Friday, July 09, 2010

My "concerns" about asylum seekers

Julia Gillard has made her speech about asylum seekers, and the media and the opposition have pulled it apart in all the usual ways. I have to admit that I've only seen the media reports of Abbott's responses, because I can't bear listening to him in person. None of it, speech or response, was very edifying.

However, Hack looked with some more care at the queue jumping argument, and that, combined with such information as GetUp have provided previously, has clarified my "concerns" about asylum seekers.

Gillard has publicly recognised a little more complexity in the issue than previous leaders have, but still not nearly enough. The constant portrayal of people smugglers as evil money grubbers who risk people's lives to help rich people jump the refugee queue (populated with virtuous and worthy asylum seekers) is a ridiculous over-simplification. The queues certainly exist, and Hack had a story about a girl who came to Australia from the Sudan via just such a queue (that link is an mp3 of the interview). It's also true that for every person who arrives by boat and is granted refugee status, one person is not taken from those queues. But before we go condemning those who arrive by boat and those who bring them, a few things need to be considered.

The fact that boat arrivals displace those in other queues is a government policy, not some law of nature. We take a comparatively small number of refugees on a global scale, and the government could choose to take boat arrivals over and above that number if they so wished. Whether this is good policy or not, at the least Gillard should be acknowledging it as policy.

There is an assumption that the people in the queues have got there by..... I don't know? Magic? People smugglers don't just steer boats, they get people to refugee camps as well. People smugglers got the Dalai Lama out of Tibet. One person's people smuggler is another person's resistance worker.

While the queues certainly exist, not everyone has access to them. It's not reasonable to assume that those arriving by boat had any alternative at all. It may not be possible for them to access the queues, or they may simply have no idea that they exist.

So what of this regional processing centre idea? Well, at some level, it kinda makes sense. It's something of an attempt to create a queue for those who don't have access to it. I think that there is some merit in contributing to a UN run facility which provides reasonable accommodation for people while they are processed in the same way that those in the other queues are processed. It makes sense to consider it in a regional way.

It makes no sense to put it in the poorest country in the region. It makes no sense to announce it before you've got any kind of consensus. It makes no sense to continue to vilify people as "unauthorised arrivals".

I'd like to see a policy that says that processing will be sped up, and that people arriving by boat will be processed the same way as those arriving by plane (without prior refugee status having been granted). I have no problem with those few arrivals determined not to be genuine refugees (by UN standards, not by Howard standards) being promptly returned to their (real) country of origin.

I'd like to see a policy that recognises that people coming from violent places need help to settle here, including mental health assistance. I'd like to see a policy that recognises that where, within our borders, these people are settled matters. They need to be settled in places with appropriate facilities, other people from the same background, social support services targeted at their particular circumstances and sufficient infrastructure to not be putting further stresses on already overcrowded places. All of these things need to be created when they don't exist. Investment in the start of their new life here works for everyone. People who have already been persecuted beyond my understanding get the help they need and deserve, and they are able, in turn, to contribute to our society as they regain their strengths and their lives.

I'd like to see a policy that understands that the only way to actually reduce the number of people arriving here in need of our help, is to address the root causes of the persecution in the first place. This is obviously not always possible, but that doesn't mean we can't have a policy of putting political pressure on places like Sri Lanka to lift their game and stop the abuse of Tamil people.

I'd welcome an approach that comes closer to considering all those looking for asylum on equal terms, regardless of what method they've used to seek that asylum. An approach that ensures that those most in need are considered first. However, such an approach needs global vision, considering the all the variables, including the total number of refugees we accept each year.

Julia, you've done better than "Turn the boats around", but still not enough.


  1. Cynically we should make it difficult but not impossible to enter the country illegally. And the ones that get past the sharks, crocodiles, spiders, snakes etc alive should then be allowed to work here legally since they have demonstrated the resourcefulness that we need. 90% of refugees barely make it to the next village and while these people clearly need our help they would be a burden on the economy not an asset unlike those who get here under their own steam.

  2. This is a good point - since we only care about a tiny subset of refugees that have passed some arbitrary test (been able to get far enough away from their oppression to register on foreign consciousness), perhaps we should assess the worthiness of those few using the ultimate test of resourcefulness and character: Survivor - Australian Outback. Channel 10 viewers can literally vote them off the island.

    Hang, don't let Tony see this, he might steal it for his policy.