The best discussion on Australia’s ‘boat people’ problem yet.

I (Sam) posted this on my Facebook wall:

My Facebook status.

My Facebook status.

(LINK.) Then this happened. Enjoy.

The authors gave  permission to re-post their comments with their first names only.

Steve: Out of curiosity, exactly how would you stop a riot Sam?

Nishadh: out of curiosity, how exactly would would most people deal with being detained indefinitely without having committed a crime?

SteveYou mean other than attempting to enter a country without permission, which actually is illegal until asylum is granted? Seriously if you start a riot, what do you expect the response to be? Batons are hardly flamethrowers and machine guns.

Anon. 1Actually.. to seek asylum in another country is NOT illegal. What is illegal by international law is the way Australia is treating these people – locking them up in prisons that are in disgusting conditions, which are well below Australian standards of living, and where there is widespread evidence of this environment leading to severe problems in mental health. Also, are you saying that violence is the only proper response to a riot? I certainly do not believe that it is. And I believe it is dangerously narrow minded to only take into account one aspect of this situation by looking only at the fact that a riot was started, and hence ‘what else do the rioters expect to happen?’. To truly address the problem, questions such as ‘WHY was the riot started’, need to be asked and investigated and shared with the general public. And also… when batons are used to the point of blood shed and evident brutality, is that okay to dismiss just because they aren’t flamethrowers and machine guns? Batons don’t even seem to be the only things that were used:…/guards-attacked-asylum…/5270640

NishadhSteve, can you tell me what laws say it is illegal to enter a country without permission?

There’s nothing explicit in Migration Act. And on the contrary, Article 31 of the Refugee Convention, to which Australia is a signatory, is very explicit about countries not discriminating against people seeking asylum who enter with valid visa documents.

Also, I would question the use of the term riot. In any case, it started as a peaceful protest

Stevewith valid visa documents’ being the key point there that you have brushed aside. I notice that still everybody has dodged my original question and that the standard arguments are coming from the standard parties – “this is unacceptable and what the govt is doing is wrong etc”, as usual with no actual suggested improvements to the situation. Of course living conditions in a detention centre are not the same as for most Australians – because most Australians don’t live in a detention centre. I’m not claiming to be an expert on the situation or even supporting the way this has been handled, but it’s very easy to criticise when you’re not the person who’s actually responsible for handling the situation, and the reality is that there is no good answer to the asylum seeker issues australia has – and not for lack of effort or discussion either. Maybe you should have a good look at how riots end in other countries for some standard of comparison, before throwing out the typical emotional rhetoric about being disgusted by your government. Personally I don’t envy anyone who actually has to make border control decisions in Aus, because every option presented so far has serious problems with it.

Nishadhenter without valid visa documents – without being the key point there.

Steve, a comparison with how riots are usually dealt with would illustrate that authorities almost never use live ammunities, machetes, and baseballs bats. Tear gas and water cannons are not the same. Does that answer your question?

If you cared to open your eyes and read a little more about the issue, you will see that many people, Australian and non-Australian, expert and non-expert, have proposed clear, concrete “suggested improvements” to the situation. These improvements include ending offshore processing, assessing everyone who comes to Australia, de-linking offshore and onshore processing numbers, and working with regional countries to settle asylum seekers in hospitable places rather than offload obligations on to poorer nations without the capacity to protect them.

These suggested improvements are safer, more humane, in the national interest, and guess what, cheaper for the tax payer.

Of course if you buy into the sickening rhetoric which falsely dehumanizes asylum seekers as ‘illegals’, ‘criminals’, ‘terrorists’, ‘job stealers’, or ‘leaches’, it becomes very hard to justify anything other than the incarceration that currently exists – Falsely being the key point there.

Sam (me)Also, specifically on your point Steve, if we force people to be somewhere we have a duty of care. If we try to make them as miserable as possible (see the graphic novel released by the Dept. of Immigration boasting about Australia’s cruelty) then it is ridiculous to expect people to not in some way resist or protest or stand up for themselves. We have deliberately denied people any agency, and then when they attempt to stand up for themselves they are crushed.. So it’s not only the “brutal” law enforcement (which was carried out by an arm of the PNG police implicated in torture and brutality already) but the chain of events and policies that have lead to the riot/protest. We oppress people and now we enforce that oppression with violence. Enough violence that one man died from severe head injuries.

