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Rintoul: challenging bipartisan myths on asylum seekers

Last week Bernard Keane slammed “the Ian Rintoul approach” to dealing with asylum seeker issues. This week, Ian Rintoul fights back.

Bernard Keane claims, in Crikey last week, the Left is disconnected from reality and has failed to “actually … grapple with policy solutions” around refugees. This is all pretty disingenuous when he refuses to engage with anything the Left has actually argued and simply dismisses it as championing “the Ian Rintoul approach of reflexively criticising anything and everything short of an open-borders policy”.

Everyone on the Left acknowledges that we are currently in the minority on attitudes to refugees, although I’d regard the two successive Nielsen polls showing around 30% opposition to re-opening the Pacific Solution as more relevant to the current policy debate than the more general Essential polling Keane cites.

According to Keane, criticism of the government’s deportation of hundreds of recent Sri Lankan boat arrivals fails to acknowledge that the “vast majority of these arrivals are manifestly not asylum seekers”.

But he doesn’t provide a skerrick of evidence to back this up. In fact, as Fairfax reported several times last week, there is compelling evidence that the government has been dismissing Sri Lankans as “economic migrants” after perfunctory five-minute interviews, with the outcome determined in advance. One man the government was about to deport told a Tamil community representative, “I tried to tell [the official] that I am a refugee and please help me, and she said: ‘No, I am not here to hear all those stories, you are going.’”

Until last week none of those deported had any access to lawyers or independent advice. The first time lawyers and refugee advocates did get access the government was forced to back down and agree not to deport 56 Tamil arrivals. The key issue is not whether Sri Lankans are “automatically entitled” to asylum. It is that the government is refusing to even let them make asylum claims.

The most recent Immigration Department statistics show that the vast majority are most likely asylum seekers. Seventy per cent of Sri Lankans were found to be refugees on their initial assessment in 2011-12, with 82% of the rejections overturned on appeal.

Keane’s major complaint is that the Left is unwilling to consider the consequences of welcoming asylum boats, that we might encourage thousands more to come here too.

This accepts the mistaken assumption that the numbers arriving are a problem, or might start to be. This year so far about 14,000 asylum seekers have arrived by boat. This is the highest number for any one year to date. But it is still less than 8% of our overall annual migration intake. And it also happens to be almost exactly the total number of refugees (including those selected from overseas refugee camps) that Australia has accepted every year since 1996, before Chris Bowen raised the refugee intake this year to 20,000. So we are hardly being overwhelmed.

If the government abandoned its “stop the boats” mantra a higher number might make the journey. But even if numbers doubled it would still be easily manageable. Australia has never received a large number of refugees on its doorstep compared to other countries. We are far away from the rest of the world and surrounded by a huge ocean barrier. For this reason the US, Canada and European countries get many times more asylum applications than Australia.

And refugee numbers tend to ebb and flow, according to conditions in the countries people are fleeing. For instance the increase in Sri Lankan arrivals only began after the end of 2009 civil war.

Finally, what about Bowen’s claim that encouraging asylum seekers to arrive by boat forces them to risk their lives? As numerous refugee advocacy groups argued in submissions to the Houston panel, direct processing of asylum seekers in Indonesia and guaranteed resettlement here would give them an alternative to a risky boat voyage. Some asylum seekers, like those coming directly from Sri Lanka, would still need to get on boats. But as Tony Kevin has argued in Crikey, almost all of the boat disasters could have been avoided if Border Protection Command focused on safety of life at sea, rather than telling boats to return to Indonesia or leaving rescues to the woefully under-resourced Indonesian navy.

What undermines community support for the principle of asylum is the government’s response to boat arrivals, not the boat arrivals themselves. Keane’s preference for what he calls “hard decision-making” and his unwillingness to grant that Australia’s international obligations may even be being violated by the current government policy leave him increasingly isolated.

They pit him against independent voices including the UNHCR and Professor Gillian Triggs, president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, who have both expressed grave concern about the Pacific Solution, and the Refugee Council of Australia, which has called for an immediate suspension of deportations to Sri Lanka. Only the most dogged supporter of current policy would choose to make light, as Keane does, of the warnings coming from these organisations. Accurately grasping both the facts and the politics is a necessary first step to achieving any kind of progress on this issue.

