Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

A modern approach to refugee resettlement


Tony Abbott, Stop the BoatsOne of the Coalition's four planks in this election is to 'stop the boats'. Their policy also states that the temporary protection visa system will be introduced as well as offshore processing in Nauru. The Labor policy does not go as far but does propose a regional offshore processing centre, maybe in East Timor.

Both major parties propose to keep the refugee and humanitarian program at 13,750 places, of which 6500 are for refugees recommended by UNHCR. The balance of the program is for humanitarian cases, mainly immediate family members of refugees and onshore protection cases.

All those who are accepted as refugees are individually assessed by migration officers, whether offshore or onshore. So whether 5000 refugees come from UNHCR cases or arrive on boats or by planes and are then assessed as refugees, you still have 5000 refugees.

But the debate does not focus on how many refugees we ought to take, but on who are the 'good refugees' and who are the 'bad refugees'. According to the Coalition, 'bad refugees' are those who come on boats and then seek asylum. They take places that could otherwise go to the 'good refugees' who wait patiently in camps.

This dichotomy underlies the myth of a 'queue', and so pits different groups of refugees against each other. The reality is more complex.

For refugees, there are three possible solutions. First, people should be able to return home and live safely. If that is not possible, then the second option is integration in the country to which they initially fled. The third and least used option is third country resettlement.

The UNHCR estimates there are around 12 million refugees in the world. Less than 100,000 (under one per cent) will be resettled in third countries. An estimated 25 million people are also internally displaced. Few if any of these people will have access to third country resettlement.

To claim there is a queue of people seekeing asylum does not respect the reality of refugee movements. It is ludicrous.

Historically, refugees have tended to live in camps near the borders of the country from which they fled. Since 1945, the oldest unsolved  group of refugees comprises the Palestinians who have now lived for nearly two generations in camps in the Middle East. Yet they are rarely considered for third country resettlement.

In the last 20 years, more refugees live in urban centres than previously. Iraq, for example, was a very developed country with a significant middle class and significant minority populations. Many of the tertiary educated professionals who fled Iraq since 2003 are living in Syria, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and other countries in the region. A significant number are Sunni or Christian.

The Iraqi refugees include medical professionals, IT specialists and engineers who have temporary work in the UAE. When that finishes, they need protection elsewhere as it is too dangerous to return to Iraq. Others live off their savings in Syria. Some use their resources to get to countries of resettlement and then claim asylum.

UNHCR identified such professionals as being at high risk in Iraq in April 2009 and this assessment was confirmed in July 2010. They do not fit the stereotype of a 'poor refugee in a camp', but they meet the refugee definition because poverty is not a requirement for refugee status.

It is estimated there are around one million Iraqis in Jordan and Syria and a further 1.5 million internally displaced in Iraq. There are no Iraqi camps as such in Jordan and Syria, but the Iraqis are spread throughout the suburbs of Damascus and Amman.

The experience of these Iraqis is different to that of older refugee communities, such as Afghans, Cambodians, Sudanese and other African communities put in refugee camps. There are still major Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan but more and more Afghans are now living in cities such as Peshawar or Quetta rather than in camps.

More recently some Afghans fled directly from Afghanistan or from the camps to seek a solution themselves rather than waiting for the refugee 'resettlement lotto' in camps.

In developing a contemporary policy for refugee resettlement, these variations in types of refugee need to be considered. Some flee to camps and remain there waiting to see if a return home is possible. Others seek resettlement through the UNHCR. Others flee to a Refugee Convention signatory country to seek asylum.

Sadly human rights abuses will continue and therefore there will be more refugees. The current debate rarely considers those who are forced to move for environmental reasons because their cases do not fit the narrow refugee definition, but the next two decades are likely to see more of such cases.

We need to work collectively with other countries and international organisations. We cannot expect to remain forever isolated from the large numbers of people moving around the planet. A modern approach to refugee resettlement will reflect these different movements without pitting groups against each other.

Kerry MurphyKerry Murphy is a partner with the specialist immigration law firm D'Ambra Murphy Lawyers. He is a student of Arabic, former Jesuit Refugee Service coordinator, teaches at ANU and is one of Australia's top immigration lawyers as recognised the Australian Financial Review Best Lawyers survey in 2009 and 2010.  