That’s f*cked. Not in an abstract policy discussion way, but in a ‘one person is needlessly dead’ kind of way.

Steveyou said WITH valid visa documents Nishadh. I’m not a lawyer, and you may be correct, but my (uneducated) belief is that to enter Australia, you require a visa. Feel free to correct me on that one.

A comparison with how riots are usually dealt with would demonstrate that aggression is usually met with aggression, force is met with force, and violence with violence. At no stage has anybody claimed that the authorities in these riots have used “live ammunities [sic – btw the word is ammunition], machetes and baseball bats”, those are your words and NOBODY else’s. Tear gas and water cannons are not the same, but as somebody who was present in Budapest during the 2007 riots, I can attest to the fact that in some circumstances there is simply no alternative to force – people are not always reasonable or rational, especially once mob mentalities kick in.

As I said: how would YOU deal with it? If you were running the detention centre – whether said offshore centre should exist or not being a separate issue – and a peaceful protest became a full blown, aggressive and destructive riot, what would YOU actually do if you were in charge of the place? Because so far all you’ve done is dodge the question. And don’t get the wrong idea here – it’s a genuine question, not an accusation. But if you think your opinion is actually worth taking seriously, answer the question.

Sam – let’s compare one form of incarceration to another, that being prison to detention centres. They are essentially the same thing with different names. Asylum seekers get thrown in detention centres for the painfully obvious reason that if you don’t make any attempt at border control, people will take full advantage of that. “Criminals”, as defined by the left wing as people who break laws other than immigration laws, get thrown in prison as a combination of punishment of the perpetrator, protection of the victims (irrelevant in the case of a “victimless” crime), short term prevention of further crime, as a deterrent to prospective criminals, and in the hopes of rehabilitation. Suicide rates in prisons are roughly 10x higher than in the general population (Heilig, 1973) yet nobody seems to question the use of prisons as a punitive and deterrent measure for most crimes (once again including crimes lacking a direct victim, including those which are entirely probabilistic and not actually based on any harm coming to anybody). It’s pretty obvious that anybody who is detained against their will, will find it hard to cope with, and that there will be mental health deterioration as a result – but realistically there is little alternative unless you think that border control should be dropped entirely. Simply releasing all asylum seekers into the wild whilst their claims are processed would be an childishly stupid move – how are you going to find them again if their claim is rejected?

Nishadh – You can move the detention centres to mainland Australia if you want (such as Maribyrnong, Villawood, Curtin, Perth, Wickham Point, Yongah Hill and others, all of which are exactly that) but the Migration Act of 1958 requires that anybody who enters Australia without permission be detained and either returned to their country of origin or granted permission to remain in Australia as soon as is practicable. As with every other country on earth, Australia maintains and enforces its right to determine who may or may not enter the country without citizenship. Geographically, anybody who makes their way to Australia by surface transport (water/land) has almost always passed by several alternative countries in which asylum could also have been sought – but wasn’t. If escaping persecution truly was the aim, these alternatives would be taken up.

NishadhMy apologies Steve for not being as clear as I should have. I suspect it won’t make a huge difference, but I’m going to do my best to answer your questions and address the issues you’ve raised in a comprehensive manner, but with as much clarity as possible.

Please read carefully and with consideration.

1. “To enter Australia, you require a visa.”

Yes, this is what Australia (and all other nation-states) mandate of non-citizens. The ‘visa’ is a mark of sovereignty and the nation-state’s right to uphold its sovereignty.

Of course the visa system is biased towards some non-citizens, depending on where you come from and what your circumstances are, as determined by the nation-state. For example, a New Zealander arriving in Australia is automatically granted a Special Category Visa (SCV) by virtue of their citizenship alone. Citizens of other nationalities – India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iran – to name a few go through a much more stringent visa application process back home in order to even be considered for a tourist visa.

However, Australia, like many other nation-states is a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. The Convention (and its Protocols) is a global legal instrument to which signatories are beholden when dealing with refugees. The Convention protects refugees – persons who are outside of their country of nationality or habitual residence; have a well found fear of being persecuted because of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion; and is unable or unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of that country or to return there for fear of persecution.

Under Article 31 of the Convention, a nation-state “shall not impose penalties on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of Article1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.

