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Australia among the world’s worst in dealing with asylum seekers

You wouldn’t know it by listening to Question Time, but Australia is not the only country experiencing asylum seekers arriving by boat. Italy and Malta find themselves on the frontline of policing external…

Asylum seekers arrive in Malta after being rescued at sea. EPA/Justin Gatt

You wouldn’t know it by listening to Question Time, but Australia is not the only country experiencing asylum seekers arriving by boat.

Italy and Malta find themselves on the frontline of policing external EU borders against unauthorised arrivals across the Mediterranean. Malta receives the highest number of applicants for asylum per head of population in the EU. In Asia, tiny Hong Kong has been taken as a preferred destination by thousands crossing the narrow strip of sea between the former British colony and mainland China.

Unauthorised border-crossing is a global phenomenon. Its varying causes however, are rarely tackled in Australian and international debates on asylum. We note the recent Houston report is almost silent on the country conditions of asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat. Countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka were either at war until recently or their people suffer generalised, daily violence.

All or nothing

Interviewing refugees who arrived by boat in Malta and Hong Kong, we found that many asylum seekers are aware of the dangers their journey will present but choose to travel anyway.

In the words of one Somali refugee,

We run away from our country because any day you could die in Somalia. But you do not know when you are going to die if you travel. There is more trouble in our countries.

But this reason alone does not explain why wealthier countries witness increased numbers of people risking death as the only pathway to migration and a chance of a better life.

Visa requirements

The increase in asylum seekers arriving on Malta and Hong Kong’s shores is the result of visa requirements targeted at citizens of those countries producing higher numbers of asylum seekers, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia.

If refugees are enabled to seek asylum only when outside their country of origin, but no safe haven grants them documents to safely travel to their destination, the only remaining option is to embark on unseaworthy boats.

Outsourcing refugee protection

In this light, Australia’s plans to outsource refugee obligations to countries with less geo-political muscle in the region are no solution. Refugees impeded from travelling to Australia do not stay put in their country of origin.

They travel to, or end up in, alternative destinations where provisions for international protection may be lacking or weakly implemented, resulting in the increased vulnerability of asylum seekers.

European states utilise “safe third country” and the Dublin II Regulation to evade their refugee protection obligations, leaving countries along EU external borders to cope with the influx.

Malta houses refugees in conditions criticised by numerous human rights groups as unhygienic, isolating and over-crowded. Conditions in Greece have been characterised as tantamount to torture for returning asylum seekers. In Asia, countries such as Indonesia, Thailand and China are increasingly major destinations for asylum seekers. Extensive human rights violations against illegal populations in these countries have been documented.

Internationally, Australia’s insistence on offshore processing provides disgraceful leadership. The UK has been calling for offshore processing for some time under the auspices of “safe havens”. These would enable the UK to deport asylum seekers to an external processing site to await the restoration of stability in their country of origin. These plans set a time limit of six months. Current arrangements before Parliament have as yet no time limit. This is a paltry commitment to the Refugee Convention, particularly when Australia receives 2.5% of asylum applicants compared to other industrialised countries.

Offshore processing will lead to legal uncertainty for populations of people easily identifiable as vulnerable. This impact is felt physically and mentally. Our research revealed that asylum seekers generally arrive in relatively good health. Their health rapidly deteriorates once they enter detention or are left on the verge of destitution in wealthy, industrialised nations, enduring protracted delays whilst refugee processing takes place. They are denied the freedom they aimed for, and that the 145 signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention claim to provide.

Rights to family reunion

As human beings we may well understand the desire by many refugees to be reunited with family members. Unfortunately this right is in jeopardy across the globe. In Hong Kong there is no such right while the EU has introduced diluted forms of refugee protection for asylum seekers which do not include family reunion.

The expert panel appear to be calling for a similar system with their recommendations to review refugee status determination in Australia.

This impact can also be measured in deteriorating health, and in criminal justice prosecutions as people try to reunite with family using false documents or other means. Refugee arrivals will not stop. With these expert panel recommendations however, asylum seekers will continue to be construed as defying our rules, increasing calls for a tougher stance disguised as being humane.

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30 Comments sorted by

  1. John Coochey

    Mr

    "the only pathway to migration and a chance of a better life." That just about says it all. There is nothing in any convention or international law which entitles people to travel around the world shopping for the best deal they can get on asylum. There are 40 odd million refugees in the world and many more living in the third world who would love to live in Australia. How many do we take and which ones?

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    1. Marilyn Shepherd

      pensioner

      In reply to John Coochey

      Yes there is. Why do you have to be told over and over again that you are talking utter crap?

