Offshore processing of asylum seekers is not the solution

Walk Together Rally, Sydney, June 23. Photo: Peter Boyle

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre released the statement below on June 28.

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They say a day is a long time in politics. The past week has been a lifetime. The asylum seeker debate has taken a hard shift to the right — the conversation has changed from onshore versus offshore processing to which location to process offshore and how to stop the boats.

How has this happened? Are our memories so short that we have forgotten the unforgiveable human cost of Nauru and Temporary Protection Visas and are pressuring the Greens to pass the Oakeshott Bill in the Senate? There was a reason the High Court ruled the Malaysia swap was illegal and breaches our obligations under the Refugee Convention.

What is currently missing from the debate is a solution that is based on humanity, rationality and is evidence based. Solutions have been offered by some academics and journalists in the past days but these are not being considered by our politicians.

Solutions and conversations such as the excellent article by Sharon Pickering or Bill Maley should be public knowledge. Want to understand why people get on boats? This piece by Irin News tackles the question perfectly.

There are currently 1180 assessed refugees in Indonesia. At the same time, Australia has reduced its intake of refugees from Indonesia to 300. This is forcing people onto boats.

As the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre has championed over the past years, the solution to stopping people getting on boats is for Australia to resettle more refugees from Indonesia in a regional approach to resettlement and to address the movement, treatment and processing of asylum seekers and refugees.

• No to offshore processing.
• Increase our humanitarian intake.
• Genuine refugee protection framework through resettlement.
• No to Malaysia.

Offshore processing

Offshore processing is not a deterrent. History shows that an increase or decrease in boat arrivals depends far less on our domestic policy as on “push” factors in countries of origin such as repression, discrimination, ethnic conflict, human rights abuses and civil war.

The financial and human costs of offshore processing places such as Nauru are well known and well documented. Unfortunately, it appears that our memories are not long enough to remember the terrible costs associated with Nauru.

Around 1500 asylum seekers were processed on Nauru under the previous government’s Pacific Solution. Many of those previously detained on Nauru suffered serious mental health issues as a result of detention. A number were assessed at “grave risk” and were taken to Australia because of their deteriorating mental health while numerous incidents of self-harm and detainees suffering from depression and psychological conditions were reported.

Andrew Metcalfe, Head of the Department of Immigration, holds firmly to the view that Nauru itself was ineffective and should not be reintroduced to process asylum seekers.

Refugee intake

The proportion of visas allocated under the different streams of the Refugee and Humanitarian Program are insufficient. Australia should offer at least 25,000 Humanitarian visas annually and should delink the offshore resettlement of refugees and humanitarian entrants and the recognition of asylum seekers onshore.

In order to respond to a regional problem, a genuine refugee protection framework that focuses on burden sharing in the region is required. The ASRC supports a regional approach to resettlement, in particular looking at increasing the number of refugees resettled from Malaysia and Indonesia to reduce the impetus for people jumping on boats.

From 2001 to 2009, Australia settled 452 refugees from Indonesia. In 2011, we resettled 500 and saw a decrease in boat arrivals. This year we have only resettled 59 people from Indonesia and the number of boat arrivals has increased. At this rate, the average wait time to be resettled from Indonesia is over 30 years.

Australia should also pressure non-signatory countries in the region, including Malaysia and Indonesia to adopt a more human approach to the treatment and processing asylum seekers.

Malaysia

Malaysia is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention and there is no guarantee that asylum seekers processed there would be safe. Amnesty International reports that refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia are abused, exploited, arrested and locked up — in effect, treated like criminals.

Six thousand asylum seekers and refugees are caned annually in Malaysia and once in detention commonly face overcrowding, malnutrition, and disease.

The High Court of Australia confirmed in August 2011 that deporting asylum seekers to Malaysia would breach our obligations under both the international Refugee Convention and our own Migration Act, as it would place asylum seekers at risk of persecution or torture without guarantees of their protection, including unaccompanied minors.

The most concerning aspect of the amendments is that they place children at risk due to proposed changes to the Immigration (Guardianship of Children Act) 1946. They proposed something unprecedented in our country by removing from the Minister for Immigration (as the legal guardian of children) the requirement for them to “act in the best interests of the child”.

This is done simply by making amendments to this act that allow it to be voided anytime the Minister thinks it’s in the “national interests” to send children offshore to be processed. In other words, children will be treated like adults with no legally binding duty to ensure their best interests and safety.

For more information on all of the above points, please refer to information on our website: http://www.asrc.org.au/media/documents/offshore-processing-mythbuster-2012.pdf

We have allowed politicians to twist the debate to the right and we need to reclaim our humanity and rationality by bringing facts and humane solutions back into the fold.