Although the Article recognises the nation-state’s requirement for a non-citizen to hold a visa, it holds that those who flee persecution and seek protection cannot treated differently whether they enter the country with a visa or not. This inclusion recognises the fact that people fleeing persecution from their own state or in a great hurry are highly unlikely to have the means or the time to acquire travel and visa documents.

Australia clearly discriminates based on whether an arrival has a visa or not by mandatorily and indefinitely detaining the latter category, and offshore.

The Migration Act does require that someone be detained if they arrive without a valid visa. But it also stipulates (under Part 2, Division 7, Sub-division A, sect. 194 and 195 – don’t know how to reference legal stuff) that the detainee be “informed as soon as is practicably possible that they may apply for a visa”; in the case of refugees, it would be a protection visa.

So detention is intended to be administrative – until the visa application process is complete and a visa granted – and not punitive.

Of course, we’ve removed the ability of IMAs (boat arrivals), as part of our discriminatory system, to even apply for protection in Australia. Non-IMAs (eg. air arrivals) are never detained despite being protection visa applicants, like the IMAs.

2. So are asylum seekers arriving without valid visa documents ‘illegal’?

No, certainly not under int’l law. And most certainly not in the sense of being having broken universally agreed upon norms of criminality or any criminal laws.

3. Did the authorities use live ammunition, machetes, and baseball bats?

These weapons were certainly used. GOOGLE Manus Island riot/protest etc. And given that asylum seekers were the primary victims of such useage, its safe to assume that the authorities were the ones? As to which authorities, this might give you a picture, although the source might be ‘too Left wing’ for you. –

4. “How would YOU deal with it?”

Well, as you said, aggression is usually met with aggression, force by force, violence by violence…..So if I were a PNG guard or a G4S security agent, I would do my job. I would probably try my utmost to minimise the violence of my response (which I’m sure many of the authorities would have done too – although if you check out Laslett’s article, there are other elements that you might question).

That said, I would never ever, if I had the choice, be a security contractor at an offshore processing centre, because I believe mandatory and indefinite detention of people seeking asylum in those conditions is manifestly wrong. In other words, I don’t think they should be ‘policed’ like that because they haven’t done anything wrong.

5. “yet nobody seems to question the use of prisons as a punitive and deterrent measure for most crimes”

This is related to my above point about asylum seekers and wrongdoing.

You seem to conflate ‘criminals’ and ‘asylum seekers’ as if they are one and the same. It must be said that both are all-encompassing, simplistic categories, which encourage stereotyping.

But if we are to take those two broad categories, there are very clear, identifiable differences. As I said, many people believe that entering a country is not wrong or illegal in the same way as committing a crime under the criminal code. After all, didn’t we all arrive by boat and settle this land? This is why there is so much controversy and anger about incarcerating asylum seekers like criminals and much less controversy about incarcerating murderers, rapists, thieves etc.

I must say, at least criminals have recourse to legal representation and a fair trial. Asylum seekers who arrive without valid visa documents don’t. They are just indefinitely detained in horrible conditions.

6. “simply releasing all asylum seekers in the wild whilst their claims are processed is a childishly stupid move”

What the hell are you on about? the wild? Ideally, they should be released into the Australian community. Over 90% of claims (by Department of Immigration stats) are found to genuine across the last 10 years.

Are there other reasons why you think releasing them into the community is a childishly stupid move? For one its much much cheaper for the state to release them into the community. It costs $450,000 per person per year to detain someone offshore as opposed to $30,000 per person per year if they are in the community, with much economic benefits which far outweigh the costs in the latter scenario (see Graeme Hugo’s work in 2012).

7. “Asylum seekers get thrown in detention centres for the painfully obvious reason that if you don’t make any attempt at border control, people will take full advantage of that.”

Why in the fucking name of god do you think someone would their loved ones, their home, their culture, their food, their entire livelihood to wander halfway around the bloody globe to an entirely foreign country where they do not speak the language, have absolutely no rights, face indefinite detention and separation from their loved ones?

To “take advantage of open borders?” You might want to google “Tamils in Sri Lanka”, “Hazaras in Afghanistan” etc.

Yes, there are people who ‘play the system’ but stats (as mentioned above) have shown this to be less than 10% of arrivals, if not even lower.

