This is part two of Crikey‘s look into alternative border protection and asylum seeker policies. Read part one here.
Regional cooperation and pathways in the Asia Pacific
Any long-term solution would require regional cooperation, phasing out people smugglers with new governmental pathways, and identifying asylum seekers at their source. For example, responding to Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis with anything other than a “nope nope nope” would go a long way to reducing people’s need for riskier options.
The existing Bali Process offers a regional policy dialogue for ensuring the protection of refugees, as well as a means of raising regional awareness on boat journeys and safer passageways. And while the government has basically only worked with our neighbours on how to best trap their asylum seekers, we have research from groups such as the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law and the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network on how Australia can best take responsibility for asylum seekers in our region, target people smuggling operations, and offer coordinated, funded, and safer new passageways.
Political reality: While there have been token announcements from Julie Bishop’s office on this matter, the Coalition have yet to really do anything here (unless you count cooperating with Sri Lanka on the whole torture thing). It’s also touchy option for Labor after the failed Malaysia Solution.
As a way of both empowering people seeking asylum and helping coordinate the entire process, UNICEF have a list of suggestions to make visa applications easier, quicker and more secure. This includes distributing visa information in relevant languages, opening departmental outposts in key overseas locations, and waiving or deferring fees and requirements.
Political reality: Almost impossible under the Coalition, who have only made the system less stable by reintroducing bridging visas and even moved to increase income requirements for family reunion visas. This would need a complete 180 from Dutton.
Initiate search and rescue operations
Most (but not all) refugee activists are calling to phase out turn-backs, demilitarise our immigration system, and repurpose our existing “ring of steel” border officials to instead actively rescue every person asking for our help.
At a stretch, some groups have even advocated for a more humanitarian version of “turn-backs” where, instead of illegally and dangerously pushing people seeking asylum by boat back to wherever, Australia temporarily brings them to one of those aforementioned processing centres, or even Manus Island/Nauru, quickly processes them (under 90 days), then finds them asylum either here or within another country that has signed the UN Refugee Convention (i.e. New Zealand, Canada, US). The theory being that Australia would ensure refugees find asylum regardless of their means of transport, while also disrupting people smuggling operations.
And yes, even with all those other options in place, an Australia without indefinite detention or turn-backs could see a rise in people exercising their right to seek asylum by boat. But instead of ignoring them and the entirely legitimate concern of deaths at sea (which, as one particularly tragic case demonstrated, we sometimes did even under Rudd), Australia could use those billions from offshore detention to instead maybe help people.
Political reality: Next to impossible in the current climate. There’s no way the Coalition as it is stands would support boat arrivals and, while there are Labor Left factions pressuring the party, Shorten and co are still keen to put as much distance between their current policies and Rudd 1.0. However, they continue to claim they would only to support turn-backs “where safe to do so”: considering this is absolutely not the current case, that might be an in for the “humanitarian turnbacks” option.