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Refugee hysteria breeding Pacific Solution 2.0


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 human rights abuses.

Many Tamils fear that an actual or imputed link to the Tigers will put them at risk of persecution.

Australia is experiencing a small number of arrivals compared to the thousands arriving in Europe, particularly in Italy and Spain. Globalisation means we are unable to cut ourselves off from the economic, political and environmental events taking place beyond our shores. Australia needs to keep helping provide solutions for asylum seekers and refugees through resettlement and fair processes.

In order to be granted protection in Australia, applicants arriving by boat have to pass a preliminary assessment of their case, then a full in-depth interview, as well as security and health checks. If the cases do not meet the strict legal criteria, they would not get past the first screening.

We must take care that a hysterical response to the arrival of boats in Australia does not undo the progress we have made away from unjust policy. Most have already experienced serious trauma. To return to a temporary visa regime will separate families for years and cause anxiety. The trauma from uncertainty for your future and fear of persecution can have serious long term affects on health. This is not treating people with dignity.

How someone comes to Australia should not affect the way they are treated. We have left behind the days of long, traumatic periods in desert detention centres. A new 'Pacific Solution' — which, of course, is neither pacific nor a solution — is not going to help the asylum seekers. There are still reforms needed in the system, but the last two years have seen a return to treating people with more dignity, rather than as undesirables.

While there continues to be political and sectarian violence, there will be refugees. Protection in Australia is part of Australia's contribution towards addressing this global phenomenon.

In defence of people smugglers

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 recognised by last year's Australian Financial Review Best Lawyers survey. This article is also published in Arabic in Al Nahar and El Telegraph.

Topic tags: boat people, asylum seekers, refugees, pacific solution 2.0, christmas island, off-shore processing, tpv



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Existing comments

Thanks, Kerry, for some dispassionate analysis. A useful counterpoint to the pieces by Miranda Devine and Piers Ackerman in today's media.

Gerard Walsh | 15 October 2009  

Oh dear… oh dear… panic, panic, panic…
We are going to be overrun by Irish Catholics… by Chinese gold diggers… by Lebanese pastry cooks… by Italian pasta merchants… by Greek bouzouki bands… by ten-pound Poms… by skilful Koreans… by cunning Kiwis… by turbaned Arabians… by Vietnamese boat people… by Indians uni students… by… by… by…

From eternal xenophobia oh Lord deliver us!

Dermott Ryder | 15 October 2009  

I wish Kerry's sentence 'While there continues to be political and sectarian violence, there will be refugees' could be seen and heard by everyone in Australia.

Refugees do not choose to leave home; fear for their safety forces them. From then on, they carry a huge load of sorrow, grief and trama, worrying if they will find a safe haven, agonising about those left behind. And while there is violence and persecution anywhere in the world, there MUST be compassion and generosity from those who are safe and well.

We are one human family and, ethically and spiritually speaking, let's aspire to be a family without borders.

Delia Bradshaw | 15 October 2009  

Well said Kerry. As a lifelong supporter of the labour party I am saddened by Kevin Rudd's callous intervention of the asylum seekers. 'Shame on you Kevin'.

Bridie O'Neill | 15 October 2009  

How do we strike a balance between being kind, merciful and generous , and yet not encouraging refugees to set off on long treks to come here uninvited? And the latter is not just reluctance to share this beautiful country, but also to be fair to those waiting their turn in UNCR camps in many trouble spots, as well as avoiding the terrible dangers inherent in travelling 1000s of kms in leaky boats being ripped off by people-smugglers!

We need to have some empathy with our politicians trying to cope with these dilemas! Ultimately, we need to put extreme pressure on the regimes causing the underlying refugee problem.

Eugene | 15 October 2009  

how I wish - if we were to put up our hands to sponsor, that it could happen without the roadblocks of bureaucracy e.g. a genuine [tamil or sinhalese or any origin ] refugee family... we could feed and clothe and house them, have the kids go to school down the road, let the parents work with or for us, for their spending money... in time train, help to find them work wherever they chose... we're of irish nth and sth, anglo and german 'origin' - we came from having little, to having more than enough. We tried to help house sri lankans there, that being our business, but found the corruption etc all too hard for us -as small business people.

Is there a way? - though not cash rich, we have the capacity to help. We have an understanding of the people, their culture and their plight.

Our sphere of activity is in central qld, a warm climate, plenty of opportunity and career choices and a welcoming community.

Can it be done?

mary ebert | 15 October 2009  

Well put, Kerry, and Bridie, Dermott, Delia, and Eugene - [with yer 'Irish' sounding names]. 'Who is my neighbour?' - and how can we, who are able,and willing, genuinely help the genuine refugee, without creating hysteria.. ?

mary murphy | 15 October 2009  

Eugene, we SHOULD encourage refugees to come here. Check their bona-fides, of course, but a Tamil from Sri Lanka or a Hazara from Afghanistan (for example) could hardly not be genuine. Provide them with transport from Indonesia to cut the people-smugglers out. We could use the navy. What better way of being friends with the Indonesians, and doing wonders for our own consciences.

