The newly established Centre for Asia Pacific Refugee Studies (CAPRS) at the University of Auckland held their official online launch on the 15th of July. It’s Māori name, Tāwhārau Whakaumu translates to “the Centre for Transformation”. Co-Founder and Co-Director Dr. Jay Marlowe says the Centre aims “to respond to the contemporary contexts in which forced migration occurs”.
Marlowe says the CAPRS aims to bridge the disconnect between research and real-world issues through creating programmes that support scholars from the Global South to “work with local communities and providers to try to find meaningful and tangible solutions” for Asia Pacific Refugees.
This comes as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) 2019 Global Trends Report estimated that 80 million people have been forcibly removed from their homes. Earlier this month, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filipino Grandi, said this figure is “the highest that the UNHCR has recorded since these statistics have been systematically collected, and is, of course, a reason for great concern”. In a separate report, the UN estimated that there are currently 25 million “environmental refugees”, which is double the number of people that are displaced due to conflict-related crises.
Although the threat of climate change is seen through the increasing frequency and intensity of high impact weather events, one of the problems that environmental refugees face is that the UN Refugee Convention only protects refugees that can prove a well-founded fear of persecution if they are forced to return home. This makes it difficult for people to claim refugee status; as Marlowe points out, “climates don’t persecute, people persecute people.”
As an example, a UN Human Rights case earlier this year ruled that countries should not turn back climate refugees as in the case of Ioane Teitiota, a climate refugee seeking asylum in New Zealand. Although the Commission upheld the New Zealand decision, the UN argued that in future “the threshold should not be too high and unreasonable”. Marlowe argues that whilst these high level statements are valid, “without ensuring that they respond to a local context that can be implemented realistically, [such statements] mean very little”.
CAPRS want to use their research to focus on the local rather than the global. For example, research done by Dr. Marlowe found that refugees settling in New Zealand were not given adequate information on earthquake prone regions like Christchurch and Wellington. They found that slogans like “if it’s long or strong, get gone” were not suitable for those whose first language was not English. This research allowed the Red Cross to develop a localised program to suit the needs of newly resettled refugees around disaster preparedness. Marlowe says this approach “helps to ensure that whatever the research might claim, it’s not just something that sits in the clouds, [but that] it’s also connected to the realities on the ground”.
In the near future, CAPRS looks towards producing webinars that showcase speakers from across the region discussing issues like the roles of technology, education, climate change and developing legal frameworks. CAPRS is also starting up a podcast series titled ‘Unfiltered’, which includes the experiences and perspectives of refugees. Both the webinar and the podcast will be available to students and the general public on the CAPRS website.