According to the SMH, the Abbott Federal Government’s position on sending asylum seekers back to Sri Lanka is against the law.
Australian international law experts have uniformly condemned Australia’s return of asylum seekers to Sri Lanka as a violation of international law that risks sending vulnerable people back to persecution and torture.
So how could this happen? How does a government break the law? As far as I can tell, there are only a few reasonable explanations.
1. They are completely inept.
2. They aren’t inept but don’t have any lawyers on staff to advise them about such actions, nor did they consult an external law firm.
3. They knew they were breaking the law – but didn’t care.
As much as I suspect our Prime Minister is a complete dickhead, I don’t think he or his team are completely inept or stupid, so the only reasonable explanation is option 3 – they knew they were breaking the law but didn’t care.
This leads me to wonder what the implications are when the government deliberately and knowingly breaks the law – does it mean that the concept of “law” is now invalid for the rest of us? Do we live in a lawless land? Are we an outlaw nation? If the government that is there to create laws willingly snubs its nose at the law, doesn’t this somehow mean the whole system of law is now void?
How can a government simultaneously insist that the population obeys the laws of the nation while it willfully breaks international law?
Over the last year I’ve gradually compiled interesting stats regarding Australia’s asylum seeker intake. I thought I’d share them for easy reference the next time you have a xenophobic friend or family member ranting on Facebook.
- First and foremost – they are not “illegal boat people”. They are “asylum seekers”. Australia is a signatory to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Convention and Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, which means we have an obligation to treat refugees with respect and compassion.
- An investigative team was sent by the UNHCR to Manus Island where Australia has sent asylum seekers, and has concluded Australia is not complying with its responsibilities under the Refugee Convention. The report found that conditions on the island are inadequate, no processing is taking place and detainees are left in a legal limbo.
- The 1951 Convention specifically bars countries from punishing people who have arrived directly from a country of persecution (or from another country where protection could not be assured), provided that they present themselves speedily to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry. Monitoring (through reporting obligations or guarantor requirements) is often a perfectly viable alternative to imprisoning asylum-seekers.
- Figures show that developing countries accept the vast majority of the world’s refugees, with Australia 47th on the list of host countries in 2009.
- Of the 10.4 million refugees under UNHCR mandate between 2005 and 2009, the largest numbers were being hosted by Pakistan (1,740,711), Iran (1,070,488), Syria (1,054,466), Germany (593,799), Jordan (450,756), Kenya (358,928), Chad (338,495), China (300,989), Vietnam (339,300), Eritrea (209,200) and Serbia (195,600).
- Australia was ranked 47th, hosting 22,548 refugees between 2005 and 2009 (0.2 per cent of the global total).
- Australia was 68th on a per capita basis and 91st relative to national wealth.
- The industrialised countries with the largest number of asylum applications in 2009 were the United States (49,020), France (41,980), Canada (33,250), United Kingdom (29,840), Germany (27,650) and Sweden (24,190).
- Australia was ranked 33rd for total asylum applications with 6206 new applications in 2009.
- It was 41st on a per capita basis and 71st relative to national Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
- When an asylum seeker arrives in Australia, they do not get any Centrelink benefits. While their status is being processed, and if they meet certain criteria, they can be eligible for financial support from the Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme, administered through the Red Cross. This amount is 89% of the basic Centrelink allowance. This means approximately $405.84 per fortnight – over $260 less than a pensioner. For an asylum seeker to qualify for any payment under the Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme, they must have lodged an application for a visa 6 months before, not be in detention, and not get any other payment or benefit.
- Once an asylum seeker is recognised as a genuine refugee, after a long and highly scrutinized process, they are given permanent residency and are then entitled to the same Centrelink, schooling and health benefits as anyone else. No more, no less.
- To get a permanent residence as a refugee, the person has to prove they are a genuine refugee fleeing persecution, go through character, security and medical tests, and sign an Australian Values Statement.
- Since 1998, according to the SIEV X Committee, it looks as if well over 1000 asylum seekers have drowned trying to reach Australia. Their blood is on the hands of those Australian political leaders who have demonised, vilified, incarcerated, offshored and re-fouled refugees rather than massively increasing the intake and processing asylum seekers quickly in Indonesia and Malaysia to bring them here safely.