It is not “reality” that underlies the Labor government’s policy on refugees, as Keane seems to believe. The government has capitulated to the policy positions of the Liberals and is actively promoting xenophobia and myths about boat arrivals rather than challenging them.

As for a policy position, it is entirely realistic to return to the pre-1992 situation when there was no mandatory detention, no offshore processing and asylum seekers arriving by boat were processed while they lived in the community.

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  • 1
    Jackon Taylor
    Posted Tuesday, 11 December 2012 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Ian,

    I greatly appreciate you countering a number of the arguments that have been mounted previously here.

    Ultimately the current approach amounts to little more than punishing protection applicants arriving by boat to scare others from doing the same.

    The cost of onshore processing would be a fraction of the cost of offshore detention.

    Finally, the number of boat arrivals over the past 20 years suggest that movements by boat into Australia are predominantly the result of push factors rather than pull factors.

    Unfortunately we lack the political leadership to tackle this difficult issue.

  • 2
    Jenny Haines
    Posted Tuesday, 11 December 2012 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Well said Ian. I agree with Jackson Taylor - what we need is political leadership to tackle these issues and we don’t have it. So we have to rely on the safeguards built into our system and have the courts tell the politicians what the law, domestic and international will allow.

  • 3
    Exactly!
    Posted Tuesday, 11 December 2012 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Ian Rintoul, and would add these comments.

    As soon as Bernard Keane or anyone else starts blathering about what the “Left” stands for you can stop reading, unless you want to read unsubstantiated polemic.

    But it was not until he stated the “vast majority of these arrivals are manifestly not asylum seekers” that I began to wonder about the point of the article.

    How can he know anything about the status of the recent wave of Sri Lankan arrivals? Did he sit in on the initial DIAC interviews and was he privy to the DIAC decisions? Did he audit the reviews to the Refugee Review Tribunal, the appeals to the Magistrates’ Court, the Federal Court, the Full Bench of the Federal Court, and the High Court? Did he consider the aggregate of the outcomes of the applications before spouting off about the “vast majority” of arrivals?

    Of course not.

    What then is the point of the article? Void the polemic about the “Left” and “vast majorities”, what point was Bernard trying to make exactly? Or was polemic the point?

    I may as well read the Telegraph.

  • 4
    Moloch
    Posted Tuesday, 11 December 2012 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    It’s terribly sad that humane approaches to people fleeing persecution are labelled by Crikey - with a Joe Macarthy like glee as ‘left wing’.

    When did compassion get outlawed for ‘mainstream’ Australians? Why didn’t I get the memo?

    Sad that a news organisation like Crikey that labels itself ‘independent’ merely follows the MSM herd down the path of hyped-up xenophobia and the demonisation of brown people.

  • 5
    michael crook
    Posted Tuesday, 11 December 2012 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    thank you Ian, thank your comment makers. Got it Bernard? You are way out of line. It is not ok to use human beings as toys, for whatever grubby reason.

  • 6
    paddy
    Posted Tuesday, 11 December 2012 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    Well said Ian. Reading Bernard’s piece the other day, had me thinking that we’d been transported back to the days of the “yellow” (now brown) peril. Good to see there are still a few voices of sanity left amidst the great panic.

  • 7
    Michael Jones
    Posted Tuesday, 11 December 2012 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    There’s nothing pragmatic or realistic about pandering to this kind of Fake Issue, especially since doing so is exactly what gives such fabricated outrages their power and traction.

    This is a fake issue with a massive humanitarian and financial cost- one of the worst excesses of the assertion-based community.

    That goes as much if not more for people such as Mr Keane , who engage in classic circular-reasoning: “it polls well so, you must bow to it(hence helping it poll better)”. Assertion-based, indeed.

  • 8
    Steve Clarke
    Posted Tuesday, 11 December 2012 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    Ian
    “But even if numbers doubled it would still be easily manageable”.

    Yes I agree. However what if the numbers increased 12 fold to 180,000 per year as Senator Bob Carr has suggested or go far higher than that?

    Ian, you are basing your arguments on the assumption that the numbers of people paying to enter Australia by boat wont increase very much. Considering the many millions of refugees and millions more living in poverty, it is an assumption that is very questionable.

