Interesting articles on issues ranging from a small town fighting for asylum seekers to stay, to Cambridge Analytica.
This is the second half of this piece: Check out Part 1 here.
As an asylum seeker who has arrived by boat to Australia, under either the Labour or Coalition, you will be treated as a second class asylum seeker, be discriminated against due to your mode of arrival, possibly be settled in a third world nation without the infrastructure to support you OR be allowed into Australia but only on a temporary basis, until you can be sent back.
WHY does this policy standpoint seem to work? The arguments used by voters include:
1. We don't hate refugees, we just don't like those who are jumping the queue.
Mate, there is no queue. If that doesn't answer the question, let's look at reasons people decide to jump on a boat.
Problem 1 - Difficult access to UNHCR processing locations. In some cases, like those from North and East Sri Lanka, the only place where you can apply for refugee status via the UNHCR is in Colombo, down in the South and in the heartland of the 'enemy'. The number of checkpoints between where the refugees are coming from and where the UNCHR processing location is means that more likely than not, you won't make it through. What is your other option? Jump on a boat somewhere and try your luck.
Problem 2 - No camp nearby. The UNCHR has a number of refugee camps and processing locations around the world. However, if you are in a situation where a camp is inaccessible, or worse, you find one and it is full, where do you go?
Problem 3 - The length of wait to be resettled. This is one of the wedge issues. If the average wait in a refugee camp is 17 years, does it not make sense that individuals will try other options to start their life? Yes, there are those that go through the system, wait in a camp and get duly processed. It is pure folly to believe though that everyone has equal access to the UNHCR's processing pathway. If there is an option - no matter how dangerous - that means you may be accepted into a nation in a shorter period of time, that option will be taken.
This is an aspect of the issues that requires a concerted international or regional effort to tackle. It is a major factor which means that if resolved, or even partly so, asylum seekers will not have the same incentive to risk their life by jumping on a boat. They will have belief in the system and will wait - if they believe the system works. This can be done by substantially increasing the capacity of the UNHCR to allow them to process individuals at a much faster rate, something Australia can work on.
2. Why don't they stay in Indonesia and Malaysia?
Both of these countries are not signatories to the UN Convention and as such, offer no rights and protection to asylum seekers and refugees. This means that they live on the edge of civilisation, unable to work or educate themselves and their families and in the constant fear of detection and persecution. This lifestyle is simply unsustainable. Many are often recognised refugees and are simply waiting to be resettled, however, it can take them up to 20 or 30 years to be resettled into a third country.
3. We have to protect our borders.
Burnside says it best here.
"Border protection" is a grossly misleading term, used by both major parties. It implies that boat people are a threat to us. They are not. We do not need to be protected from asylum seekers: they need to be protected from their persecutors.
We need to stop this defensive, exclusionary discourse that implies this is an issue of national security. If it were, it would be under the Department of Defence. It isn't. It is under the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. Which means it is an issue of immigration!
Some say that if the refugees were white, this wouldn't be a problem, alluding to this issue targeting the xenophobic vote. This is true, to a certain extent. Interestingly,
There is no doubt there are people who will try to rort the system, individuals who take advantage of kindness.
However, this should NOT dictate our behaviour as a nation.
If we want to be world leaders, if we want to play a part in the region as part of the 'Asian Century', we have to show that we are willing to take our share of an international situation that isn't going anywhere.
At the end of the day, the attitude towards refugees and asylum seekers in this country may be deemed as legal, technically. It may be deemed as politically savvy, for winning votes in this election.
However, at the end of the day, there is no way it can be deemed as fair, just or morally correct.
For a nation with the resources that we have, with the pride in ‘fairness’ we tout, with the capacity to take on refugees and provide them with the opportunity to start a new life, it is sad that we are not willing to take part of the international responsibility to protect properly. Particularly as in some cases, our armed forces contributed to the situations that are forcing people out of their homes (Afghanistan, Iraq).
…and they wonder why people are disengaging from politics.
Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution. UN Declaration of Human rights, Article 14 (1)
How have we come to this point?
How is it the the nation of Australia, which hosts 0.3% of the global total of 45.2 million refugees (Source, 2012), has resorted to disregarding sense, moral obligation, compassion and fairness?
What happened to 'we've boundless plains to share?'
There are no words to describe the ridiculousness of the current asylum seeker policy debate. In fact, to call it a policy debate in disingenuous. This isn't about policy. This is about, as others before have stated vehemently, a race to the bottom. A way to capture a vote in the conservative, close minded and those who feel threatened. A way to talk about 'security of our borders', as if the asylum seekers that arrive on our shores via leaky vessels are invading our nation when in fact they are seeking our protection.
It is an issue that evokes a strong almost visceral emotional response in almost every individual. Good policy isn't about emotional pleas though. 'Good' politics on the other hand...well, it seems that all our politics relies on is emotion.
Emotion aside however, the facts are simple.
- We have an obligation to the United Nations 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees which, as a nation, we signed and committed to (as well as the 1967 Protocol). This means that we are obliged to process asylum seekers who come to our shores. We are NOT to discriminate based on mode of arrival.
