Monday, September 05, 2011

Refugees and responsibility: boat people are not going away

Like many other topics, that of refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, internally displaced persons - in short, all those who are gathered together by the UNHCR under the phrase "persons of concern" - is a complex one. Yet political discourse (and blogging, for that matter) is all too often impatient with complexity, preferring communicative modes reliant upon slogans and conflict.

Having followed a few recent online discussions concerning Australian immigration policy, I don't think I'll surprise anyone by suggesting that such exchanges frequently generate more heat than light. In lieu of having neither time nor expertise to put together a post (or series of posts) that could begin to do justice to the topic, I thought instead I'd start gathering some links to significant contributions which may then be of benefit to others in the ongoing debates about this topic. I'm interested in both primary sources with relevant data and ethical/political analyses that attempt to understand and respond to it.

Here are a few to get started. This is not at all intended to be comprehensive, and so please add more in the comments.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This is the peak international body that has been doing everything from compiling data, to coordinating governmental responses, to working on the ground in partnership with NGOs. UK is here.
UNHCR Global Trends 2010 report. One of many such reports. Finding specific statistics can take a little patience, but these reports have a wealth of information.
• Australian Parliamentary Library background note on boat arrivals in Australia since 1976, which introduces many of the key terms and history behind present debates. Ought to be required reading for Australians participating in such discussions, though needs to be updated to include recent events, such the High Court decision last week.
Julian Burnside's reflection on the High Court decision
A statistical analysis of push vs pull factors in Australian asylum seeker numbers. Again, it would be useful to have this extended to include the last couple of years.
• And some more links can be found on previous posts here and here.
Given my expectation that coming decades are likely to be quite bumpy ecologically (and so geopolitically), debates about immigration policy are set to continue for some time. "Boat people" won't be going away anytime soon.

20 comments:

byron smith said...

Oxfam: A price too high: the cost of Australia's approach to asylum seekers. Report on the costs (financial, physical, emotional, psychological, democratic) of the Pacific solution.

"Offshore processing in Nauru, Manus Island and Christmas Island has amounted to at least $1 billion since 2001 [until 2007 - more than half a million per detainee]. By comparison, the latest estimates from DIAC suggest that to process 1,700 asylum seekers for 90 days each at Villawood detention centre in Sydney would have cost around $35 million – around 3.5 per cent of the cost of processing them offshore."

byron smith said...

If you would like to add your name to a letter thanking the legal team that helped win the High Court case, you can do so here.

craigbenno1 said...

The residents of King Island which is between Tasmania and Victoria have pleaded to allow that island to be used for processing refugee's.

They have the infrastructure there to house them and much work available to keep them busy and allow for dignity of life....while they are being processed.

The lack of common sense is just so senseless.

byron smith said...

Craig - Do you have a link for that?

byron smith said...

La Trobe panel discussion on asylum seeker policy: Julian Burnside, Marilyn Lake, George Megalogenis, Robert Manne. Part One. Part Two.

Anonymous said...

Byron, another parliamentary library background note on asylum seeker and refugee stats.

Something that really interests me about the refugee debate in Australia is how much it's focused on 'stopping people smugglers'. While I think that's an important issue, in terms of what refugee law is about, I'm of the understanding it's only ancillary. Refugee law is about giving protections to people outside their country of origin who if sent back to their country would be likely to be persecuted there. i.e. refugee law (and arguably, refugee policy) isn't primarily about stopping those evil people smugglers, it's about helping people who if they stayed in their country risked getting tortured or killed.

Sean said...

Byron, if you haven't seen it yet, another parliamentary library background note on asylum seeker and refugee stats.

Something that really interests me about the refugee debate in Australia is how much it's focused on 'stopping people smugglers'. While I think that's an important issue, in terms of what refugee law is about, I'm of the understanding it's only ancillary. Refugee law is about giving protections to people outside their country of origin who if sent back to their country would be likely to be persecuted there. i.e. refugee law (and arguably, refugee policy) isn't primarily about stopping those evil people smugglers, it's about helping people who if they stayed in their country risked getting tortured or killed.

byron smith said...

Thanks Sean, I agree entirely. And that note is also useful. I've discovered since putting up this post that the original Parliamentary Note was written by an old school friend. I wonder if this one was too.

byron smith said...

PS I think you meant to link here.

byron smith said...

Silly me - the authors are attributed on the note itself. I hadn't noticed her name when I read the first one. She was not the author of the second.

byron smith said...

The Conversation: Onshore processing and civil unrest.

Sean said...

Byron, if you're interested, the Senate yesterday night (Monday) actually passed quite an important amendment to the Migration Act, though not one relating to offshore processing. The amendment basically makes Australia, in the context of onshore processing, extend protections afforded to refugees to people who don't technically qualify as refugees but nevertheless face torture, death, inhuman or degrading treatment if they returned to their country of origin. (This is what refugee lawyers call 'complementary protection', and is codified in certain key human rights treaties.)

The 'vibe' of the amendment is completely at odds with what the government is trying to do with offshore processing. Interestingly, practically no news coverage of the amendment, but see
http://news.ninemsn.com.au/mobile/national/8304148/govt-to-plug-protection-visa-gap

byron smith said...

Thanks, Sean. Very interesting. What is your take on it? Is it representative of where the ALP would actually like to be but are posing as hardline for political reasons? Or just incoherence? Or is there some deeper logic?

Sean said...

I'm not nearly an expert on refugee law (or anything else, for that matter), so I can only echo the persuasive-sounding opinions I've heard. I suspect on one hand, it reflects the discomfort of many in Labor about pointlessly harsh migration legislation. On the other hand, the timing of the amendment being passed seems so strange that it's doubtful it's a coincidence. So I seriously wonder if it's at least somewhat a pandering to Labor Left to get them onside for Malaysia.

That said, I think your suggestion, that it's where Labor wants to be but can't because of the current political climate, has to be at least partly true. They can pass something like this because the media doesn't think it newsworthy.

byron smith said...

Malcolm Fraser: The Coalition's latest asylum seeker plan is inhumane and lacks integrity..

byron smith said...

The Conversation: Six issues missing from the asylum seeker debate.

byron smith said...

The Conversation: Links to dozens of research papers on the issue.

byron smith said...

Great quiz: Go back to where you came from. A resource from an SBS programme that is getting rave reviews.

byron smith said...

Refugee Facts. A resource.

byron smith said...

SMH: Few asylum seekers charged with crime. Crime rates among those on a bridging visa 45 times lower than in general population.