Australia’s Refugee and Asylum Seeker Paradox
24 February 2017 at 4:33 pm
Australia excels in resettling refugees but is trailing the world in its approach to asylum seekers, the Refugee Council’s first State of the Nation report has found.
The report said this contrasting approach – punishing people seeking asylum while increasing the number of refugees it resettles – threatened the “long and proud history Australia has of successful integration of refugee communities”.
The Refugee Council of Australia’s CEO, Paul Power, said punitive policies were harming thousands of people and damaging Australia’s reputation.
“Really, the bottom line is that Australia’s approach to the resettlement of refugees through government-coordinated programs from other countries is a very positive aspect of Australia’s support of refugees,” Power told Pro Bono News.
“But unfortunately our national treatment of people seeking asylum, people who’ve come directly to Australia seeking protection from persecution, is a very, very negative story.
“Over 15 or more years Australia has, unfortunately for a wealthy, western country, had many of the harshest policies towards people fleeing persecution, and this is the problem at the heart of Australia’s response to refugees.”
The report was informed by the views of hundreds of people from refugee backgrounds, people seeking asylum and people working within those communities.
“This evidence-based research provides the voices and perspectives of those directly affected, which politicians and policy makers cannot afford to ignore, yet are too often overlooked,” Power said.
“If Australia wants to re-establish its reputation as a global human rights leader, it must urgently overhaul the punitive and inefficient asylum system currently in place.”
Power called for an end of the “race to the bottom”, which he said characterised asylum seeker policy.
“The challenge for us, as Australians, is that our response to people seeking asylum, the policies are, to be frank, more negative than they’ve ever been in Australian history,” he said.
“All of those positive things that we have done in refugee resettlement cannot hide the fact that we have such harsh policies towards people who’ve come directly to Australia and sought Australia’s protection here.
“It’s so deeply disappointing to see that this country people felt attracted to because of its prospective human rights, is actually trampling on the rights of the very people who need their rights protected.”
He said the report should serve as a call to action.
“We need to fundamentally question why Australian policies are as they are, what is actually being achieved by the continued detention of people on Nauru and Papua New Guinea… why it is taking so long to resolve the asylum cases of people living in Australia who’ve come here to seek protection from persecution,” he said.
“As an Australian-born person who has a deep love of this country, I’m personally concerned about the impact on Australia as a nation of harsh rhetoric against people who are living amongst us.”
The report makes a number of key recommendations to facilitate successful settlement and integration, including better access to higher education, employment, disability support, family reunion and the end of citizenship delays.
Along with ending offshore processing and indefinite detention, the report’s priorities for 2017 included supporting mental health, helping people with disability, bringing families together and assisting people to settle in Australia.
Power also said Australia needed to look abroad and collaborate with other nations to more effectively respond to the current humanitarian crisis.
“The key challenges for Australia in responding to the needs of refugees actually lie outside of Australia,” he said.
“So how does Australia work with countries in Southeast Asia and South Asia to create greater opportunities for protecting vulnerable people who are [there] now.
“A lot of the political fear about the onward movement of asylum seekers could actually, in the longer run, be better addressed by supporting the refugee protection process in every way that we possibly can in countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.
“So we actually have a national interest in seeing persecuted people being protected.”