7. “realistically there is little alternative unless you think that border control should be dropped entirely”

Nobody ever argued for border control to be dropped entirely. To start with, Australia has a great big fucking natural border in the form of the ocean, protecting it from a “flood”. Oh and then there is the desert, if people want to get anywhere near our main population centres.

In addition, Australia protects its borders in a myriad of ways – visa regimes, offshore customs agents, airline penalties for flying those without visas etc. Do you see anyway harping on about these regimes?

But honestly, what are we protecting our borders from? In the last three decades, the highest annual total of humanitarian entrants (‘boat people included’) has been 25,000 odd – hardly a “flood”. Iran hosts 1.6 million, Pakistan over a 1 million, Germany over 500,000 at any given time. And without major economic or environmental catastrophe, at least as a direct result of these populations.

Prove to me the long term economic costs of absorbing 25 or even 50,00 per annum(after reading Hugo’s work for one)? We are quite happy to have 60,000 odd visa overstayers in the country at any given time. Or over 150,000 international students. So its not a question of risking economic or environmental collapse by accepting these numbers.

Have any of these people been charged or convicted of terrorism? Average crimes rates within the asylum seeker population are much lower than in the average Australian population?

So again, what are we protecting our borders from?

8. You might start by reading this short, concise piece by that doyen of the liberal party, Malcolm Fraser –

Apologies in advance for any typos, I hope these don’t detract from the attempts at clarity.

Steve:  Now we’re getting somewhere, good points raised. I’ll reply to them in some sort of order: 1, 6 & 7. Here is the full text of article 31 of the UNHCR’s Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees:

1.The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present
themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.2. The Contracting States shall not apply to the movements of such refugees restrictions other than those which are necessary and such restrictions shall only be applied until their status in the country is regularized or they obtain admission into another country. The Contracting States shall allow such refugees a reasonable period and all the necessary facilities to obtain admission into another country.
———-Now obviously this is open to some interpretation – what a government deems to be a “necessary restriction” is arguably the heart of the matter, though interestingly this does specify that it is applicable to refugees coming *directly* from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened – not to those who, as I mentioned before, have traveled through numerous other countries where asylum could also have been sought. I would say that it’s not unreasonable to detain anybody who attempts to enter the country without a visa, until they’ve proven their claim for asylum is legitimate, and the reason I say it’s not reasonable to release them into the community until their claims are processed is that if you do that, there is now zero deterrent for illegitimate immigrants (ie those not genuinely qualifying for asylum) to “seek asylum” in Australia, because it’s really not that hard to simply disappear – especially when the government has little or no documentation of your existence, and no way to track you down. Obviously that big blue wobbly thing that sits between Aus and Indonesia isn’t that big a barrier to modern forms of transportation, such as floating vehicles. “Border control” doesn’t refer literally to a fence along a land border. What you are seeing as penalty, ie people being treated “differently” is in my (and apparently the government’s) eyes a necessary part of the process to ensure that those who arrive seeking asylum are assessed and either allowed or denied entry (as a free person) to Australia. That’s not penalising people unduly unless the process is drawn out longer than it actually takes the government to process the claim – I suspect only a handful of people know for sure whether this actually happens or not.2. The legality of one’s entry to a country depends on the RESULT of their claim for asylum, not their application. Once asylum has been granted, then yes absolutely legal. Until then, that’s exactly what’s on trial.3. Fair point, these weapons have been mentioned – however refugee advocacy groups (and apparently the inmates of the detention centre) claim they were raided and attacked by police and locals. It seems just a little dubious that anybody would BREAK INTO A PRISON and attack people inside without provocation. It takes a fairly threatening situation to eventuate before anybody is pulling triggers, and until independent investigations establish exactly what did happen there, I’m somewhat skeptical of the inmates’ “they attacked us first” claims.4. Again, it’s easy enough to say “well I just wouldn’t take that job” but try to imagine being one of the people who are there: how would you react to chaos in the form of violent rioting if you felt your own life was being threatened? Anyone who’s been in so much as a bar fight is well aware that there are certain situations where reasoning with a person or group is already out of the question because their mentality at that moment is fundamentally irrational.