- Department of Immigration data shows 88 per cent of asylum seekers who arrived by boat in 2009-10, including those who were initially rejected, have been found to be refugees and now have a visa. Sixty-eight per cent of those arriving in 2010-11, including those initially rejected, also have a visa. Final approvals are expected to be higher as half of these people are awaiting review.
My thanks to the bloggers and journalists who compiled this data.
It has long been my intuition that a country like Australia should welcome refugees – not fear them. I guess this feeling in part comes from my first-hand experiences with immigrants I’ve known over my life, people who came from poverty-stricken countries with political instability and ended up some of the hardest-working, most appreciative Australian’s I’ve ever met. Not only do first generation immigrants work hard, but their children, raised in Australian schools, often with accents broader than my own, tend to grow up with an appreciation of the opportunity Australia represents, continually reinforced by their parents with stories of the “old country”, that is stronger than those of us whose ancestors moved here 100 years or more ago (my mother’s ancestors came to Australia in 1912, from Poland and Britain, my father moved here from Scotland as a “Ten Pound Pom” in the late 60’s).
So today I read some of a document published by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship in June 2011 – “A Significant Contribution: the Economic, Social and Civic Contributions of First and Second Generation Humanitarian Entrants – that seems to confirm my intuition.
This research examines what are the economic, social and civic contributions to Australia of first and second generation Humanitarian Program entrants by the analysis of Census data, interviews with families and in-depth discussions with organisations such as employment, education and refugee service providers.
In the introduction summary to the report, they state:
The research found the overwhelming picture, when one takes the longer term perspective of changes over the working lifetime of Humanitarian Program entrants and their children, is one of considerable achievement and contribution.
The Humanitarian Program yields a demographic dividend because of a low rate of settler loss, relatively high fertility rate and a high proportion of children who are likely to work the majority of their lives in Australia.
It finds evidence of increasing settlement in nonmetropolitan areas which creates social and economic benefits for local communities.
Humanitarian entrants help meet labour shortages, including in low skill and low paid occupations.
They display strong entrepreneurial qualities compared with other migrant groups, with a higher than average proportion engaging in small and medium business enterprises.
Humanitarian settlers also benefit the wider community through developing and maintaining economic linkages with their origin countries.
In addition, they make significant contributions through volunteering in both the wider community and within their own community groups.
I wish I heard this perspective being used more liberally in the media and by politicians from all parties when we discuss “The Pacific Solution”. We, as a nation, need to realize that we stand to benefit far more from refugees arriving on our shores than we will need to provide them.
Good ol’ Clive Palmer, who often sounds like he’s batshit crazy, actually made some sensible comments about Australia’s asylum seeker policy (another reason I’m embarrassed to be an Aussie these days).
Mining magnate Clive Palmer says the Federal Government should allow asylum seekers to fly to Australia to have their claims processed.
A political stalemate has gripped federal politics since two asylum seeker boats capsized, killing almost 100 people.
Mr Palmer does not support offshore processing, and says the current system puts asylum seekers in a difficult position.
He says even though many asylum seekers can afford plane fares, they are not allowed to fly so they turn to the riskier alternative of trying to reach Australia by boat.
“People who are in Indonesia and want to come to Australia cannot buy an airline ticket because the Australian Government stops them,” he told the ABC after the Liberal Party’s national conference.
“All that needs to happen is that the Government needs to stop telling airlines and other people not to give people safe transport.
“If they come down here and if they’re refugees, that’s one thing. If they haven’t got a legitimate claim, they can go right back on the plane the next day.”
I don’t know who created this graphic, but it’s been doing the rounds on Facebook and it’s pretty damning.
The bottom line as far as I’m concerned is that we have a responsibility to accept genuine refugees, to make their travel to Australia fast and safe, and to process their claims for asylum quickly and efficiently once they are here.
For frak’s sake, people – we are one of the wealthiest countries per capita on the entire planet with the lowest population density to boot. What is WRONG with us? Why are we so mean and churlish? Why are we so selfish and scared?
I seriously think we, as a nation, are suffering from some kind of clinical depression. We have everything going for us and yet we seem to have lost our basic human decency. It’s just not acceptable.