Topic tags: temporary protection visas, stop the boats, asylum seekers, refugees, nauru, off-shore processing



submit a comment

Existing comments

Readers of yesterday’s piece in the Melbourne Herald Sun may have been left with the impression that I think "the federal Opposition's plan for Nauru would be more acceptable" – to quote the Hun! To be fair, that is not what the journalist reported. This was the Hun’s editorial gloss. I sent a letter correcting the error. But the Hun declined to publish it.

No plan for a regional centre wherever it may be will be acceptable unless it guarantees immediate release from detention on proof of refugee status and prompt resettlement of those proved to be refugees. Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison have refused to give such guarantees. Without such guarantees, a Nauru processing centre would simply become a punitive detention facility in breach of UN the Convention on Refugees.

Thanks to Kerry for setting the context for the discussion which will commence next Monday morning whoever wins government and wherever they contemplate building a regional centre to address what is largely just an Australian problem, obsession or concern (choose your own term!)

Fr Frank Brennan SJ | 19 August 2010  

Kerry Murphy is correct in aaying:"...we cannot expect to remain forever isolated from large numbers of people moving around the planet". It's probable that there are 40 to 50 milion displaced or suffering people around the globe, who are in need of shelter.

Denmark is a country which once celebrated difference and was most generous in its welfare and immigration policies.

In Denmark truly socialist liberal governments had remained in control for over 70 years, but in 2001 the Danes elected a reactionary conservative administration....WHY?

Over the past 30 years many Muslim immigrants and asylum seekers were welcomed into Denmark.

These new citizens undertstandably banded together on arrival and tended to form exclusive enclaves. They protected their
culture and upheld their religious beliefs. They were scandalised about what they considered to be the decadence and immorality of Danish life,and Muslim leaders condemned it.

In 2005 a Danish newpaper produced a series of cartoons that ridiculed Islam and humiliated the Muslim population. Extreme violence followed, lives were lost.

Denmark has a population of 5.5 million.
Statistically speaking Muslim immigrants constitute 5% of the population but consume upwards of 40% of Denmark's welfare spending. These figures could be very mileading as they apply to "immigrants" only and not to the two generations of the Danish-born children of those immigrants. In other words the average age of Muslim immigrants would obviously be higher than that of the Danish population, and considering their impoverished origins, might disproportionally be in need of welfare support.

It is estimated that every third inhabitant of Denmark in 40 years will be Muslim. If this prediction is accurate and democracy prevails then it could reasonably expected that a short time thereafter, Denmark would become an Islamic state. How could anyone with liberal and democratic values possibly object to this?

Kerry Murphy refernces"integration" in his excellent article. As there are degrees of integration, how could a law be possibly framed to make it a crime to fail to integrate to a specified degree?

The demographers can do the calculations, but it appears, using the Danish experience, that the best way to go is to "hasten slowly". The Danes now have the strictest immigration policy in Europe Some of the obligations required, if you wish to become Danish are:

1)You must attend 3 years of Danish classes.

2)You must psass a Danish history, culture and language test.

3)You must live in Denmark for 7 years before applying for citizenship.

4)You must demonstrte an intent to work and have a job waiting.

5)If you bring a spouse into Denmark you must both be over 24 years of age.

And that's just the beginning.

Claude Rigney | 20 August 2010  

I watched a TV show tonight which showed how a woman with children is forced to live on the ground in an open garage. She has to watch how clients of people smuggling gangs are living in luxury in 4 star hotels. Do we forget our own homeless people and poor families and waste our resources on people who are correctly called “queue jumpers.”?

Beat Odermatt | 20 August 2010  

Why don't the moron media just scream in the faces of the moron pollies "all your drivel is illegal". Just do the job of assessing the miserly number of asylum seekers, stop locking people up and stop wasting time and money whining.

Marilyn Shepherd | 22 August 2010  

Beat, the 4 star hotels are prisons and it is not the fault of the asylum seekers that the whinger on TV lives in a garage.

Marilyn Shepherd | 22 August 2010  

Similar Articles

Religious freedom and secular society

  • Moira Rayner
  • 12 August 2009

What do our major religions have to fear from changes to equal opportunity law? The challenge is a worthy and a practical one: in what way do the activities of religious institutions actually reflect the values of their prophets and visionaries.


Asylum seekers are not criminals

  • Sacha Bermudez-Goldman
  • 20 April 2009

If we regard asylum seekers as illegals who burn boats to force themselves on us, we might choose to close our doors to them. Rather than criminals, we should regard them as human beings in great need, deserving our respect and compassion.