- 90% of boat arrivals who have been processed have been deemed refugees. Those who have not have been repatriated or held in detention. The distinction between asylum seekers and refugees is important. Asylum seekers are those waiting for their 'refugee claim' to be processed. Refugees are those who the UNHCR has already processed and are waiting to be resettled into a third nation.
The question that is often asked is 'why then have boat arrivals increased substantially since the Labor government came into power? Is this not due to the dismantling of the Howard Government's Pacific Solution?'
That is highly unlikely.
There are a number of factors that have contributed to the increase. This includes better organisation of the 'people smuggler' business, increase in zones of conflict (in 1999 we had yet to enter Afghanistan and Iraq) and the fragmented policy positions of the last few years. There have been multiple changes in the last three years – this encourages people to consider the option and helps the smugglers sell the proposition.
There are two aspects to the discussion. One is the morality of treatment of those who make the journey and arrive to our shores on boat. The second is the international effort to reduce the numbers coming by boat for their own safety, if this is something the Australian public truly wants (for the right reasons).
The policies being suggested may 'work', if by 'work' we mean reduce the number of individuals who arrive by boat, but this is to be seen. The true issue however, is the intention behind the policy and the treatment of those who have already arrived and the opportunities they are afforded.
The Coalition's policy is a step backwards to the world of Temporary Protection Visas. These reviled visas, implemented in 1999 by the Howard Government defeat the purpose of being granted asylum.
Being given a temporary visa means individuals are unsure as to whether they should start a full life in Australia or if they will be deported the moment the Government decides their country is safe to return to. It meant that you were effectively separated from your family permanently as you are not allowed to leave, but not given permission to help bring your family to Australia. In this edition of the policy, refugees will also have to work for the dole indefinitely.
The only slight tinge of silver lining is that boat arrivals won't be counted under the 13, 750 humanitarian visa allocations for the year under the coalition government, meaning more refugees can arrive through the UNHCR process. Ideally, this number should be increased substantially.
''The essential point is, this is our country and we determine who comes here,'' Mr Abbott said.
Well considering the largest proportion of illegal migrants are actually British and European visa overstayers, maybe that is who we should be turning our attention to.
I had too much to say, so find Part 2 of my thoughts here.
[box] “23,000 persons per day leave their homes and seek protection elsewhere – more than the total number of asylum seekers arriving in Australia in a year[/box]
Since the Kevin Rudd announced the new ALP policy on refugees and asylum seekers last Friday afternoon, I have been at a mental and moral loss. Still trying to get my head around it, I thought I would put together a few of the interesting articles and pieces written about this so we can try gather enough information to have a reasoned debate. Here are a few of those pieces...
Morally, though? There are real questions that need to be answered, not least of which is: at what point did we decide we would no longer even consider processing boat-borne refugees – any refugees – on our own land?
That’s what is important here. Not hysteria, not deliberately misleading headlines, not hodge-podge rallies responding with the speed of a knee-jerk to a few bullet points.
Asking the right questions. Calmly, implacably, and constantly.
The average Australian enjoys extraordinary fortune by world standards, but privilege has bred concern for ourselves not others. In the internet age, it would take little effort for Australians to educate themselves about the real state of the world's refugees. Not enough could be bothered to do so, yet still feel entitled to express an opinion on the subject.
The Conversation is one of my favourite places for good information on politics and policy in Australia. On this topic they are no exception. Here is an explainer on our international obligations, whether or not turning back boats is legal, experts' response on the announcement and an explainer on the fact that the policy probably doesn't comply with international law.
[box] There is some irony in Australia unloading its problem onto its developing neighbour while at the same time seeking to show international leadership on the broad issue.[/box]
Michelle Gratton talks about how this policy is largely to shift the problem into someone else's backyard.
In his [Rudd] news conference on the night of the 2010 coup against him he warned against a lurch to the right on asylum policy.
Now he has taken his own huge step to the right.
He says one has to respond to changing circumstances.
On each occasion he has managed to sound sincere and convincing as he articulated his position. That is his political skill.
Muhammad Asif, who spoke to the ABC via a translator, asked the Government to take pity on asylum seekers and said Australia should fund the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to help process their claims.
"He said 'after I saw this, I will never go by boat. I'm decided to go join UNHCR'," the translator said.
"Before he see this he says he wanted to go by boat with most of his friends. They wanted to go by boat.
"One thing he requests ... from Australia, [is] to push the UNHCR. Please let it be faster.
Rest easy, Australia. Our borders are now safe from illegals. They always were, of course, as seeking asylum has always been legal. As Julian Burnside pointed out yesterday, “Under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights every person has the right to seek asylum in any territory they can reach.” But now we are safe from legal illegals. And besides, we have no obligation to accept refugees and allow them to live here. Well, yes, OK, technically as a signatory to the Refugee Convention we do have that obligation, legally and morally, especially given our involvement in international conflicts that is partially responsible for people fleeing their country...
