Tuesday, July 8, 2014
Australia, let’s rethink the asylum seeker issue.
For an asylum seeker to be considered for refugee status, they have to be outside their country of origin. In most cases, these people will have left their country and entered a neighbouring country ‘illegally’. Australia is lucky in that it does not share a border with a major source-country of refugees. (It would be interesting to see Australia’s reaction if there was, in years to come, an influx of refugees from Papua New Guinea or Indonesia. Would they still be ‘stopping the boats’?) So almost all refugees come to Australia via a third, or transit, nation.
Prior to 2012, Australia’s annual refugee intake stood at 13,750. In 2013, the previous government increased that to 20,023. We need to put this in context. Australia’s total annual immigration numbers are capped at 190,000. Thus, even at the upper figure of 20,023, the number of refugees represented only around 10.5% of our total annual immigration numbers. When the current Abbott government came to power they immediately lowered the annual refugee intake back to 13,750, around 7.24% of total immigration. Many of the 96% or so of ‘legitimate’ migrants are probably wanting to come to Australia for a ‘better life’, be that for work purposes, to be re-united with family, and so on. They are certainly not fleeing danger. Thus, the vast majority of immigrants to Australia are, in fact, ‘economic migrants’.
In Indonesia, in January of this year, there were 7241 asylum seekers and 3,026 people who had already been granted refugee status. It’s worth noting that the number of asylum seekers is not much greater than the number by which our refugee intake was reduced when Abbott came to power (6,273). How many of these refugees and asylum seekers has Australia taken? According to a report in The Guardian (April 18, 2014), between September 2013 and January 2014, 360 people were accepted for resettlement, ‘mostly’ by Australia. This represents something less than 3.5% of these people in four months. Is this good enough? Is it at all surprising that the people waiting in Indonesia become frustrated and impatient, and try to make their way here by ‘illegal’ means?
Although it is usually claimed by those who support the strict border control policies of the Abbott government that this is intended to prevent the loss of life at sea, we are right to be somewhat sceptical about this. Are there not other ways of achieving this? Has either side of politics seriously considered any creative alternatives? I would argue that Australia could easily absorb all 3,026 recognised refugees from Indonesia, as well as all those asylum seekers who are later granted refugee status, in addition to its current intake of 13,750 (or even 20,023). The total number of migrants to Australia could easily be lifted to 200,000; alternatively, the intake of those economic (non-refugee) migrants could be reduced. Furthermore, I have no doubt that, in cooperation with the Indonesian Government, Australia could greatly increase the rate at which the asylum seekers’ claims are processed in Indonesia.
By taking these refugees from Indonesia, and by expediting the process of assessment, the asylum seekers and refugees in Indonesia would be given realistic hope, and perhaps, just perhaps, that too would stop the boats.
So why does neither major political party in Australia want to try this? Would the Australian people at least be willing to consider such a solution? If not, why not?