Submitted anonymously by Jane (not real name), who is an experienced worker in the Australian refugee sector.
The Australian Government’s idea that there is a deterrent effect to being tough on boat arrivals only really makes sense if those trying to leave are not “real” (in fear of their lives) refugees.
Having met and worked with hundreds of asylum seekers, the most common story I am told is that asylum seekers don’t choose Australia. An agent (asylum seekers and refugees do not call them people smugglers) organises everything for them and they flee, very often without time for goodbyes, an ability to inform family members (for fear of reprisal), preparation or research. They just leave in fear of their lives hoping to reach a safe place.
In order to live, they flee their country without time to watch the Australian Government’s Youtube video telling them that entry via the ocean is the ‘wrong way’ and to ‘go back’. And, as the Australian Government attempts to spread their ‘No Advantage’ message to remote areas of the world, believe it or not there are still many isolated villages of the world without WiFi to access this message.
In fact, a number of asylum seekers I have met said they only realised they were going to Australia as their boat left Indonesia. They didn’t have an opportunity to request a final destination, as this is usually decided by the agent. Some thought they were going to the UK, Canada or Europe, and most people wouldn’t mind being placed in any safe country, so long as they are protected and given rights to participate in society and become active members of their new nation.
The Australian Government’s ‘No Advantage’ slogan from their latest policy on immigration is out of touch with reality on numerous levels. The policy is supposed to neutralise the ‘waiting period’ between those asylum seekers who have arrived to Australian territories or the mainland since August 13th 2012 and those who live in places like Jakarta, seeking out protection and relocation to a third country.
I have been told by asylum seekers living in Indonesia that resettlement via UNHCR in Jakarta takes approximately 12-18 months and resettlement via Kuala Lumpur takes approximately 24 months. So, why is the government threatening asylum seekers in Manus and Nauru Island that they will be living in Regional Processing Centres for up to five years?
Some regional host countries, and many host countries around the world (Kenya, Pakistan) do not have the capacity, finance, human resources or lack of corruption and commitment to transparency to fairly process refugees, which are real challenges that contribute to longer processing times. They may also have a lot of their own national social concerns that they are struggling to deal with and hosting and processing refugees is not their priority. Australia, on the other hand, has the organisational capacity to process asylum seeker claims in a timely manner, but chooses not too. Why? To be tough. To deter.
Which brings us back to the original point of frustration; deterrence only works if those who are fleeing danger are not refugees. If Australia kept finding out that those who they processed as asylum seekers were not refugees, the policy may have some logic behind it in the eyes of policy makers. However, the fact that around 90% of asylum seekers who arrive by boat are found to be refugees proves that people are fleeing their homelands because of a well-founded fear of persecution.
Despite regurgitated messages from tabloid media that we are being flooded by so called evil illegal economic migrants, we simply are not. Why should we deter refugees who have suffered fear, persecution, kidnapping, bombings, murders of family members and other horrific human rights violations? When somebody tells you that the Taliban have kidnapped their family members and threatened to kill them and they fear for their life and they are fighting for their life and freedom, on what grounds does Australia stand to tell asylum seekers to go back to where they came from? Maybe when Australia wants to turn the boats back they could provide each asylum seeker a shovel to dig their own graves? Is Australia really that compassionless? By the current state of refugee issues, unfortunately, I fear so.
The principals of ‘No Advantage’ should be based on fairness and equity. Why then is the Australian Government sending handfuls of people to languish in remote offshore detention facilities, while other people that arrived on the same boat as these asylum seekers from a similar background and story are granted bridging visas, living in the Australian community?
Where is the transparency and explanation about why particular people are being sent to Nauru and Manus islands while others are not?
“The Pacific Solution” and the “Regional Frameworks” for dealing with refugee issues are empty policies. They are not solutions or genuine multilateral approaches that are working together in the region. If the government genuinely wanted to produce a fair and equitable approach to dealing with refugees and asylum seekers in the Asia Pacific region then they should be providing more support in places like Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Pakistan, India and other regional hubs with high numbers of asylum seekers living in limbo; not dumping asylum seekers in remote areas of the Pacific.
The Australian Government could use its political influence to persuade these regions to make life more tolerable for those who have escaped their countries by allowing work rights, education for their children and greater access to health services. They could even finance this type of support by stopping outlandishly expensive remote detention facilities.
Finally, Australia, it’s time to get a life and think about the globe that we live in as humankind together. Just because we are geographically isolated from most of the planet doesn’t mean that our attitudes need to be as well. We don’t live in a rosy, harmonious war-free world. There are so many injustices, conflicts and awful atrocities that affect innocent people. People who like you and me, have families, dreams, aspirations, love stories and a desire to live in peace and maybe one day even buy a house and grow a garden. Australia, your current policies are absolutely awful and non-humanitarian. They are destroying people’s lives.