Tag Archives: Migration

Attention all disadvantaged asylum seekers: No advantage for you

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.no advantage

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.

no one chooses...

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.

under the carpet

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.

Regional cooperation: An impossible dream?

By Oliver White

Oliver is the former Regional Advocacy Communication Manager for the Jesuit Refugee Service Asia Pacific.

Millions of refugees and asylum seekers face tough challenges in their struggle to find safety in Asia Pacific. With the lowest number of signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention in the world, this region offers paltry protection to people on the move. The glaring absence of national asylum laws and standardised procedures for refugee status determination has driven asylum seekers underground.

Asia Pacific is home to some 10.6 million forcibly displaced people. They are on the move for different reasons: seeking economic survival or reunion with their families, fleeing human rights violations.

But, their movements are marked by the same defining factors: fear; dangerous journeys, often by boat; being smuggled and vulnerable to trafficking; and the risk of indefinite detention.

Fifty-six-year-old Ali spent a year in detention in Indonesia until he received refugee status from UNHCR. He left his wife and 11 children back home in Afghanistan. Ali was among detainees who diligently attended English classes in the detention centre three times a week. (Paulus Enggal/JRS)
Fifty-six-year-old Ali spent a year in detention in Indonesia until he received refugee status from UNHCR. He left his wife and 11 children back home in Afghanistan. Ali was among detainees who diligently attended English classes in the detention centre three times a week. (Paulus Enggal/JRS)

Stemming pull factors

In recent years, Asian states have increasingly sought to seal their borders by stemming pull factors – forces that draw people to a new location – by resorting to detention and making it difficult to file asylum claims. Asylum seekers are driven underground, where they are exposed to exploitation and hazardous conditions, and denied access to health care, work, food, shelter and education.

But the push factors  – forces driving people from their homes – are always stronger so curbing the pull factors only leads to greater human rights violations and despair. Mahmoud, an Afghan asylum seeker detained in Indonesia, is one victim of this hostile approach.

“I would rather be shot than wait for this process to keep going indefinitely with no idea what is happening,” he said. “I don’t want to spend my life in this prison.”

Nowhere is safe. Police in Malaysia arrested David, from Burma, three times. “I don’t have a UNHCR card and they told me and my friends they could do what they wanted to us. They stole 200 ringgit [local currency] from my wallet and my telephone.”

Promoting regional collaboration

In recent years, the region has seen increasingly large-scale displacements. Armed conflict in Afghanistan, Burma, and Sri Lanka, persecution of ethnic minorities in Vietnam and ongoing oppression of the Rohingya have continued to push people towards Australia. Transit countries along the way include Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. The need for cross-border and regional collaboration has never been greater, and the last few years have seen a rising interest in such collaboration.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has proven to be an inadequate space to encourage the protection of refugee rights. Under the Bali Process, a grouping of over 50 states and international organisations working to address people smuggling and trafficking, UNHCR has promoted a Regional Cooperation Framework to be used as a guide for states to collaborate on migration issues. But although it has been well received, the framework is non-binding.

One of the few examples of bilateral cooperation has been the Regional Cooperation Model, signed in 2001, between Australia and Indonesia in collaboration with the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The aim is to support asylum seekers and refugees to prevent them from onward movement to Australia. But, such agreements fail without the involvement of other host, transit and resettlement countries.

 Ali was among detainees who diligently attended English classes in the detention centre three times a week (Paulus Enggal/JRS).
Ali was among detainees who diligently attended English classes in the detention centre three times a week (Paulus Enggal/JRS).

As one of the most developed countries in the region, Australia offers the best capacity to protect refugees, but national security interests and domestic politics have undermined its ability to lead by example. Recent decisions to embark on offshore processing of asylum seekers in Nauru and Manus defy the country’s obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention and may seriously jeopardise refugee rights. Nearly 90% of people arriving by boat are convention refugees, according to the Refugee Council of Australia.

Australia has found a legal loophole by excising its territory – excluding parts from its migration zone – in order to bypass its responsibility to process asylum seekers arriving by boat. But it is doubtful that the new policies will stop people from arriving because the problem lies in the lack of durable solutions for refugees elsewhere in the region.

An Afghani refugee in Indonesia said: “I know it’s a dangerous journey, and I don’t want to put myself and my family at risk at sea, but it’s not a choice. If you give me and my family the right to work here, then we will stay here.”

The way forward

Cooperation, consistency and subscribing to universally accepted standards of protection are the way forward to ensure more equitable burden sharing for states and to protect refugees transiting through Asia Pacific. Standardising procedures means refugees will face the same treatment, no matter where they go, and increasing protection in transit countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia will reduce the need for onward movement.

A framework for regional protection would see transit states in the region acknowledge that asylum seekers and refugees are distinct from other migrants with protection rights. Asylum seekers and refugees should be issued with temporary documents to avoid being detained under Immigration laws as well temporary work permits and access to public utilities including schools and hospitals.

Resettlement countries such as the U.S, Canada and Australia should consider increasing their quotas for humanitarian visas and work towards decreasing the time a refugee must wait in transit countries to be resettled.

UNHCR must work towards reducing and harmonising the times that asylum seekers and refugees have to wait for registration, and the recognition of their status, as well as ensuring that those decisions are transparent and fair in accordance with UNHCR’s own set of procedural standards.

With increased funding for the provision of vital services such as health, psychosocial, legal, education civil society can play a vital role in strengthening refugee protection in the region.

The Comprehensive Plan of Action (CPA) initiated in the 1980s as a response to the deaths of thousands of Vietnamese in boats at sea facilitated durable solutions for Indochinese refugees, who were processed in transit countries and either resettled in the US, Australia and Canada or repatriated. Although far from perfect, the CPA exemplifies that regional cooperation is possible if the political will is there.