  • 9
    mattsui
    Posted Tuesday, 11 December 2012 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

    A reasoned response to what was a politically myopic artical.
    I would like to see this discussion (and others like it) taken out of the context of Left versus Right. I think that having sympathy for the plight of refugees needn’t be a thing strictly for left leaning people. There must be those of “the Right” (right-identifying Australians?) who have sufficient empathy to want to seek a humane outcome for assylum seekers. Surely they haven’t all been duped by the “stop the boats = no mass drownings = good. ergo any policy aimed at stopping boats = good (even if said policy is destined to fail)” dogwhistle.
    I said on Bernard’s comment stream that this is about Australia asking itself hard questions about what sort of society we want to be. That’s not the sort of discussion we can afford to have along Left/Right divisions.

    Oh, and Steve. 180000/year. Where will they find enough boats?
    Please drop the left and write as an individual with a conscience. If the left becomes defined as everyone with a conscience, we risk defining the right as the exact opposite - i.e. all evil. Then conversations like this will become impossible.

  • 10
    Julie Pulvirenti
    Posted Tuesday, 11 December 2012 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

    Agreed, given the conflicts in Syria and Egypyt can we expect even more claiming asylum? I think it rather naive to think the numbers will remain the same. What then? Very short sighted rhetoric. Clearly some changes need to be made to the UN convention or we remove our signature altogether.

  • 11
    مكينMrGibberish
    Posted Wednesday, 12 December 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    another bloody article on asylum seekers, will this ever go away?

    jpulvirenti, i’m not sure whether i can agree with you. i don’t think all of them would make their way here unless they have incentive policy like the greens. but even if we have a massive number of genuine refugees, i’m sure we’ll be able to absorb them. the problem is the greens are very simplistic to think that trying to process them quickly in Indo will solve the problem, it will attract many to come to Indo and clog up the system and you’re back with boats trying to get to Oz and drownings occur. there has to be a limit to what Oz navy responsibility is, where do you stop, you can’t have someone from Haiti or Sri Lanka calling and Oz navy is responsible to go out and rescue them.

    the greens don’t understand that most of the Syrians who pay people smugglers to enter Europe are not refugees, most of genuine refugees are stuck in Turkey and surrounding countries. the Syrians pay people smuggler package to get them to Norway, it’s their favorite place to migrate and people smugglers also instruct them how to make ‘valid’ asylum claims. many people from rich or stable countries pay from 15,000 to 80,000 to get someone in Oz to do bogus paperworks for them to migrate here (by non-asylum seeker way). and the greens think there is not an incentive for people to exploit the loophole and make asylum claims, keep on dismissing people when intelligence agencies report illegal economic immigrants is the real threat.

    there might have been misunderstanding between mr Keane & mr Haigh, mr Haigh apart from the proper assessment rule which Oz needs to observe he was making a point on refoulement rule which Oz need to observe. but it was unclear that if his comment includes those who admitted to be economic migrants which Oz has the right to return them to Sri Lanka.

  • 12
    مكينMrGibberish
    Posted Wednesday, 12 December 2012 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    180,000? good for boat building industry. people will never learn humility and sit down together and talk reason.. enough of this already. hasta la vista baby!

  • 13
    Steve Clarke
    Posted Wednesday, 12 December 2012 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    Mattsui

    Oh, and Steve. 180000/year. Where will they find enough boats”?

    Mattsui, if the people smugglers can cram 180 people on fishing boats that are no longer in good enough condition for fishing then they will need only around 1000 boats. There is virtually a limitless number of clapped out fishing boats throughout Asia.

    Wikipedia
    “According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), at the end of 2004, the world fishing fleet consisted of about 4 million vessels”

  • 14
    baabaablacksheep
    Posted Wednesday, 12 December 2012 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    I thought you Aussies receive the most refugees per capita in the world already. You can always take more of us fresh off the boat Kiwis in.

  • 15
    Bob the builder
    Posted Wednesday, 12 December 2012 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    If people really cared about deaths at sea, they’d campaign to stop the policy of destroying vessels carrying asylum seekers.
    In one easy stroke, costing no money, we could save countless lives.
    Modern-day Oskar Schindlers would be able to engage transport providers who would be willing to use seaworthy vessels - under the present policy of destruction, no-one would send any but the most decrepit and valueless vessel to Australian shores.

