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THE REFUGEE PROBLEM July 22, 2013

Posted by wmmbb in Australian Politics, Human Rights.
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Much, if not all, the debate on refugees and more broadly those seeking asylum escapes me because I am not familiar with the basic facts. Why is it, that the refugee/asylum seeking problem is both so recent and so intractable?

The Refugee Council of Australia provides the statistics of people seeking asylum and refuge in Australia. Michael Gordon provided some of the data reflecting the overall global picture. He writes:

By the end of the year, about 45.2 million people were considered forcibly displaced because of persecution, conflict and human rights violations, the highest level since 1994.
An estimated 7.6 million people were newly displaced across an international border or within their own country during 2012, the highest number in a year since 1999.

War-affected countries are the greatest contributors to human population displacement, although I suppose climate change is setto increase as a causal factor. The rational response might be to increase efforts for peaceful conflict resolution.

Then again there is the question as to how people get to Indonesia. Obviously, Indonesia is not an Islamic nation today because sea and trading links with South Asia and the Middle East are impossible. It seems that it is possible to pay $25 for a 30 day visa from Iran to Indonesia and these visas are available at airports. The Shia populations are apparently concentrated in West Sumatra and Aceh – enough said.

So, Tony Abbott, it does seem to be an international problem, requiring us to see things from others positions – economic, geographical and religious – as well as individually seeing ourselves in relations to other human beings, who we may characterize as others, the better to engage in violence against them.

Then it seems to me, there is the issue of settlement within Australia. We need, if possible, to place refugees (including our own internal refugees) where they will be welcomed and helped, and not where they will be subject to prejudice and fear. Given the state of the economy, the decline of manufacturing such as steel mills and the demand for unskilled labor, that is tougher problem than it once was.

Julian Burnside does not accept this conclusion. He says:

I believe it is reasonable that unauthorised arrivals should be detained initially for preliminary health and security checks. That detention should, however, be capped at one month. After that, while their refugee status is being determined, they should be released into the community on conditions that will ensure that they remain available for processing and (if necessary) removal. They should be allowed to work and live in dignity.

While their refugee status is being determined, they should be required to live in designated rural or regional areas: there are plenty of country towns that would be happy to receive them and benefit from their arrival. This approach has the advantage of being decent, humane, and vastly less expensive than the present approach. Nor does it damage people by subjecting them to the further mental trauma of not knowing when their indefinite detention will end, making their transition to becoming productive members of society, if and when they are determined to be owed protection, much easier.

Australia has signed the Refugee Convention. Indonesia has not. Asylum seekers who get to Indonesia live in perpetual fear of detection. In Indonesia, asylum seekers who are assessed as refugees may wait 20 or 30 years before they are offered a place in a third country. In the meantime they’re unable to seek employment and their children are deprived an education. Not surprisingly, some of them – those with initiative and courage – take a chance with a people smuggler and arrive in Australia.

Some reading this will think: “Well, they should wait their turn.” But what would you do? If you and your family faced persecution at the hands of the Taliban, would you wait in Kabul for a bullet; or hide in Indonesia for years on end waiting for another country to offer you protection? Or would you run for your life, and do whatever it took to get you and your family to safety? I know I would get to safety by hook or by crook. And if I got to a convention country, I would ask for protection.

Ask our politicians what they would do if they faced the same choice?

Why further punish an already vulnerable minority for their actions – when those same actions simply reflect our shared sense of humanity and our fierce instincts for survival.

Obviously Julian Burnside is an intelligent, decent person, but he does not have to live with the problem, nor is he likely to be subject to the fears of a tenuous employment situation, our inherent racism as human beings (which might have to be recognized before it can be overcome?), and the tendency toward scapegoating, often framed by political language. Then there is the aspect of the elite imposing their world views on the underclass. We have got to be more careful about our internal settlement policies. Admittedly, my experience is dated, but at least there was a racial demarcation in country towns I had some limited associations with in Western Australia.

If you do not believe in relation to political positioning and electoral advantage, deconstruct what the slogan, “Stop the Boats”, is about. You will agree that boats are not human beings, with their stories, their virtues and their failings, or for that matter,their concern for the welfare of their children. Reportedly, Mr Abbott said:

”I say to Mr Rudd: stop making excuses, stop trying to say this is the world’s problem, it’s not. It’s our problem and we need to take the appropriate action in this country, by this country, for this country to stop the boats and we need to do it now.”

Such “rhetoric”, if it is to be so categorized, speaks for itself. John Quiggin concludes his post by observing:

The treatment of asylum seekers has shown Australia at our worst, driven by fear and bigotry. But with a serious effort to drive a global response to the problems of refugees, we could go a long way to redeem ourselves.

(So I made a comment. It was still too long.)

The Thais seem to implementing the Liberal Party preferred policy:

Why have we not heard more about the implications for the refugees of this policy? Oh, those news reports dropped off the radar! The PNG option is at least better, if a short-term political fix – but according to reports conditions are horrible and disgraceful since refugees live in terror and despair.

Having said that, I have been attempting to understand the issue in its generality, I have not suggested a practical solution, which is the next stage, I suppose.

Why Documentaries gives us the words of one refugees:

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