5. I am using the term “criminal” in the same sense that someone who is accused of a crime is suspected of criminal behaviour, and tried accordingly. When somebody is remanded in custody before/during a trial (typical for violent indictable crimes), nobody bats an eyelid, because it is a necessary restriction to ensure that the accused (in this case, each asylum seeker) does not simply run away if he/she feels that their case is proceeding in a manner unfavorable to themselves. The trial is a necessary evil, not a punishment in itself. As for whether it really takes 12 months to process somebody’s application for asylum, I honestly wouldn’t know (though I do know it takes about 6 weeks to get a working holiday visa for Canada, and that’s when there’s no question of legal status, all paperwork is in order, criminal record checks and 100+ points of ID are provided etc), and that would be a legitimate target for inquiry, because if the length of these assessments are being artificially drawn out, then that IS undue punishment of the individual solely for the sake of deterrence.

7 & 8: Right now, the prospect of seeking asylum in Australia strikes me as pretty grim. Knowing what you’ve got to go through in order to be granted asylum would make me think “how sure am I that after basically spending a year in jail, that they’ll actually let me in”. That is the deterrent component of this process for those who are not legitimate refugees – because obviously nobody wants to spend that long in detention without expecting a positive result. I’d say it’s reasonable to suggest that is why you’re seeing relatively low percentages of claims being rejected. If, however, all asylum seekers were released into the community whilst the government processed their application, those who made false applications would have a substantial amount of time to simply disappear and become true “illegal immigrants”. That is functionally rather similar to having no border control, since you’d basically be relying on the “honour system”.

I’ve never even mentioned the economic costs of any of these scenarios, for a few reasons – firstly, I don’t believe the scale it currently sits on is of concern to the Australian economy as a whole. However, comparing “humanitarian entrants” and the related effects on respective national economies is only relevant if you compare Australia to countries that had comparable economies to begin with (Iran and Pakistan definitely do not qualify there), and saying “25,000 people a year don’t actually cost us that much therefore why are we locking them up” is deliberately ignoring the obvious prediction that one would make about the numbers of entrants that Australia would see if there was no deterrent to illegitimate asylum seekers – ie that the numbers would increase substantially. As an extreme and fairly unrealistic example, if Australia suddenly turned around and said “We’ll accept any and all self-proclaimed refugees into our community until and unless we find out that your asylum claim is illegitimate”, it’s fairly obvious that Australia would suddenly become one of the easiest places in the world with a high standard of living to migrate to (whether under false pretenses or not). The path of least resistance would lead to an obvious increase in migration to Australia if that were the case.

Which brings me to my next point, as I’ve brought up before: let’s say you’re a refugee from Darfur, or Afghanistan for example. To reach Australia, you have to pass through or pass by NUMEROUS other countries where safe haven could realistically be provided from the persecution or danger you faced in your home country. This then (rightly or wrongly) casts doubt over the legitimacy of your claim that you need to be in Australia for reasons of personal freedom or safety – because why would you travel past other safe havens to Australia if safety and freedom were your primary goals? The logical supposition is that it must be due to the higher standard of living in Australia (primarily in an economic sense) than the other more geographically accessible countries that you chose not to seek asylum in. At that point, the government would be fairly well justified in saying “well hang on, are you really here because you need protection, or are you here mainly because you want to benefit from our established economy, education system and infrastructure?”. Hence, in my opinion, the unfortunate necessity of detaining asylum seekers who arrive without visas in order to determine whether their claims are genuine. It’s far from perfect, and I feel sorry for the damage it unquestionably does to some people’s mental health, but even after reading Fraser’s suggestions I still don’t see much alternative. Fraser’s suggestion that setting a higher refugee quota “will stop the boats from Indonesia” etc is somewhat presumptuous (and also doesn’t actually mention whether mandatory detention should be scrapped), as without trying such a policy out, it’s hard to be sure of exactly what the response would be – maybe it would stop the boats and people who “need” to be in Australia could get there more easily , but on the other hand, it may have the effect of casting an image of Australia being a place that is more willing to accept non-vetted migrants than it used to be, and in doing so create the perception that simply landing on Australian shores will be met with a softer reaction than it previously did – thus increasing the numbers. There is no way to know whether such a change in policy would be beneficial or detrimental overall without trying it, and it is interesting that both the Labor and Liberal parties seem to disagree with Fraser’s opinion on that (or at least don’t want to take the risk that it might actually backfire).

