Sep 13, 2012

No advantage? Nobody knows what that means

It's the cornerstone of the expert panel report and Australia's new asylum seeker policy, but the government still hasn't decided what a "no advantage" principle means.

Amber Jamieson — Freelance journalist in New York

Amber Jamieson

Freelance journalist in New York

It's the cornerstone of the expert panel report and Australia's new asylum seeker policy, but the government still hasn't decided what a "no advantage" principle means. The report that inspired Labor's policy -- authored by Angus Houston, Michael L'Estrange and Paris Aristotle -- explains: "Asylum seekers gain no benefit by choosing not to seek protection through established mechanisms." Or in other words, asylum seekers who come by boat will have to wait just as long in Nauru or Manus Island as they would if they'd stayed in Malaysia, Indonesia or wherever. But there's still been no official explanation of what it means in practise, although the government has signed deals for asylum seekers to be sent to Papua New Guinea and Nauru and it's been a month since the Houston report recommendations were passed into legislation. Will "no advantage" mean waiting months or years? Will all refugees have to wait the same amount of time? On what basis is a waiting time decided? Does the waiting time begin from when the asylum seeker gets off the boat or from when their refugee claims have been approved? "It's not simply an issue of length of time as some commentators have referred to it as," Aristotle told Crikey. "It's more complex than that. "What would be envisaged is that the way in which UNHCR processes now and makes determination of who is in need of resettlement and then makes the determination of who in that group is prioritised for those resettlement places, that's the exact same operational principles that would apply in this context. That's why you can't simply rely on a mathematical formula about length of time only." Meaning a young single mother with three children who have experienced torture would be placed quicker than a young single man who was healthy. However, the UNHCR won't be involved in processing asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island, meaning it's Australian officials who are attempting to use UNHCR principles. "I fully accept that's a complicating factor," said Aristotle. "It's not an exact science and it's not a test and it's a principle that should be applied." A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen called it a "complex process" and said the details were still being finalised. "Data around the processing and resettlement times for a range of cohorts in various circumstances is being gathered from a number of places, including from the UNHCR, Immigration and Australian diplomatic posts across the world," they told Crikey. The UNHCR confirmed it had been in discussions with government and the Department of Immigration on a number of issues in the Houston report, including the "no advantage" principle, but would give no further details on the type of data the government wants. "I can't discuss those discussions in terms of any information we may or may not have provided," a spokesperson said. Instead, they pointed to a letter by UNCHR president Antonio Guterres sent to Bowen last week and tabled in parliament on Monday on the UNHCR's formal advice on Nauru being a processing country. Regarding the "no advantage" principle, it reads:
"The practical implication of this are not fully clear to us. The time it takes for resettlement referrals by UNHCR in South-East Asia or elsewhere may not be a suitable comparator for the period that a Convention State whose protection obligations should use. Moreover it will be difficult to identify such a period with any accuracy, given that there is no 'average' time for resettlement ... Finally, the 'no advantage' test appears to be based on the longer term aspiration that there are, in fact, effective 'regional processing arrangements' in place."
Aristotle agrees that the regional plan hasn't been fully developed yet but adds: "The worse thing you could do is to wait for the environment to be ideal." Forty to 50 male asylum seekers will be flown to Nauru this week, although Bowen's spokesperson told Crikey: "The government will make further announcements on the 'no advantage' test in due course". When Crikey pressed for further clarification of "due course", the spokesman replied: "This is a complex area with legal intricacies and it is important we get it right. As such more detail will be released when appropriate, and I don't intend to provide arbitrary timelines, sorry." The "no advantage" principle has refugee advocates angry. "It's nonsensical," said Pamela Curr. "No advantage to what? It's an implied threat to asylum seekers." Curr notes that some asylum seekers spend decades waiting in Malaysia. She says there's been speculation in refugee circles of different waiting time periods for different nationalities. Two recent boatloads of asylum seekers (who have been earmarked for removal to Nauru) include Burmese families, Iranians, Iraqis, Sudanese, Pakistanis and Somali asylum seekers. Once the offshore processing centres are running at full capacity, Nauru will hold a maximum of 1500 (with 500 expected to be living there by the end of the month) and Manus Island will hold a total of 600. Over 2000 asylum seekers have arrived since the implementation of the Houston plan. Although the government and media focus is on Nauru and Manus Island, Aristotle calls them only "short-term measures" and says the real focus should be on building a regional processing arrangement, the increase of humanitarian refugee visas and the millions the government has committed to spend on capacity building and research.

Free Trial

You've hit members-only content.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions


Leave a comment

62 thoughts on “No advantage? Nobody knows what that means

  1. Gocomsys

    The last paragraph provides a great summary. Just minor alterations.