      Anyone can apply in any country that is a signatory to the refugee convention.

      full stop. And it makes no difference how many countries they cross.

      As we are at the arse end of the world almost the entire world's population has to fly or sail around dozens of other countries.

      As not one person has ever been charged with what you call country shopping why do you persist in this nonsense day in and day out all over the country.

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    2. John Coochey

      Mr

      In reply to Marilyn Shepherd

      So how many do you consider we are compelled to accept and how many are you sponsoring Marylin? I note that the authors of this article admit that there is such a thing as the Dublin Convention which was brought in to formalise the requirement that those claiming asylum do it in or from the first country of safe haven. It was initiated to stop professional asylum shoppers applying in many EEC countries. Marilyn Australia is a sovereign nation and can make any laws it wishes and can sign or withdraw from any convention it chooses.

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    3. John Coochey

      Mr

      In reply to Marilyn Shepherd

      "As we are at the arse end of the world almost the entire world's population has to fly or sail around dozens of other countries"

      Thank you for making my point for me.

      There was an interesting letter in the Canberra Times a while ago in which someone described being in a refugee camp for one and a half years and was grateful for the meals and a roof over his head until he was granted asylum elsewhere. The next time he was in the area he slept by his tank on the ground. It took me a while to work out he would have been a Loyalist Republican who was exiled from Spain but continued his fight against Fascism with the Spanish Squadron within the Free French. This was the Squadron which actually liberated Paris. After the war he would have been unable to return to Spain so came out to Australia. Different times different men.

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    4. Marilyn Shepherd

      pensioner

      In reply to John Coochey

      For god's sake you imbecile, there is no such thing in the world as how many do we accept.

      We by law have to assess anyone who asks us, then protect them if they need it.

      Since 1988 about 80,000 asylum seekers have flown here and been assessed without anyone saying a word about quotas and push aways, only 33,000 have sailed here.

      About 20,000 of those who flew here are still here as refugees while almost all the 33,000 are refugees.

      It is not a numbers game, it is a protection convention…

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  2. Robert Cohen

    Retired

    I agree with John Coochey re huge number of refugees that are all wanting to come to Australia -- PROBLEM -- as i see it we can not support our own older population now, we need to be able to look after our own first -- OR -- we will become the next third world country. I also feel people who jump on boats and enter this country - are illegal imigrants! We diffently should help a percentage of the geniune ones, but most that are jumping on boats are not geniune. As for the UN they should mind their own business unless they are going to pay for the majority of the immigrants, they do not pay us - so they should butt out.

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    1. Robert Cohen

      Retired

      In reply to Robert Cohen

      Opps dropped out as i was saying re calling me a racist Bogon, look at yourself and think about the points i made earlier, we can not afford to feed all our own people, and we should be looking after our own aborigals first before the floods of people who want to flood in -- and think about it the boat people pay big money to get on those boats -- if they have money they should apply to come in and come in legally. We pay them big benefits when they come in (in fact more than we pay our own pensioners who have paid tax's for around 50 years.
      Get a life and have a good look - fix our problems first and by all means have migrants -- but -- legal ones -- look at the past how great most have been great some of my best friends came here as LEGAL immigrants

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    2. Benjamin Shepherd

      Researcher in the Food Security Program at the Centre for International Security Studies at University of Sydney

      In reply to Robert Cohen

      Sir, four points for consideration:

      1. "we cannot afford to feed all our own people." Your evidence? We are one of the world's largest exporters of food. Where, or if, the aboriginals you seem to be referring to are going hungry it is not because we cannot afford to feed them. (I can't see any logical connection between the need to treat our indigenous peoples better and immigration.)

      2. "the floods"? Really? Your evidence? We have a miniscule percentage of the world's refugees arriving on…

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    3. Marilyn Shepherd

      pensioner

      In reply to Robert Cohen

      We grow enough food for 90 million people, do grow up you silly boy.

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    4. Steve Hindle

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Benjamin Shepherd

      Benjamin, I agree with most of what you say. I have no argument with your first 3 points, but I think you are under estimating how many people would come over the medium to long term if we had fast processing in other countries and then paid for their flights to Australia.
      The numbers arriving now are comparatively small. However the growth rate in arrivals is high. It would have to become a lot higher still if the danger and need to pay people smugglers 1000s of dollars was removed. How many would arrive over the next decade is anyone's guess, but the high 100,000s is quite plausible when the total refugee population is somewhere around 15 million with another ~30 million internally displaced people.

