The 7th Annual Asia Pacific Consultation of Refugee Rights

Representatives from Thailand, New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, and Japan. Image: APRRN.

By David Keegan, CEO

We are in a time where governments and NGOs are asking, and being asked, questions about how we can do things differently to meet the protection needs of the world’s 23 million refugees. As these questions are asked, there is a push to answer them with more localised solutions and resources.

This week at the 7th Annual Asia Pacific Consultation of Refugee Rights, in Bangkok, Thailand, HOST International Manager for South East Asia Stephen Sumner and myself put forward the role of innovation in answering some of those questions.

The consultation is a bi-annual event aimed at reviewing the work of Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN) and planning network priorities for the next two years. Attended by more than 100 delegates from refugee communities and NGOs, there was a strong focus on elevating the voices and participation of refugees at this year’s event.

Our contribution was a workshop titled Innovation for Human Rights: Practical Solutions to Refugee Protection.

The session included a challenge to view innovation as broader than technological solutions and as an approach that involves looking at things from a different perspective and taking risks. Sometimes the best innovations occur as a result of the process of working things through together in an attempt to find a solution.

We presented three innovative and organic solutions that demonstrated improved access to human rights through overcoming basic needs and empowering communities.

Mozhgan Moarefizadeh, the co-founder of Refugee and Asylum Seeker Information Centre (RAIC) in Indonesia spoke about her refugee journey and how she was supported to establish RAIC. She said she started the organisation to help refugees have their basic needs met through hygiene packages and mental health support and, through this, improve their confidence and self-advocacy.

Atif Javed, the co-founder of Tarjimly, a tool for accessing translation services in humanitarian situations, spoke about his desire to overcome the barriers caused by language by connecting the world’s bilinguals with refugees through Facebook messenger. We heard how this innovation has enabled many refugees to access services and protection more easily and efficiently.

Jessica Chapman, COO of Payong, along with three refugee students from Kuala Lumpur, spoke about Project Stand-Up, an initiative created by students at Fugee School to address gender inequality within their community. They realised that parents keep girls home from school to undertake domestic duties and are experimenting with a mobile phone app aimed at connecting community volunteers with families in need of assistance. It’s hoped this project will change gender attitudes from within and increase the participation of girls in education and other activities.

Participants at the session were encouraged to consider how APRRN could facilitate innovation and access to financial and skills-based resources for viable projects.

Discussions led to recognition of the need for greater focus on community strengths and for education of donors to remove barriers that prevent many community groups from accessing funding.

It was agreed that APRRN could play a stronger role in facilitating this as well as assisting in bringing members together to innovate and to partner in implementation.

At HOST we’re passionate about supporting initiatives led by refugee and host communities that seek to make lives better for displaced people. We also want to work with others to innovate in relation to refugee protection and human rights so running a workshop on this at APRRN’s bi-annual conference was logical and timely.

With innovation as a key value for HOST, we will continue to work with APRRN and its members to further this work and to assist in realising practical solutions to displacement and increased access to fundamental human rights.