  • 16
    mattsui
    Posted Wednesday, 12 December 2012 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

    Interesting point Bob. But we all know that preventing assylum seeker drownings is a mere pretext. Invented in the last couple of years to justify two decades of failed policy.
    Some boat journeys are always going to be attempted and those that try must accept some risk (including the risk of having their assulym claim rejected).
    Those that support the current, racist policy can’t explain how any but the most desperate would even attempt such a journey.
    I have a friend who is an “economic refugee” - he’s from Ireland! Came on a plane, totally scammed the system and will live quite happily in Australia without ever encountering the type of hostility that assylum seekers from Asia suffer daily.

  • 17
    Bob the builder
    Posted Wednesday, 12 December 2012 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

    Regardless of whether it’s a pretext, changing the policy destroying incoming vessels would a: -

    a) save lives

    b) remove the pretext - which has allowed the heartless to portray themselves as the friends of the vulnerable.

  • 18
    Steve Clarke
    Posted Thursday, 13 December 2012 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    Bob and Mattsui,
    If Australia does not destroy the boats, what are we going to do with them?
    If they are to be sent back to the people smugglers then we would have a moral obligation to make them safe for the crew to return. That would mean the boats would have to be repaired, serviced and refuelled. Is this realistic?

  • 19
    Bob the builder
    Posted Thursday, 13 December 2012 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Steve,
    there seems to be no basis to what you are saying. If the people providing transport services to asylum seekers weren’t targeted they’d send better boats with less expendable crew. These are maritime people - they live on the sea. They are quite capable of travelling to and from Australia unassisted using seaworthy vessels - it’s out policies that are discouraging that.

  • 20
    Steve Clarke
    Posted Thursday, 13 December 2012 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

    Bob,
    “If the people providing transport services to asylum seekers weren’t targeted they’d send better boats with less expendable crew.”
    That is a pretty big assumption to make and does not make any sense unless you see it as a sort of continuous ferry service. What do you mean by “less expendable crew”?

  • 21
    Bob the builder
    Posted Thursday, 13 December 2012 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

    Well, transport providers aren’t going to be able to secure experienced, able staff to crew a piece of junk totally unsuited to the conditions. And those crew aren’t going to give up their modest, but stable, living to be gaoled in Australia.
    Only the most desperate and uninformed are going to be foolish enough to crew these boats - and they’re unlikely to be skilled seafarers.

  • 22
    Jenny Swank
    Posted Friday, 14 December 2012 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    http://www.crikey.com.au/2012/12/11/rintoul-challenging-bipartisan-myths-on-asylum-seekers/

    Lets engage some critical thinking…

    Analysing this quote:
    “vast majority of these arrivals are manifestly not asylum seekers”

    Records currently available to the public don’t support that claim, but lets look at definitions.

    An asylum seekers is defined as:
    “a person who, from fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, social group, or political opinion, has crossed an international frontier into a country in which he or she hopes to be granted refugee status”

    A refugee is defined as:
    “a person who’s claim for asylum is recognised by the UNHCR, who’s claim has been granted and who is offered protection in whichever signatory country has agreed to offer that protection”

    On the other hand an economic migrant is defined as:
    “a person who moves from one region, place, or country to another in order to improve his or her standard of living”

    There’s a much more detailed definition for ‘refugee’ here:
    http://www2.ohchr.org/English/law/refugees.htm#wp1037012

    This is Fact Sheet 61 -
    Seeking Protection Within Australia
    http://www.immi.gov.au/media/fact-sheets/61protection.htm#b

    The Refugees Convention does not oblige signatory countries to provide protection to people who do not fear persecution and have left their country of nationality or residence on the basis of war, famine, environmental collapse or in order to seek economic opportunities.”

    Lets say an economic migrant knowingly provides false information to support their asylum claim:
    - what rights do they have during their claim process?
    - what happens when the claim is granted based on false information they have provided, and they receive protection which they’re not entitled to?
    - what rights does Australia have when economic migrants are granted asylum which they’re not entitled to, then choose to use their existing connections to engage in people smuggling and risk other people’s lives for profit?

    This article quotes an asylum seeker saying:
    “I tried to tell [the official] that I am a refugee and please help me, and she said: ‘No, I am not here to hear all those stories, you are going.’”
    Do we have any evidence to backup this allegation?
    Has the appropriate Department been given the opportunity to clarify:
    - if that comment is accurate?
    - if the comment is accurate then what is the context?
    - if comment and context are accurate, then why are we not following proper procedure for processing claims?
    - if the comment is not accurate, why is it being referenced?

    If it’s taken out of context then lets hear/read the full situation so we can understand it and make a more informed opinion.

