Facts, facts and more facts… Still holding my nose…

The regional dimension in the Asia Pacific

1.11  for a variety of reasons, the number of irregular migrants is significantly understated in statistical analysis. It is estimated that 30-40 per cent of all migration flows in Asia take place through irregular channels, much of it intra-regional.

1.12  The Asia Pacific region currently has more than 3.6 million refugees which is around  24 per cent of the total world refugee population.  Furthermore, there are few signatories to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol (the refugees convention) in the Asia Pacific region. In those states which are parties to the Refugees Convention, asylum systems are often undeveloped. The level of accession in the region to other human rights conventions is also variable. UNHCR assumes primary responsibility for processing asylum seekers in the region in the absence of appropriate national systems. The challenges it faces in doing so are compounded by a lack of resources, security considerations and the parameters in which UNHCR can operate in some countries.

1.13  Refugee determination in the Asia Pacific is complicated by mixed migration flows. There are differences between forced displacement and irregular labour migration to (and within) the region, although these issues can overlap in individual protection claims. Increasingly, the two intersect to create mixed migration flows: economic migrants, refugees and asylum seekers often travel in the same direction, using the same routes and modes of transport and facing the same risks en route.

Australia’s circumstances

1.14  The number of IMAs who have arrived in Australia in the first seven months of 2012 (7,120) has exceeded the number who arrived in total in 2011 (4,733) and 2010 (6,850). The number of IMAs in July 2012 (1,798) constitutes the largest ever monthly number and was the ‘largest ever’ number for the third month in a row. Passenger numbers  per boat arrival have also been increasing.

1.15  onshore asylum figures are made up of both air and maritime arrivals. From 1 July 1998 to 27 July 2012 there were 79,498 applications for a protection visa by persons who arrived in Australia by air and subsequently applied for a protection visa.   This compares with some 33,412 boat arrivals over the same period, most of whom applied for protection.

1.16  Australia received 2.5 per cent of global asylum claims in 2011, including both maritime and air arrivals.

1.17  The largest number of nationalities arriving by boat to Australia in 2011-2012 were, respectively, Afghans, Iranians and Sri Lankans with these three cohorts representing 75 per cent of the total arrivals.  During the last peak in irregular boat arrivals in the years from 1999-2001, Afghans and Iraqis represented the largest cohorts. 

1.18  Australia assesses the claims of those who enter Australian territory seeking protection under the Refugees Convention and other relevant Human Rights Conventions that contain non-refoulement (non-return) obligations and provides protection to those who need it.

1.19  Australia also implements its commitment to refugee protection more broadly through its longstanding humanitarian program that resettles refugees and persons of humanitarian concern from overseas. The humanitarian program which comprises both an onshore and offshore component currently stands at 13,750 places. Since 1996 it has been the policy of successive governments to link the onshore and offshore components of the program. The basis for that approach is that it provides a limit on the overall number of visa grants, which meets budgetary requirements and allows proper planning for the provision of settlement services. For each protection visa granted to an asylum seeker onshore, the offshore SHP component of the program is reduced by one place.

1.20  For the first time in its 35 years of operation,   the 2011-12 Humanitarian Program has resulted in more onshore protection visa grants than the total number of visas granted offshore to refugees and SHP applicants. The increase in onshore grants and consequent reduction in SHP grants (only 714 in the 2011-12 program year) is creating increasing pressures, with over 20,000 SHP applications outstanding and more than 16,000 of these being for immediate family members.  The vast majority of the applications for immediate family members have been proposed by former IMAs now living in Australia. (attachment 4).

Yes, you do realise that none of the above is mine. It is all verbatim from the Expert Panel headed by Angus Houston. One of many critiques is on The Conversation.

Now back to plagiarising:

expert1

expert2

expert4

expert7

There is, then, much of use in the Expert Panel Report and it should be read carefully, critically but also dispassionately.  I have just scratched the surface with these gobbets.

I recommend that you also go to the submissions the Panel received. I have taken the liberty of attaching the UNHCR submission: UNHCR pdf

My considered opinion, too, is that it is a very good idea to resist throwing words like “racist” into consideration of what the Panel Report says – even if as august a person as Malcolm Fraser already has. A dispassionate look at the record shows, for example, that the years since John Howard became Prime Minister actually saw the humanitarian program involve far more black Africans, for example, than had ever been allowed in before 1996. Hardly racism.

Yet out in the electorate there is no doubt that xenophobia motivates much of the passion on the subject of boat people. No doubt at all.  There is of course a certain sense to the fears: after all, when boat people started arriving, albeit involuntarily and with a military escort, in 1788 the country was screwed from that moment on…

Nor do I decry as hypocrisy, as some do, invocation of  the unconscionable numbers of those who have drowned in attempting to reach safe haven. Anything that may genuinely reduce the chance of such deaths is worth thinking about.

My own position? I depart from some of you out there because I really do not accept that whosoever will can come to the country, no holds barred, no questions asked. That is pure crackpottery in my view. I also do feel there is a moral case not in emotive terms like “queue-jumping” – there isn’t a queue to jump – but in the fact that people undoubtedly have been left to rot all that much longer in refugee camps because “For each protection visa granted to an asylum seeker onshore, the offshore SHP component of the program is reduced by one place." And there is in my view no easy way around that.

Hence I was impressed by the case for the Malaysian arrangement – NOT A SOLUTION FOR GOD’S SAKE! – that was put by Clive Kessler earlier this year. See my post Asylum seekers and policy in sinking condition — 2.

I do align myself very much with the three noble Liberals of the Howard era:  Bruce Baird, Judith Troeth and Petro Georgiou. These people were not moral posers – they were just moral, and we need to recover their compass from wherever panic and political ambition has buried it.

