to not only prioritise short-term emergency humanitarian assistance for displaced people, but it has taken up our recommendation to place more emphasis on addressing the root causes of displacement and finding permanent solutions for displaced people, so people are not stuck in limbo for decades.  

Act for Peace has been urging the government to do so as people are being displaced at a much faster rate than solutions are being found, which means more and more people are being forced to live in refugee-like circumstances, in remote refugee camps and urban slums, often for decades.  

So, we’ve been calling on the government, UN agencies and NGOs to do more to both prevent and resolve displacement, while continuing to provide assistance for displaced people, and leading discussions with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) on how Australia can best contribute to global efforts to reduce displacement and better support local NGOs and refugee led organisations. 

What does this mean for refugees? 

There are some key changes that will significantly affect the communities Act for Peace partners with.  

“With a history working with displaced communities and understanding their needs, we have long understood the significance and importance of people taking the lead when it comes to solutions that are fitting within their own countries and cultures,” says Janet Cousens, CEO at Act for Peace. 

“The new International Development Policy promises to focus on localisation, meaning an acknowledgement that this is an important way to foster long-lasting solutions for people — solutions that that work for them.” 

Additionally, the creation of a Civil Society Fund acknowledges the restrictions faced by communities under authoritarian regimes. While the details of this part of the policy are yet to be laid out, this first step looks set to supply solutions that may help create more open societies in the future, focusing on ways we can help communities facing the threat of authoritarian regimes.  

Contributing towards change 

It is our hope that this policy will pave the way towards change that enables us to truly tackle the displacement crisis — not just in the Indo-Pacific region — but around the world.  

“While we have been heavily involved in advocating for many of these changes in the new policy, the work is not done yet,” explains James Thomson Senior Protection and Policy Advisor at Act for Peace. 

“We’ll need to work closely with the sector and with DFAT to develop more detailed strategies to guide Australia’s diplomatic efforts to prevent displacement and develop solutions to end displacement while developing a humanitarian strategy that anticipates and is ready for the displacement crises of the future as climate-fuelled disasters and conflicts increase”.  

The government’s promise of responding to protracted crises means Australia will supply long-term support to build resilience and focus resources on humanitarian need, including assisting governments and communities hosting displaced populations. Act for Peace will engage with the government to develop this strategy to reduce the millions of people who have been uprooted from their homes and lives.  

In addition, Act for Peace will aid in designing the Civil Society Fund, to support greater civil society engagement in displacement contexts where protection, advocacy and human rights are often challenged.  

This is just the start of the process, and we will continue to update details as they progress. If you’d like to know more, you can sign up to our newsletter on the footer of our homepage here. Or follow us on LinkedIn to be part of the conversation.  

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