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.