Have you read any good pieces or perspectives on this topic since the announcement?
**New updates on the 23rd of July**
Further analysis by The Conversation on what a truly regional solution would look like.
The Federal Government of Australia has announced changes to its policies that will see Australia take a huge leap backwards in the humanity of its processing of refugees and asylum seekers.
Allow me a moment here for honest disbelief and disappointment in the handling of this unnecessarily controversial issue.
The Immigration Minister Chris Bowen announced that asylum seekers that arrive by boat will no longer be detained in Nauru or Manus (PNG) as the the offshore processing facilities have reached their capacity. Instead, they will be allocated "temporary bridging visas", meaning they will be allowed to live outside detention centers without the right to work or bring their families to Australia. The bridging visas will allow for welfare and assistance of up to 89% of unemployment benefits ($270) a week, a sum below the Australian poverty line. [More after the jump]
The policy is eerily similar to the Howard era's draconian Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) but manages to make matters worse.
Individuals under TPVs were allowed to work and contribute to the community, thus culturally preparing them for the eventual transition to full Australian citizens once their processing was complete.
The policy, quite frankly, is a recipe for disaster. Introducing potentially thousands of asylum seekers into a community, living in poverty and with no legal way to earn money or improve their standard of living is not only inhumane, it is short sighted and irresponsible. Charities will be overwhelmed by the demand on their resources, communities can turn into ghettos and by disenfranchising and isolating truly vulnerable individuals, the policy has the potential to become the birthplace of a new underclass.
Asylum seekers and refugees are often eager to work, diligent and dedicated to beginning a new life. Stripped of their opportunity to do so, where will they turn? How will they properly adapt to their new culture? Looking internally, why would the community accept them if they don't see them contributing to the community?
There is no doubt that this is a difficult and complex issue with no easy solution. However, the solution cannot lay in essentially reinvigorating a decade old policy, in flaunting international law and creating inevitable problems for the future of Australia's social fabric.
Michelle Grattan made the following comment, challenging people to come up with better options.
It is easy to find holes in what the government has done this week. But it's another matter to say what policy adjustment would best meet the three criteria of humanity, effectiveness and community acceptability.
I tend to disagree. Australians (perhaps reluctantly) elected this government to lead the nation, not pander to every whim, ensuring every solution is "acceptable to the community" before it is implemented. It is their job as leaders and governors of the nation to provide solutions that are in the best interests of the country and its citizens, not simply in the interests of providing short term solutions that may work up until the election date.
Unfortunately however, this isn't how the system seems to work.
The public discussion on this issue has been clouded with political agendas, biased language, emotional manipulation and pure exploitation of fear of the unknown from both sides of the house. Unfortunately, it seems our very humanity as a responsible nation has been caught in the crossfire. There is very little public understanding of what will 'stop the boats' - advertisements such as the below are incredibly ineffective. Where is a potential asylum seeker going to access a computer and the Internet in order to even view the video? In two months it has had a total of 8.927 views...I think that speaks for itself.
Caption provided: "We're working regionally to stop people smugglers. There's no advantage taking a boat when it's safer, cheaper and just as quick to use orderly migration options." They have got to be kidding. (via)
It is no wonder that Australia is developing a reputation as 'extremely harsh'.
In a time where the nation is attempting to build its reputation in the region and globally through initiatives such as the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper and the seat on the Security Council, this is an embarrassment. Neighbours such as Indonesia and Malaysia, who deal with much larger numbers, are hardly likely to be impressed - or understanding.
The unfortunate result is that this issue has become unnecessarily politicised and used as a manipulator of the public sentiment by both parties. Simplistic statements such as "stop the boats" dehumanise individuals and create a political football that completely distorts the true nature of the discussion. 'The conversation has been poisoned' suggests Professor Burnside, and that poison is what feeds the inexorable decent in this debate.
Almost everything that has happened in refugee policy over the past 11 years has been informed and supported by dishonest rhetoric. Specifically, calling boat people “illegals” and “queue-jumpers” is not only false, it is calculated to prejudice the public against a tiny group of weak, vulnerable people who deserve our help, not our hatred. (via)
In the grand scheme of things, these traumatised men, women and children are less than 10% of our annual migration intake and are just looking for a new, peaceful place to call home.
I doubt that they expected that when they eventually arrived in Australia they would be treated worse than our criminals.
Budget implications should be enough to convince your average Australian that there is a better solution. Detention onshore costs around $150, 000 per person, per year and offshore costs about $500, 000 per person, per year. Surely, there are better options.
For a fantastic article that looks at a possible alternative, check out Professor Julian Burnside's thoughts. There are many other humane solutions out there
Lastly, for those who claim that these initiatives stop the boat, Professor James Hathaway (an expert on international refugee law) states:
The whole people-smuggling problem is a false issue. We created the market for human smuggling. If asylum seekers could lawfully come to Australia and make a refugee claim without the need of sneaking in by boat, they would do it. But we make it illegal and create the market that smugglers thrive on.
We are extremely lucky to live in Australia and call this land home. Is it too much to show some humanity and share?