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    5. Marilyn Shepherd

      pensioner

      In reply to Steve Hindle

      Well so what? Why should we be the only nation in the world to manipulate who can seek asylum here.

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    6. John Coochey

      Mr

      In reply to Marilyn Shepherd

      And how many are you sponsoring Marilyn?

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    7. Philip Dowling

      IT teacher

      In reply to Marilyn Shepherd

      Srebenica and Rwanda are good examples of UN intervention aren't they, Marilyn.
      The light blue beret is recognised around the world not only as a symbol of impotence, unless of course you are pretty looking goat.

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    8. David Boxall

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Philip Dowling

      You tacitly acknowledge that refugees have no choice but to seek asylum. So when are you going to take a boat or aircraft to bring some here nice and safe?

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    9. Philip Dowling

      IT teacher

      In reply to David Boxall

      Handwringing is not my style.
      Nor is being reactive.
      I suggest instead that UN troops use GUNS and other weapons.
      Australian soldiers watched as women and children were butchered in Rwanda.

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    10. David Boxall

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Philip Dowling

      Philip Dowling: "I suggest instead that UN troops use GUNS and other weapons." The global policing you suggest is probably inevitable, as is global government.

      Nobody seems to like the idea much. I can't see another layer of politics and bureaucracy working very well. That brings us back to the observed inadequacies of the UN.

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    11. Yoron Hamber

      Thinking

      In reply to Marilyn Shepherd

      Marylin, I don't think people are dumb that want to protect what they have. But I agree in that such are shortsighted solutions, only valid for limited time frames, and that they go against all democratic principles. Australia isn't the only country in where people argues that they have a God given right to 'their land' and that those pesky immigrants should be stopped. And there is still a really big problem with the way the original natives of Australia lives, those that don't seem to exist in the streets.

      There is no land God given. We're all immigrants if one look long enough.

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  3. Graham Wells

    logged in via Facebook

    Where there is war/social dysfunction there will be people trying to flee to a safer place.
    As a country we have signed various international conventions celebrating basic human rights, however by persecuting those who come to us seeking safety, we are not living up to those democratic freedoms we seem to celebrate.
    As our national anthem suggests, For those who've come across the seas, We've boundless plains to share.
    If we turn our backs to those in greatest need, what sort of country are we becoming?

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    1. Philip Dowling

      IT teacher

      In reply to Graham Wells

      Perhaps you might ask the survivors of the battle of Milne Bay this question.
      Do you speak Japanese by the way?

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  4. Danderson

    logged in via Twitter

    I've only got three blood relatives in Australia, where can I apply to get more brought in?

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    1. David Boxall

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Danderson

      Get them to apply at their nearest Australian embassy.

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    2. Neo Tesla

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Danderson

      Perhaps first we'd have to establish precisely in what kind of mortal danger are your blood relatives, Danderson.

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  5. David Boxall

    logged in via Facebook

    OK; everyone's focussing on perceived problems. I don't have any solutions.

    We're at the far end of refugee flows; the wrong place for effective control of those flows. I liken it to a garden hose; we have our thumb over the end, but pressure is building. Eventually, either the hose will burst or the thumb will blow off. The only way the flow will be controlled is from the other end. We need to stop them leaving their homes.

    Failing that, look to other aspects of the issue. What are the opportunities?

    These are people who have demonstrated courage and initiative. How can we benefit from them?

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    1. William Bruce

      Artist

      In reply to David Boxall

      "We need to stop them leaving their homes" too right I think Mr Boxall
      "WE" are dealing with the symptoms and not the cause.....

      ...and seems to do this we need to stop ALL wrongful foreign interventions and meddling and help ALL foreign Govts that have any semblance or order to develop ....(& not sell their opponent factions arms!)...
      THEN we will ALL have peace and can ALL EVOLVE....

      There are plenty of resources BUT we still have to stop the population explosion to have high standards of living globally for this time at least....

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  6. Debra Joan Smith

    Account Executive

    It seems to me that the most noble cvountries of this world or the ones who aspire to be noble seem to go through this difficult process of self evaluation and maybe we make ourselves more aware of our common humanity. I am a Canadian, and I feel very priveleged to be reading and participating here. My own country, of which i am truly proud has also made mistakes and like you we are trying to learn from them. We made this flawed decision during the second world war. Here is an example of how we work to remember our deadly error in this regard - from a Heritage minute which showed on Canaedian TV for years funded by tax payers so we could not forget our lessons.

    http://youtu.be/DerCZF0AfhI

    My point is that we remembered our common humanity and are trying to do better just as you are.

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