    Thanks for the link:
    http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;db=COMMITTEES;id=committees%2Festimate%2Fa41a5fdb-967c-42a4-b0f4-6ac936ebb9dc%2F0004;query=Id%3A%22committees%2Festimate%2Fa41a5fdb-967c-42a4-b0f4-6ac936ebb9dc%2F0000%22
    …although it took a while to find the reference to “82% of the rejections overturned on appeal” in such a large document but further reading was quite interesting, like being a fly on the wall.

    A lot of information I’m sure most people are unaware of, including this:
    -Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I want to go back to the current issues facing the Nauru detention facility. You said earlier that it is not a detention facility in that it does not have gates. What do you mean by that?
    -Mr Bowles : The normal detention centre in the onshore network obviously has large fences and all that sort of paraphernalia. We are not envisaging those. We are talking to both the PNG and Nauruan governments around what level of openness can be afforded. There are obviously issues, particularly in the first instance, to make sure health and security is okay—and that is from a client perspective and a community perspective. Again, we are dealing with another independent country in both cases, so want to make sure that we respect the issues that they raise with us. We have had a number of those conversations and we will continue to have more.
    -Senator HANSON-YOUNG: The people who are there are in detention. They cannot leave the facility, can they?
    -Mr Bowles : They do go out on regular trips on buses.
    -Senator HANSON-YOUNG: They do that on Christmas Island as well.
    -Mr Bowles : It is nothing like Christmas Island in the way it is structured. It is envisaged that it will be as open as we can possibly make it, respecting the rights and responsibilities we would expect working in another country.

    According to this article:
    http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/1716151/Manus-Island-detention-centre-should-be-permanent:-PNG-PM
    PNG PM Peter O’Neill reflects what Mr Bowles mentioned “…unlike some Australian detention centres, asylum seekers detained in Manus Island are free to engage with the local community.”

    That sounds fair, they’re safe from persecution and free to mingle with the community, but reports indicate that people don’t want to go to Manus.
    What conditions exist in the safety of Manus Island that would be unsuitable for someone who has nothing, and is fleeing persecution?

    Until last week none of those deported had any access to lawyers or independent advice”
    - is there any evidence to support this statement?
    - if the comment is accurate then what is the context?
    - if comment and context are accurate, then why are we not following proper procedure for processing claims?
    - if the comment is not accurate, why is it being referenced?

    Article 16. - Access to courts
    http://www2.ohchr.org/English/law/refugees.htm#wp1037076
    According to the definitions there’s a difference between “asylum seeker” and “refugee”.
    Article 16 says a refugee should have rights to courts and legal representation but doesn’t mention anything about asylum seekers right to court and legal advice.
    Does “refugee” in the context of this clause refer to asylum seekers AND refugess, or only verified refugees? it doesn’t say…

    I wish I could be a fly on the wall in the right places so I knew the truth about exactly how much assistance is availale to asylum seekers, what the interviews are really like, how much of what we see in the media is accurate and if the clause in Article 16 is intended for asylum seekers AND refugees or only refugees.

    The media usually have their own agenda, the British media have proved that recently, writing hyped articles to fuel their own agenda for one purpose: ratings.

    There are recent reports about dodgy internet connectivity on Nauru, which would probably affect everyone on the island.
    This recording is the closest thing I can find to “being there”, without actually being there.
    The person being interviewed doesn’t sound like she has any bias or hype, she’s commenting on what she knows and sees.
    Press the PLAY button:
    http://www.sbs.com.au/news/audio/play/?audio=http://media.sbs.com.au/audio/world-news_121211_245569.mp3

    Among other things she comments that Nauru has only 8 machines for all detainees. That is definitely a very small percentage, but this is a processing centre where people are safe from persecution, it’s not an internet cafe or hotel. Hotels might have that many internet connected machines, but you usually only have 30 minutes because it has to be rationed for everyone. Internet cafe’s don’t have free internet.

    According to this article:
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-09-14/asylum-seekers-to-be-processed-under-nauruan-law/4262458
    Asylum seekers on Nauru will be processed under Nauruan law, is there any part of Nauruan law that is detrimental to health, safety, wellbeing and human rights which might indicate why asylum seekers are protesting that they want their claim processed in Australia?

    Following from that, here is Article 2:
    http://www2.ohchr.org/English/law/refugees.htm#wp1037039

    Every refugee has duties to the country in which he finds himself, which require in particular that he conform to its laws and regulations as well as to measures taken for the maintenance of public order.”

