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Refugee hysteria breeding Pacific Solution 2.0

  • 15 October 2009

In 2001 and 2002, the then Minister for Immigration, Philip Ruddock, made several references to '10,000 asylum seekers coming to Australia'. 'Whole villages' were on their way, we were warned. They never arrived, but the former government claimed this was due to the success of the 'Pacific Solution'. Objectively this is almost impossible to prove — how do you ask people why they did not come to Australia?

In a nod to the past, the Opposition are again talking about '10,000' asylum seekers on the way. It is not clear if it is the same 10,000 as in 2001. Some facts in the debate are needed.

The UNHCR estimates that there are more than 50 million refugees and internally displaced people in need of protection and solutions, and only a few returning home. 'While more than 600,000 refugees voluntarily repatriated in 2008', said Anonio Guterres, the UN High Commisioner for Refugees, 'this was 17 percent fewer people than the year before and with the exception of one year, the lowest number in the last 15 years.'

Guterres also criticised the act of 'excising' territory, as Australia did in 2001, because this places greater burdens on the poor countries where most refugees are living.

'Some developed countries are limiting access to their territories in ways that do not respect the rights of asylum-seekers and refugees under international and regional law', he said. 'Pushing asylum-seekers back to where protection is not available or further burdening developing countries who already host the vast majority of the world's refugees is not acceptable.'

The increased movement of people is due to a number of factors, one of which is the conflict in home countries, especially Iraq, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. Every few days were hear of deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Brookings Institution notes a rise in violence in Afghanistan from August 2005. Civilian, US and NATO deaths were 42 in August 2005 but there were 176 in August 2009.

Meanwhile, the defeat of the Tamil Tigers did not bring peace to Sri Lanka. Thousands of Tamils are being held in 'camps' in northern Sri Lanka. Around 250,000 are still in official closed camps, awaiting screening in a process outside normal legal frameworks, without the usual legal protections. Unknown numbers of others are in unofficial closed camps and, according to Amnesty International, are at risk of