Mr Speaker, for much of my life I believed in the inevitability of progress. The reality has been that many of the things that I believed were embedded parts of our polity – multiculturalism, inclusive Australian citizenship, the protections of civil rights – have been rolled back.

Also rolled back has been a more decent treatment of asylum seekers. Until a few months ago I believed that the reforms made by the Howard and the Rudd Government meant that we had irreversibly turned the corner.
I wrote that we were closing a dark chapter in our history. This chapter had seen men women and children seeking refuge in our country incarcerated; innocent people imprisoned for periods longer than convicted rapists, robbers and kidnappers. Escapees from persecution were demonised. Detention centres traumatised not just detainees but their guards.

That chapter has been reopened.

Regression has become the order of the day. With an increase in boat arrivals, asylum seekers are being subjected to increasingly virulent attacks. The Labor Government has frozen the processing of Afghani and Sri Lankan asylum seekers, and is reopening the Curtin detention centre, historically the most notorious detention centre, a place of despair and self harm.

Opposition policies would turn back boats, process asylum seekers in undisclosed third countries, and restore the destructive temporary protection visas. These policies are cruel. They do not have my support.

This regression does not reflect credit on either side of federal politics. Vulnerable people are again being made into a football to be kicked around in the interests of partisan politics. This is despite the facts and the best values of our society.

The fact is, Australia’s punitive approach did not deter people seeking to come to Australia. Mandatory detention, charging asylum seekers for the cost of their detention, the introduction of temporary protection visas and the Pacific Solution did not deter.

After mandatory detention was introduced, boat arrivals increased. After temporary protection visas were introduced, boat arrivals increased. Most of the people subjected to the Pacific Solution were found to be refugees and resettled in Australia and New Zealand. We have not lost control of our borders. People smugglers do not determine who comes into Australia and who doesn’t.

We can support orderly processes; we can warn people against people smugglers and risking their lives on unseaworthy boats. We have to realise, however, that escaping from persecution is not an orderly process. Desperate people do take desperate measures. Beyond the arguments about deterrence and what causes what, however, is a deeper issue.

It goes to our obligations. I believe we have a fundamental obligation as a nation. That obligation is to not further harm those who bring themselves into our orbit of responsibility seeking safe haven.

We should not, as Australians, compound the persecution of genuine refugees, delaying their processing, locking them up in unnamed third countries or keeping them in permanent insecurity on temporary protection visas.

I once said to journalist Michael Gordon that "in life there are many things that you’d like to walk past and not notice. Lots. But sometimes you do notice and when you notice, you have to do something". Well I have noticed some things, and I have tried not to walk past.

— from Petro Georgiou’s valedictory speech to parliament on June 3, 2010.

That’s it for the moment. Except to say that for all my suggestion that you read the Houston Panel Report carefully, the recommendation’s “no advantage” principle – the one that potentially could see people locked up on islands for indeterminate periods – is particularly abominable. See also Islands of the damned.

The second series of Go Back To Where You Came From begins on SBS on Tuesday 28 August. It is truly a must see for all Australians.

Oh, and in case you wondered: the latest in dehumanising acronyms are: IMA = Irregular Maritime Arrival and SHP – Special Humanitarian Program.

Fuckingdepressing

Update

See an excellent article in the Weekend Australian by Peter van Onselen: Let’s dispel a few myths about asylum-seekers:

ATTEMPTS by both major parties to rationalise support for offshore processing of asylum-seekers on the grounds that they are saving people from drowning really is a hollow argument.

It takes a micro look at an undeniably macro problem – not the first time our political leaders have done so. It is the worst form of political opportunism I have been forced to witness.

Some commentators have taken great delight in the conversion of one-time advocates of onshore processing to the offshore way of life. To avoid any confusion let me spell out where I stand: I support onshore processing, convinced now more than ever before by the merits of such an approach.

Let’s work our way through the various falsehoods used to try to hoodwink people into believing that offshore processing is the best policy approach for the government to take.

Offshore processing is based on a premise that it will stop the boats. We’ll see about that. But even if it does "stop the boats", it’s not as if asylum-seekers vanish into thin air. The plight of millions of displaced citizens continues, even if our policymakers pretend the problem is solved because it’s geographically removed from Australia…

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One thought on “Facts, facts and more facts… Still holding my nose…

  1. See also Savitri Taylor Wicked problems and good intentions.

    …So where does all of this leave us? Well, it leaves the 404 irregular maritime arrivals intercepted between the time of announcement of the government’s proposed legislative changes and the date of writing (19 August) facing the prospect of an indefinite sojourn in Nauru or PNG in conditions which may, but probably will not, comply with all of the international human rights obligations of Australia and the host state. Possibly the expert panel’s strategy of being “cruel to be kind,” as Melissa Parke and Gavin Marshall described it disapprovingly, will deter other asylum seekers from attempting to make the dangerous sea journey to Australia. But, as I have argued elsewhere, all that really ensures is that they will suffer unnecessarily and die prematurely outside our gaze rather than within it.

    Now, it may well be that the differently directed good intentions of the different actors involved in this sorry tale simply lead to different kinds of hell. But here’s what I believe. Whether any of us achieve the good ends for which we aim is usually, and in this particular context certainly, beyond our control. The only thing we can control is our own actions. If we use good means to achieve good ends and fail, I do not think we will be judged harshly by God or by history. But if we use dubious means to achieve good ends, then, succeed or fail, God may forgive us but history will not. •

    Savitri Taylor is an Associate Professor and the Director of Research in the School of Law at La Trobe University.

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