    This aricle appears to be genuine, ie not hyped, no selective reporting:
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-12-01/nauru-accuses-detainees-of-aiding-suicide-bid/4402620
    in it they mention:
    “there is a small group of detainees who are causing trouble and are inciting others to join in…Mr Batsua says when the centre’s health workers tried to help him, the group of protesters interfered. ‘When they were trying to offer the help that he obviously required, they were being obstructed by others who were keen to see a negative outcome…’ “

    This article also appears to genuine, ie not hyped, no selective reporting. It mentions riots:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-13153333
    There is plenty of media coverage for those who rioted, burned down tents and buildings, assaulted staff on duty and threw projectiles at firefighers who attended to put the fires out.

    The ABC article reports some people are encouraging others to self harm and attempt to prevent staff from providing assistance to those who need it.
    Why would a group of people try to prevent other people from receiving appropriate help?
    The BBC article reports that people participated in riots.
    Are any of these people in breach of Article 2?
    Are any of these people breaching the human rights of fellow asylum seekers, the staff who are doing their job and the firefighters who came to put out the fires which were deliberately lit?

    How many refugees do we resettle? I dunno, I could read what the media wants to tell me but that’s no good because I’ve never seen them referencing their info so lets have a look what the UNHCR says…
    http://www.unhcr.org/4ac0873d6.html

    Page three has a diagram showing we are the 3rd highest resettlement nation in the world, we’re not too far away from being in 2nd place. As you can see there’s a big gap between 1st and 2nd.

    Or if you have trouble with that page, you can try this one:
    http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/BN/2011-2012/RefugeeResettlement#_Toc310921308

    What happens if we double our refugee intake? considering the pressure which currently exists on our immigration centres with the surge in IMA’s (Irregular Maritime Arrivals), would we have the resources to handle twice as many people? If we don’t have the resources then we have to ask:
    - how many Australian residents would be willing to accomodate people while their claims are being processed?
    - how will asylum seekers’ mental and physical health, location, safety and legal rights be properly monitored if they are released into the community?

    How many visa’s we granted to refugees overseas? lets take a look:
    http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/BN/2011-2012/RefugeeResettlement#_Toc310921307

    That’s not bad for a country in our location (ie in the middle of the ocean) with our demographics and with our own humanitarian, health, education, housing, utility, corruption and other problems.

    Safety of life at sea is paramount, but made much more difficult when people on the boats who have requested assistance sabotage the boat, put everyone’s life in danger, and give rescuers no choice but to accept passengers. In some cases once the human cargo has been delivered, the crew get back on their “dangerous, distressed” vessel and go home:
    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/indonesian-crew-escape-in-rescued-vessel/story-fn59niix-1226452181647

    AMSA are a safety and rescue authority, not a taxi service.

    This is AMSA’s service charter:
    http://amsa.gov.au/About_AMSA/Service_charter.asp

    Does AMSA’s service charter mean that people who request assistance when not actually needing assistance are in direct breach of “Client responsibilities” of anyone who engages AMSA?
    At the least it’s a slap in the face for anyone coming to their assistance, but we have to treat each call seriously because one day there will be no sabotage, it’ll be a genuine emergency!

    I agree it’d be better to process people in their current position (Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, etc) rather than risk a boat journey, but hold for one second, the article mentions people waiting in Indonesia, lets have a look at the UNHCR signatories list, it’s here:
    http://www.unhcr.org/3b73b0d63.html
    Indonesia is not on the list, they are not a UNHCR signatory, why would anyone purposely spend time and money getting to a country who isn’t obliged to offer them protection?
    Isn’t it more logical, and probably a lot safer, to go to the closest signatory country who has an obligation to protect you?
    What criteria does a country require to become a signatory?

    Afghanistan is a UNHCR signatory, if you want to flee Afghanistan the closest country with a record for improved human rights who’s also on the UNHCR list is Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan share a land border so you don’t need a fake passport, money, plane, boat or people smuggler to get there. Just grab what you can carry, grab your family and GO!
    If you’ve got enough money for a fake passport and an airfare, take the first direct flight to a signatory country, go straight to airport immigration and seek asylum!

