NOT Left or Right, Seriously NOT ALP, LIB or Green. Just a Punter... more

22 Aug 2016

Refugees: Australia has a role to play. Let’s discuss it

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I have chosen to write this in order to add in some way to a discussion around what is a real human crisis in our region. Given that I have not really written anything for a very long time, this was quite an exercise. This choice was predominately borne out if the frustration of constantly seeing #BringThemHere in my Twitter feed.

Whilst I understand that the majority of those who choose to post such tweets do so out of compassion for the suffering of others, no-one seems to be able to tell me what we do once we somehow get “them” here Many of those most silent on this crucial part of the equation are those most vocal in promoting it. Yes, I am calling them hypocrites and in order to not be one myself in my criticism, I thought I better do something (Mr White, my English Teacher, may not be that impressed).

#BringThemHere is not a plan, it’s a just another hashtag and to be brutally honest, just another three word slogan.

Anyone who believes jumping on the bandwagon of this week’s latest hashtag, staging a sit-in outside a public building on a cold, wet night or marching in the streets, only to clash with those of an opposing view, may have noticed by now that expecting such actions to achieve a result is rather naive.

I believe that none of our political leaders really know what to do when it comes to our response to this global issue. Perhaps that means we have the wrong leaders in both government and opposition or maybe it suggests the sheer complexity inherent in taking action to alleviate what is likely to be the greatest number of displaced persons in world history.

For every “boy in the ambulance” or “boy on the beach” photograph we see, there are thousands of boys, girls, women and men buried under rubble, drowned at sea or starved to death trying to flee persecution. Many die an even more gruesome death.

The right of refugees to seek and enjoy asylum is guaranteed by Article 14 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Several conventions have both ratified and strengthened this, the two most significant being the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol.

The combined effect of these and other law regarding refugees and their international human rights is that people are not only entitled to seek resettlement but they also have the right which include social services, health care, a safe living environment and employment opportunities. They should also have protection against refoulement. Essentially this means they cannot be forced to return to the location of the persecution they are fleeing.

At best, it would appear that Australia’s treatment of refugees presenting in our waters in recent times is on the absolute extreme margins of complying with these international laws to which we are signatories. At worst, we are in breach of our obligations - morally, ethically and legally.

Geographic isolation does not somehow excuse us from our obligation.

“Stop The Boats”

I am not sure which disgusts me more. An Australian political party adopting a policy like this and turning it into a jingoistic mantra which helped win a federal election or an Australian political party who, after years of a far more compassionate approach, adopts largely the same policy through political expediency. Regardless, this is the policy of both our major parties and the “Smashing The People Smuggler’s Business Model” argument is used to strengthen it.

I believe that we do need to put people smugglers out of business ( both because they are grubs preying on desperate people and because of the potential of loss of life on the hazardous journey) but first, an examination of why that very business model exists is essential.

Globally, refugees are in processing camps for an average of 17 years. Think about that. Imagine what prospect you offer your children while you wait, year after year, for a determination which will either give you an opportunity to raise your family and live your life in relative safety or perhaps be plunged back into the very danger you flee. Ask yourself, if an opportunity to “jump the queue” was available, would you at least consider it? I can guarantee I would. Also, ask what damage is done to a generation of children raised in such conditions.

It seems to me that the way to stop the boats and put these vile businesses out of action, however, has less to do with turning boats around and establishing “processing camps” on remote islands (at the margins of the law at best) and far more to do with hastening the processing of asylum claims in the centres in Indonesia from which they flee. A fair, efficient and effective processing system could massively reduce the time spent in the Indonesian camps (set a realistic target of say, 2 years) and the resultant hope may be a big enough inducement for genuine refugees to wait their turn rather that risk the lives of their family on a leaky boat arranged by unscrupulous human traffickers.

For many reasons, this is simply not happening and currently, nothing is being done to make it a reality.

Cost of Refugees

It appears many are more concerned about the cost of us meeting our undeniable international obligation than the fact that there is both a moral and legal need to support these people.

Turkey has spent over $US7.5 BILLION resettling over 3 500 000 refugees. Australia has spent at least that much (yes, we have!) with next to no tangible result No wonder people question the spend.

We need is to accept there is a financial obligation to meeting these demands but find a way to both reduce the cost through efficiencies and also receive a dividend on this significant investment. The way to achieve this is through synergies with our regional neighbours whilst at the same time, creating a path for resettled refugees to be able to contribute economically to their new lands. This needs to be one of the cornerstones of any viable solution to this significant problem.

Regional Processing

You may have noticed over the past decade or more, our relations with Indonesia have been strained.

Whilst there are many and varied reasons for this, tensions over the “refugee situation” have certainly
been a contributing factor. Somehow, we need to repair the relationship not just to facilitate a more efficient processing of these people but in order to strengthen trade ties essential to both our futures.

In all likelihood, we will need to co-opt other Pacific nations to accept a share of these people. New Zealand, Malaysia and PNG would feature strongly. We then come to another issue in the fact that some of these nations are not signatories to the laws which protect those seeking asylum. Indonesia has over 13 000 refugees spread over their 13 camps. Without a plan, things are not getting better any time soon.

A Suggested Strategy

Our first order of business needs to be around helping Indonesia modernise and streamline their camps, conditions and processing strategy. Once this is done and a demonstrative improvement has been achieved, the threat to Australia from people smugglers has been largely negated.

Whilst this is happening in Indonesia, the people in our offshore detention centres need to be processed in accordance with their rights under international law. That will include bringing some to Australia.

Integration of bone fide refugees into our country is a massive task. Housing, health, education/training and many other factors need to be considered to both ensure our new residents have the ability to effectively assimilate into society and to prosper for both personal and the collective benefit.

The skills training of our new arrivals could enable the opening up of regional Australia in a way never before seen. Training in jobs such as road and house building as well as the support industries around those could actually provide significantly greater levels of employment for the many Australians currently un- or under-employed. This may also include older Australians, many of whom would actually like to contribute.

In addition to strengthening existing industries, we could develop new ones. Irrigation or even solar desalination plants, wind and solar power stations and of course agriculture just to name a few.

Yes, I know that this all flies in the face of the neo-liberalist thinking that we have allowed to pervade our lives but decentralisation would also have positive impact on housing affordability, major city traffic congestion and might also prevent the “ghetto creation” that many cite as an objection to bringing any sort of migrant minority into Australia.

The downside? (sarcasm) Governments would have to stop being so bloody lazy in trying to cram the greatest number of people into the smallest amount of space which allows them to minimise the provision of services in geographical terms.

Of course, there is the added benefit of providing these people, these regions and the nation with an increased tax base full of people with purpose rather than leaving them languish in a Hellhole of hatred.

It would also go a long way towards “transitioning our economy from a mining based one to one with a new focus on jobs and growth” so even the neo-liberals get to take something out of it.

I would really like to know if you have a better plan or what you would change or add to the above. Let’s push this conversation and help our political and social leaders. They need it!

Oh, and just one other parting thought, if you are worried about a swarm of people who are totally different to you, have a different colour skin and strange customs moving into our lands, then perhaps now you have an idea of how those indigenous folk felt.

by bill b
"Often wonders what happened
to the Australia he loves"
@giddyupbill

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