Gavan Breen | 15 October 2009  

Dermott Ryder seems to have forgotten the yellow peril and reds under the bed and no doubt a few other groups.

As I listened to the arrangements to extend numbers on Christmas Island on the news last night I waited in vein for strategies to speed up the processes that might allow these unfortunate people to begin to live their lives again.

Margaret McDonald | 15 October 2009  

Well said Kerry, Surely as Christians we are obliged to assist our most vulnerable neighbours. These are people who have suffered so much trauma and grief and only want a safe place to live

Jude | 15 October 2009  

Together with Dermott Ryder and several others who have commented before me, I am saddened by the ongoing xenophobia of Australia.

Tragically, we do not learn from our history. During WWII, we interned Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Even though we fought against Nazi Germany, we refused to acknowledge the refugees from that regime.

More recently, while our then government decided the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein was evil enough to fight in war, that same government led the nation in repelling refugees who arrived here in leaky boats.

Our present government which considers that the situation in Afghanistan is critical enough to participate in the war in that country, is leading the nation in 'a tough and hard-line' attitude against boat people fleeing that war-torn country.

Our smug insular attitude towards refugees fleeing from war is inconsistent with our self-motivated involvement in other nations' wars.

Ian Fraser | 15 October 2009  

I would like to support you article Kerry, in every way.

I am thoroughly ashamed of our Prime Minister in calling the Indonesian Government asking them to prevent these desperate refugees from entering our country.

If that is not 'passing the buck' what is?

What dishonour this has brought to Australia, and what fear and pain his actions have caused.

Let those people in, so that they may live again without fear.

Mr.Rudd, what are you about? Forgetting the compassion you seemed to have when I voted for you.

I protest strongly on humanitarian grounds. You and Mr turnbull have no right claiming selfish ownership of our borders. Where would out country be without all the migrants who have brought such prosperity and diversity to make Australia a multi-cultural and free land.

Mr. Turnbull's fear mongering campaign, was predictable. What a way to try amd get votes!

Shame! Shame1 Shame!on you, Kevin Rudd.

Bernie Introna | 15 October 2009  

A beautifully humane and well informed piece. For some years now, I have been watching the Spanish news each morning on SBS. I have seen there the scale of the attempted migration from Africa, (often many boats a day, not a few carrying the bodies of people who have died on the way) and of the problem that Spain (and Italy) face. But the daily reports are full of a decent realisation of what drives people to seek a new life elsewhere. There is not felt to be the neede for an 'Atlantic' solution. Many of these people are, in fact, repatriated - something a little easier, perhaps, in Europe. But the tone of the items (from Spain's RTVE) is consistently generous and I have marvelled at the treatment of the arrivals, sometimes sick and always needy. It is invariably moving in its humanity and gentleness. In Italy, Berlusconi has legislated, for political gain, a harsher response to the boats, as he has to the Gypsies. It does Australia no credit to show itself more like Berlusconi than like Spain.

Joe Castley | 15 October 2009  

I spoke to Paul Maley and Mark Dodd at The Australian about their hysteria and they ignored me but I want to share this.

Stephen Fitzpatrick kicked the story over to a Dutch journalist to tell the story of Afghans in Indonesia instead of doing the story himself and gave her my contact details to help her.

Mark Dodd wouldn't report it but he gave details to Amos Roberts when he went to Malaysia.

Maley still insists on his hysterical nonsense.

Here in Adelaide everywhere he went people got stuck into Rudd and I hope Therese slaps the fool upside the ear and reminds him Bonhoeffer was a people smuggler and was killed by the nazis for his efforts.

Marilyn | 16 October 2009  

Under the terms of the treaty we signed we are obliged to take people who have left their country in fear of their lives. I personally feel very guilty we are acting in this way, it is only the charitable thing to accept them here and process them later.

Elizabeth Craven | 16 October 2009  

Well done Kerry, we all need to be awakened from our slumber of 'saying who will come to this country', no matter what 'solution' is employed.

Fifty million refugees worldwide, just fifty million, what's the holdup in resettling them?

The USA, Australia, Canada, Japan, Brazil, Argentina, Italy, France, Ireland, United Kingdom, Sweeden, Norway, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Poland, Brunei, Spain, Portugal, are all admirably more suitable to resettle these people than Indonesia or Pacific Island countries.

Australians who want to deny resettlement to these people are creating a wound within those people which will fester over a couple of generations and give rise to hatred for Australia and Australians.

Why should we expect Indonesia to give them sanctuary when we have the land and the resources?

Fr Mick Mac Andrew Bombala-Delegate NSW | 17 October 2009  

Thank you Kerry for your well balanced article. Please will you try to get it into maistream media? The imbalance of information and views needs urgent redressing or I am fearful that this country's compassion for asylum seekers could once again go out the window.

Kate Maclurcan | 19 October 2009  

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