    This is Article 31:
    http://www2.ohchr.org/English/law/refugees.htm#wp1037138

    It states:
    “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…”.
    Direct is: “proceeding from one point to another in time or space without deviation or interruption”

    Sri Lanka -> Australia is 2,800k’s over dangerous open ocean, it bypasses India (their closest UNHCR signatory neighbour) but it is direct.
    Afghanistan -> Singapore -> Malaysia -> Indonesia -> Australia by air/road/ocean is also dangerous, but it’s not direct.

    Does Article 31 mean we have no obligation to offer someone protection if they’ve departed a signatory country (Afghanistan) and bypassed closer signatories to arrive in Indonesia (not a signatory, not obliged to offer protection) and leave on a (leaky, overcrowded and under resourced) boat for Australia?

    Here is Fact Sheet Section 61:
    http://www.immi.gov.au/media/fact-sheets/61protection.htm#b

    The last paragraph says:
    “International law recognises that people at risk of persecution have a legal right to flee their country and seek refuge elsewhere, but does not give them a right to enter a country of which they are not a national. Nor do people at risk of persecution have a right to choose their preferred country of protection.”

    Does Section 61 mean that regardless what an asylum seeker requests, ie being on Nauru and demanding to be processed in Australia, they have no say about which country chooses to offer them protection/resettlement?

    If an asylum seeker does not have a say in which country chooses to accept them for protection/resettement then it seems wrong that a small group is being selfish to encourage others to hunger strike and threaten self harm as a demand to “take us where we want to go, or else”.
    Their efforts are unnecessarily hurting people, and probably breaching their own human rights.

    I like this idea…
    “The pre-1992 situation when there was no mandatory detention, no offshore processing and asylum seekers arriving by boat were processed while they lived in the community”
    but a lot has changed since 20+ years ago, and we have to remember that while we’re focussing on other people we also have our own list of health, social and economic problems to deal with…

    It’s also strange to note on this page:
    http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/BN/2011-2012/RefugeeResettlement#_Toc310921307
    From 1982-1992 we had a considerably higher amount of Visa’s granted to refugees overseas (ie offshore) than what we have from 2002 - 2011.

    On a totally different approach, what efforts and assistance are the Church’s offering?
    Church and religion’s primary goal is to help people in need, yet for the most part they have been strangely quiet on this. Yes, there have been a few media announcements how the church’s don’t agree with policy but they make no effort to offer constructive ideas on what could be done differently, and more efficiently and be a practical idea.
    With their combined wealth they could easily assist all countries to implement better procedures and facilities to more humanely accomodate asylum seekers, providing financial assistance for more staff to be on the ground, talking to asylum seekers one-to-one about their claims, have more claimes processed at the same time, and have those claims processes faster because more resources are available to do the processing.
    Asylum seekers could be housed in any unused staff/student accomodation, the church itself could modified to accomodate people, spare staff accomodation could be used, and old boarding schools could used.

    If Church’s have unused accomodation available, why aren’t they offering it to people who have nothing and are fleeing persecution?

    So far as Australia’s overall human rights record goes, it’s horrible.
    Our treatment of Aboriginal people is wrong in every shape and form, far too many Australians are unnecessarily living in poverty, and our health system is so badly stretched that we’re struggling to cope. There is no easily solution and nothing will be fixed overnight but the Government still does not appear to be genuinely interested in engaging with the right people in the right places to work out an effective, long term solution to our own human rights issues.

    In the end we have some fundamental questions:
    - how do we stop a big business involved in mass murder by drowning?
    These businesses are based in other countries (but represented in Australia by people who have been granted protection), who provide absolutely no safeguards or guarentees, but willingly accepts large amounts of money to transport people over the open ocean in vessels which usually have inadequate space, food, water, safety equipment and often have an unreliable engine. The operators of such business don’t care that their human cargo might drown on the way, and usually lie to the victims families that their loved one’s “made it” so the smuggler can receive their final payment.

    - how do we work out which people are economic migrants who claim to be refugees but actually come seeking work, and residency?
    By being accepted as refugees they are taking the place in our annual refugee intake quota (20,000) which is there for someone who truly needs help!

    - how do we work out which people are genuine refugees, so we can give them all the help, support and protection that they so badly need?

    - how do we balance the requirements of people in need from other countries who ask for our help, while also accomodating the health, education, housing and other essential needs in our own country?

    - and how do we manage our own part of the worldwide jigsaw where millions have been displaces over many years.