NishadhThe reference to arriving ‘directly’ from a place of persecution is an interesting one. I don’t have all the answers but it is important to note the following. Neither Indonesia or Malaysia – the two major transit countries on this route – are signatories to the Refugee Convention – they do not provide protection to asylum seekers. They jail them. Similarly, the countries bordering Afghanistan (Iran and Pakistan) do not provide protection to asylum seekers. In fact, in many cases, persecution continues in these countries.

“I would say that it’s not unreasonable to detain anybody who attempts to enter the country without a visa, until they’ve proven their claim for asylum is legitimate”

The problem is that we don’t allow them to state or prove their claim for protection. We just lock them up, indefinitely, without processing them.… – this is a witness’ testimony of the what happened on Sunday and Monday…

Steveinterview with Azita is interesting, although a bit hard to understand some parts of it. Legality aside, those detention centres sound like a seriously shit place to be.

Someone I don’t knowPossibly the best the discussion on the asylum seekers I’ve read yet.

NishadhSorry Steve, need to make a couple of things clear:

Point 5 – The problem for asylum seekers (only those arriving by boat) is that they don’t have any recourse to a trial. As it currently stands, their claims aren’t even heard in Australia – they’re sent straight to PNG/Nauru.

And people aren’t being processed there. Not a single person has been processed on PNG – its been close to two years. And the governments of PNG and Australia refuse to enter any questions as to why this isn’t happening.

So to assume that the reason people aren’t being processed is purely administrative is highly presumptuous. And in the context of the secrecy with which such centres are administered – not even the Human Rights Commissioner is allowed into PNG – it is impossible to find out.

Point 7 & 8 – “That is the deterrent component of this process for those who are not legitimate refugees – because obviously nobody wants to spend that long in detention without expecting a positive result.I’d say it’s reasonable to suggest that is why you’re seeing relatively low percentages of claims being rejected.”

The final refugee grant rate for people arriving by boat in 2008-2009 was 100%; 2009-2010 was 98.7%, 2010-2011 was 93.5%; 2011-2012 was 91%. So, during the period when Australia’s borders were much more ‘open’, the grant rate was much higher! Completely defies your logic. Since 2011-2012, there haven’t actually been any grants, because nobody is being processed.

I would suggest that your logic doesn’t apply because the honest fact is that push factors far outweigh pull factors. A simple investigations of the perils of the boat journey would illustrate that its no walk in the park and that people die. Watch ‘Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’ – it gives a great insight into why most people get on boats from Indonesia.

This is the point we seem to fundamentally disagree on. You seem to think that its basically an opportunistic system for “gaining a better life”. Yes, there are elements of this, but persecution is overwhelmingly present in boat arrivals to Australia. And fleeing from persecution and gaining a better life are by no means mutually exclusive.

You absolutely cannot ignore the economic argument, especially when there is absolutely no proof that if we had relatively open borders we would be flooded to the point of economic crisis. In this sense, its a somewhat irrational fear that’s guiding us, at great economic cost!!!

And Steve, nobody ever argued for fully open borders. My point is that the ocean and our other border protection instruments provide enough of a deterrent to people playing a system – that’s why ‘fakes’ (for lack of a better world) are very rare. The broader point though is that regardless of whether you have offshore processing or not, boats will always come. Because most people are fleeing from serious shit.

As for solutions:

I go back to my earlier post:

“These improvements include ending offshore processing, assessing everyone who comes to Australia, de-linking offshore and onshore processing numbers, and working with regional countries to settle asylum seekers in hospitable places rather than offload obligations on to poorer nations without the capacity to protect them.”

We aren’t even attempting any of this. Maybe we should give some of this a try? If anything because it would be cheaper.

