Wednesday, February 24, 2016
A brief note on Australia’s refugee policy
This post responds to discussion around two previous posts in particular, Response to the Syrian refugee crisis - Australia v Canada and Saturday Morning Musings - Australia's refugee mess. In that discussion, I was challenged to propose explicit policy changes to refugee policy that would not result in a resumption of the 23,000 annual arrivals (of boat people) recorded just before Mr Abbott's policy. I said that I though that that was not difficult and sketched some changes that I thought might be made. It was just a sketch and was challenged. This post extends the argument.
Statement of Problem
The Government has been successful in stopping the boats but this has come with costs.
Our international reputation has been damaged. We may or may not have breached UN conventions and our treaty obligations, but at the very least we have lost moral authority. I for one find it discomforting when
is quoted as a role model by European parties of the far right. We have also
done some damage to our relations with our neighbours and especially Australia . Indonesia
The policy and the rhetoric around the policy has fed into domestic division within
, encouraging the rise of
groups with more extreme views. Australia
The policy has cost and continues to cost large sums of money at a time of budget constraint. There has been a running sore of complaints and apparent cases of mistreatment and injustice, not aided by a lack of transparency.
From a simple risk management perspective, the current refugee policy is structured in such a way that there are certain to be a stream of further cases of apparent injustice and unfairness, while the camps know frequently called
gulags will have to be maintained for the indefinite future. In all, we have an
expensive mess. Australia
I accept that these are judgements that can be challenged. However, on risk management grounds alone, consideration needs to be given to changes that may reduce risk.
Practically, the room for movement is limited. The Government is locked in, while there is apparent bipartisan support for tough policies. Refugee advocates outside the tent may campaign, but in the short term at least their efforts will have little effect. I say in the short term because Australian history suggests that that those advocating policies that come later to be seen as inhumane suffer tarnish as a consequence.
The changes that I am about to propose will satisfy few. They are set within a context of current policy. The Government will not like them, nor will refugee advocates who will see them as cosmetic. However, they are the best that I can come up with.
The first step is a reshaping of the rhetoric to shift the focus from stop the boats to refugees and
role in this regard. Tough border protection remains, but it becomes a
secondary element, part of a package. To be credible, this shift in language will
probably need to be associated with an increase in the overall refugee quota.
We are just so tarnished now. Australia
The second step is the removal of the present restriction on those in the camps being offered settlement in
may or may not have made sense at the time stop the boats was introduced, but
it’s starting to have some very perverse effects. Australia
A case in point is the inability of the Australian Government to accept a
resettlement offer because those resettled might then be able to come to at
some point in the future and thus breach the rule. Instead, we are being forced
into silly and expensive options such as Australia as a way of trying to
resettle those classified as refugees. Cambodia
Relaxing the Australian settlement rule does not mean providing preference to those who came by boat as actually happened before. Rather, it means treating someone on Manus in the same way as a refugee in
or one in a Syrian refugee camp, applying the same criteria within the overall
refugee quota. Malaysia
The third step is the introduction of greater transparency in the whole process, including the camps themselves. I am not talking about greater transparency for Border Force, although that may well be desirable. My focus is on the camps and the refugee process.
The absence of transparency breeds suspicion and aids injustice. My feeling is that the process requires an independent monitoring body. The Government’s problem is that few actually believe it any more. I am not talking here about the refugee partisans, just the ordinary citizen like myself with an interest in the matter. There have been so many inconsistencies, so many concealments, that I just don’t trust the Government any more.
The fourth and final step in my proposals is a shift in focus from policing to people assistance. I struggle a little to define this properly. I keep seeing anecdotal evidence that suggests that instead of really assisting people to resettle, we are actually making it harder. Putting it as crudely as I can, we take people who are already traumatised, subject them to further trauma, give them limited assistance and then expect them to settle into
or another country. That just builds in future costs. Australia