    There’s no way we can accomodate all of them, and no on can solve the problem over night because it wasn’t created overnight. We need help, and that’s what the Houston Report is supposed to be all about, regional co-operation, because that’s what’s needed when millions of people are looking for a new home…

  • 23
    Steve Clarke
    Posted Friday, 14 December 2012 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    There is something a bit Orwellian in your renaming of people smugglers as “transport providers.”
    Many hundreds of people have perished at sea due to some of these cold blooded opportunists.

  • 24
    Bob the builder
    Posted Friday, 14 December 2012 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

    Steve,
    I think there is something Orwellian about many terms. Such as ‘military contractor’ [mercenary], ‘rationalisation’ [mass sacking] etc., etc. Do you find them so offensive?
    Do you find our illegal wars offensive, the mass deaths they cause?
    I could go on.
    These people provide transport. It’s a description of what they do. Some of them are modern-day Schindlers. I’m sure most of them are businesspeople, good old capitalists providing a service where there is a demand.
    We create the demand and the market conditions that result in particular business arrangements.
    Instead of getting emotional and moralistic we should be making the simple policy changes to facilitate a situation where people aren’t put at risk.

  • 25
    Steve Clarke
    Posted Sunday, 16 December 2012 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    Bob,
    “Do you find our illegal wars offensive, the mass deaths they cause?”
    Yes I do find them offensive. I find also find euphemisms such as “‘military contractor’ [mercenary], ‘rationalisation’ [mass sacking]” and ‘transport providers’ (people smugglers) offensive.
    Using a friendlier sounding title to cover up the murderous boat trips organised by people smugglers is offensive.

  • 26
    Bob the builder
    Posted Sunday, 16 December 2012 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Pick your euphemisms, I suppose.
    ‘People smugglers’ is another one. They are not smuggling anyone, they are bringing them openly - but ‘smugglers’ sounds so much more eeeevil, doesn’t it?
    I’m certain there are people smugglers operating, but they’re probably based in Hiltons and their clients fly in. There may even be some sea-based ones - I did hear from some friends in North Queensland of a group of suited Chinese that turned up on the coast one day looking for directions! They had obviously landed illegally and were trying to get to wherever they were going as fast as possible. Never heard about it on the news, and I’m sure there’s lots of other examples going on.
    They are also not murderous. Their intent is for people to arrive alive. The deaths are by-products of our policy settings and their business decisions, but not the purpose. Murder implies intent. There is no intent. The crew are generally in as much danger as the asylum-seekers if something goes wrong.
    So, Steve. Be careful with your language. Describe facts and don’t get let yourself get manipulated by the emotional games of our major parties.

  • 27
    RMB
    Posted Tuesday, 8 January 2013 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    I agree with matssui - the debate shouldn’t be about people’s voting preferences but instead what type of society we live in. The recommendations that have been implemented so far by the government such as the ‘deterrent’ measures of the ‘no advantage’ principle and offshore-processing under the guise of ‘saving lives’ play to the sentiments of the Australian public, namely a public that historically has been unsympathetic to asylum seekers and still are with polls showing the majority preferring Tony Abbot’s approaches. At the end of the day the ALP wants to be re-elected and will pander to get this, therefore while Australia’s xenophobia continues, asylum seeker policy will remain about political point scoring and what makes sense fiscally and morally will fall by the wayside. If Australia’s laboured progress with addressing indigenous issues is anything to go by the outlook for asylum seekers and refugees continues to be bleak, and implicit racism will continue to underline political rhetoric and policy. The pertinent question then is – how do we go about changing this mentality?

  • 28
    Patrick Donovan
    Posted Wednesday, 9 January 2013 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps a relevant phrase here is the domestic voting audience. With a general election looming, both the Labor party and the Liberal Party are primarily focused on presenting policies that they hope will help win key marginal seats in the next election. Unfortunately this does seem to mean the cherry picking of recommendations from the Houston report that advocate disincentives and deterrents towards asylum seekers.

    The Labor government is seemingly determined to match or pre-empt policy declarations of the Liberal party relating to asylum seekers, in the hope of securing another term in office. Also as long as politicians believe they have the political mandate from the domestic voting audience to implement such policies, the outlook for asylum seekers and the proposed regional framework will remain uncertain.

    This does present a particularly bleak scenario, as no matter which party wins the next election, they will interpret it as an endorsement of their policies, including their policies on asylum seekers.

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