For a more authoritative source on ‘solutions’ check this out –

its the refugee council’s submission for what it thinks the 2014-2015 Humanitarian program should look like. Haven’t read it yet, but its usually quite interesting

SteveCorrect me if I’m wrong (and don’t mistake this for me supporting this aspect of the policy) but the government’s reasoning behind the offshore “processing” is basically to avoid having to deal with both international and Australian laws in that regard, and to basically strengthen their own ability to arbitrate over the fate of potential immigrants without anybody really being able to take the issue to trial (since it’s technically “not happening in Australia”). This I agree is bullshit, and for that reason I would tend to agree that cutting out offshore processing is a good move, but also something that is hard to legally force the government to do (probably only really achievable through social/political pressure rather than legal avenues). I believe that the reason that the governments (Keating/Howard/Rudd/Gillard/Rudd/Abbott) have all persisted with this is because they consider the obligations placed on them by international law to be larger than they actually want Australia to have to deal with. I do find it interesting that so many subsequent governments have essentially agreed on this process though, and it makes me wonder what they know or believe that I/we don’t. If even one of them honestly believed it was in Australia’s best interests to process on-shore, remove mandatory detention etc, I can’t explain why it hasn’t been done. And yes, I know “well the powers that be must know what they’re doing” is not a valid argument at all, but maybe you have more insight into their motivations than I do?

In recent history though, I would never consider Australia’s borders to have been “much more open” at any point – during 2008/9 the mandatory detention policies were still in place, in fact they have been since 1992. Offshore processing has come and gone a couple of times however. Interestingly, a large part of the reason why rejection rates have increased since 08/09 is due to the disproportionate increase in applications since then which are coming from people aged 18-30 (relative to other age groups) – this is accounted for in part by international students wishing to stay in Australia (source:…/asylum-trends-aus-annual-2011…, notably page 11). Whilst I doubt that many genuine asylum seekers in need of protection are making their way to Australia via student visas (since doing that involves throwing around serious money), it does seem reasonable to hypothesise that entering Australia on a student visa, then applying for permission to remain (via residency, protection visas, or other means) is seen as an easier/softer option than other alternatives, and that this is the reason for the discrepancy in refugee acceptance rates. The numbers would appear to support that, with roughly 1200 protection visa applications lodged in 07/08 by people aged 18-30, vs approx 3300 by the same age group in 11/12, whilst other age groups remained fairly constant.

Furthermore, in 2008 there were 161 asylum seekers who arrived by boat (source: vs over 17,000 in 2012. It’s pretty hard to imagine that despite a 100-fold increase in asylum seekers arriving by boat, that acceptance rates could remain at 100%.

As far as the governmental secrecy and lack of transparency goes though, I agree, complete bullshit, and unacceptable.

Regarding “fleeing serious shit” – I don’t doubt that, plenty of places around the world are seriously fucked. Indonesia and Malaysia not being signatories to the convention however is only relevant if you ignore their geographical location RELATIVE TO AUSTRALIA. The only reason you’d end up in Indonesia, if you were fleeing from any other country on earth (ironically other than PNG, in which case Indo might be a bridge back to SE Asia), is if you were attempting to travel to either Indonesia or Australia. Since Indonesia apparently isn’t worth living in as an actual escape from persecution in an asylum seeker’s homeland, what reason would you have to end up there if your primary goal wasn’t “migrate to Australia” rather than “escape imminent threat to nearest safe place”? Malaysia, as the most southerly tip of the SE Asian mainland, poses similar questions.

Regarding the “economic arguments” – I think you have misunderstood me. I don’t believe economic arguments are CURRENTLY a real reason to turn away asylum seekers, legal or not, because as a percentage of the Australian population they are still quite small (although interestingly still proportionally larger than plenty of other countries with similar standards of living, including the UK, USA, Italy, France and Germany!), and the Australian economy isn’t about to impode based on a few thousand immigrants (well unless some of them turn out to be al-Qaeda nutjobs who do their best to cause trouble, but so far that hasn’t exactly been a huge problem).

However, as I said, until and unless other policies are actually implemented, there is not really any way to be sure how the numbers will change. If detention/processing policies were relaxed (in whichever way you choose, the specifics of which not being the question here) and asylum seeker arrivals increased by say 10% as a result, then economically it’s no big deal. However, if such policies were relaxed and asylum seeker arrivals increased by say 500% (certainly not impossible given the ~20,000pa refugee intake Aus currently has vs the 45 million people worldwide who are considered to be forcibly displaced), then things would be different. Maybe then, this is an argument in favour of gradual relaxation of detention/processing policies such that the changes can be observed without risking economic damage – or, more importantly to the politicians, without making big changes that are extremely hard to reverse if the outcomes aren’t considered favorable.

Pretty great reading, right? If only all of us thought about things as fully as these two do!


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