    The government and media focus is on Nauru and Manus Island, these are indeed “short-term measures” for obvious enforced political reason as well as a possible deterrent for boat arrivals. The real focus has always been on building a regional processing arrangement, the increase of humanitarian refugee visas and the millions the government has committed to spend on capacity building and research.

    Sounds better doesn’t it? Why not stating the facts, I’d say.

  2. Gocomsys

    My comment is awaiting moderation. Again.

  3. shepherdmarilyn

    The whole thing is a sick hoax because it forgets the first principal of refugee law – everyone has the right to seek asylum from persecution in other countries.

    Resettlement is not a legal right, resettlement is for people who are already refugees with status and has no treaty cover of any description.

    Aristotle is a mad man – there will never be any regional process now but there has been a global process for the past 60 years.

    We are the only nation on earth who dreams up these racist delusions to punish innocent people for the behaviour of others and to attempt to influence the behaviour of yet others.

    Sort of like locking up all men because some are rapists.

    No country in our area will ever now sign the refugee convention and the tiny amount of money granted to the UNHCR to deal with 8 million refugees in our area while we waste $5 billion jailing 2100 people and millions of kids die of starvation every year is beyond deranged.

    There is no such thing as no advantage for refugees – they are all found to have a well founded fear of persecution.

  4. Arty

    Deja vu all over again!
    And part of that ..all over again… is the intermingling of policy with implementation. Policy is for amateurs and implementation is for professionals. I suspect that the qualities that make a good politician are unsuitable for the nitty-gritty of actually doing the job day-after-day.

    I suspect that there are only two possible policy positions for which the implementation is less complex, namely (a) accept all refugees or (b) reject all refugees.

    The two important interpretations are those held by potential refugees and those of the High Court.

  5. GeeWizz

    Labor have finally admitted there is a queue and that those coming on boat are jumping said queue.

    It only took Labor 4 years to realise this… slow learners but they get there in the end.

    BTW I notice that Labor has made a promise not to force any boaties to go to Nauru… I mean how gutless is this government? The boaties will now say “Nope, NOT GOING!” and Labor will just do what they always do and cave, just like they did with the Oceanic Viking illegals that refused to get off the boats without a signed promise from the government of insta-visas.

    This government is gutless which is why they will never stop the boats… they don’t have the will to do so. Howard never had problems getting illegals off the plane because he wasn’t weak like Gillard.

  6. shepherdmarilyn

    No Gee, they are making an artificial $5 billion queue.

    They are torturing and punishing one group of people in the guise of helping another group who are from the same countries and face the same problems.

    When we have refugee applicants from 60 different countries from all over the world apply here how on earth can there be a queue?

    And why is Australia the only one who knows about it.

  7. David Hand

    Of course there’s a queue Marilyn. That’s what the “no advantage” measure is intended to address, though I absolutely accept the main thrust of this article that the implementation of the policy has serious unresolved issues.

    It is both tiresome and ironic at the same time to hear refugee advocates scream “THERE IS NO QUEUE!” anytime someone states the obvious.

  8. GeeWizz

    If the lefties say there is no queue then they should be happy that these people are going to be waiting behind people of said non-queue because it doesn’t exist apparantly.

    Oh but thatttsss right… you don’t want illegals to wait behind those in the queue because it really does exist!

  9. shepherdmarilyn

    And now we are going to help 1000 of the 650,000 refugees who have just fled Syria while pushing away Afghans who have been refugees for 30 years without a proper home.

    Bowen is deranged.

  10. shepherdmarilyn

    Now I know what the no advantage is.

    Syrians who have been refugees for a minute will have priority of Afghan refugees who have been in exile for 30 years.

    Why? Just because the GG saw them?

    Now lets see who the smugglers are that we are going to send a message to while we brutalise their passengers.

    Bodyguard accused of role in deadly boat voyage
    By Indonesia correspondent George Roberts
    12 September 2012
    One of the Indonesian president’s bodyguards has been accused of involvement in a people-smuggling operation that saw more than 200 asylum seekers drown trying to get to Australia.

    In December last year, a boat carrying about 250 people sank off Prigi on the East Java coast as it attempted to get to Christmas Island.

    More than 200 people drowned in the tragedy and now five Indonesian soldiers are facing a military court for their part in organising the boat.

    Prosecutors have asked that the first soldier to face the hearing, Ilmun, be locked up for eight years, but the military defence team has dismissed the request.

    Ilmun and his four alleged accomplices are accused of finding the boat which was then overloaded with more than twice the number of people it was designed to carry.

    Ilmun has admitted to organising seven boat trips, but says he was taking orders from higher up the military chain.

    He has named a member of president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s security troop, a man called Amin, but also known as Amir.

    The allegation takes the military’s involvement in people-smuggling much higher than the low-ranking”

    And the Indonesian children are suing us while the INdonesian fishing crews will no longer be charged but the refugees will be sent into orbit.

Leave a comment

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details