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The Centre was established by Dr Barbara Ferguson (the first Director). Eileen Pittaway from the School of Social Work became Director when Barbara retired in mid 2000.

In July 2001, a small refugee advocacy group, the Australian National Committee on Refugee Women (ANCORW) joined the Centre in a partnership for training refugee women. This program has been discontinued but ANCORW continues to work in partnership with CRR on various projects.

In 2002 the Centre, working with other concerned NGOs, formed the Australian Refugee Rights Alliance (ARRA), a loose coalition of NGOS concerned about national and international developments against asylum seekers and refugees. ARRA aimed to coordinate members' advocacy for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers at international meetings, in particular the meeting of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. ARRA continues to be the vehicle for coordinated Australian NGO input into meetings of UNHCR.

In 2003 and 2005 the Centre hosted major international conferences highlighting the situation of refugees seeking asylum and in countries of resettlement.

In 2006, Linda Bartolomei and Eileen Pittaway from the Centre were instrumental in the drafting and passage of a UNHCR Conclusion on Refugee Women and Girls at Risk, which stemmed in part from their research into women at risk. Another significant outcome of this research was the development of a Heightened Risk Identification Tool, which has now become incorporated into standard UNHCR field practice.

In 2008, the Centre was a partner in the formation of a new Refugee Network in the Asia Pacific, the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN). 

In 2011, the Centre hosted the highly successful 2011 Refugee Conference to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Refugee Convention. Highlights of the Conference include a women's dialogue (PDF) and youth forum (PDF).

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