Isn’t it time Australia closed its offshore detention centres

Here’s how it might work!

Since the late 1990’s, Australia has been tackling the increasing problem of large numbers of refugees arriving unannounced in boats to its shores, often promoted by people smugglers. Although it initially took a tolerant attitude to these people, the more of them who were let in, the more arrived. Egged on by the popular press and shock jocks, this intake increasingly was viewed by the Australian population as a flood (although more like a trickle by world standards). The public reaction was aided and abetted by the conservative side of politics “dog-whistling” on race which in the early 2000’s enabled them to win a couple of Federal elections. For both sides of politics, something had to be done.

The result was offshore detention centres where boats were intercepted by the Australian Navy and Customs Service (now called Border Force) and either taken back from whence they came, or transferred to detention centres set up by the Australian Government on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, or Nauru (a poverty stricken island off the Australian north coast), or on the Australian territory of Christmas Island. These centres rapidly descended into cruel and inhuman environments to the extent that they are even today regularly cited by the Australian Human Rights Commission and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as in breach of the UN Declaration on Human Rights. Over the last ten years, this situation has done great harm to Australia’s reputation for having an almost spotless record on Human Rights (with the shameful exception of its own indigenous population).

There are currently over 300 asylum seekers housed in Nauru (Manus Island has now closed), and over 300 on Christmas Island, at a total cost of over $1billion per annum. Apart from this being an outrageous waste of money, and in spite of governments of both persuasions wishing to do something about it, they have been unable to get around the fact that it is these same inhuman conditions which have stopped additional boats from coming because people realised they will end up in them if they came. A number of solutions have been tried including swapping refugees with the US (so far 242 people exchanged) and having some of them settle in New Zealand. NZ was not acceptable because it was perceived this gives the boat people a path to a first world environment which does not provide the “right” level of disincentive, and from which it is too easy to transfer to Australia.

It is time that the centres in Nauru and Christmas Island were closed. The question is how?

Australia has perhaps had the most successful immigration program in the world growing its population from about 7 million largely British stock in 1945 to today having a population of almost 25 million people coming from over 130 counties from around the world. This has led to a highly diversified, rich and tolerant society where over 30% of the population is non-white, and which has one of highest standards of living in the world.

Since the early 1970’s, Australia’s immigration policy has largely been non-discriminatory on the grounds of race, religion and ethnicity. It is has been based on a points system whereby potential migrants need to score a certain number of points to be given Visas. These points are based on the needs of the country at any one time, so profession and education play major roles. Each year, about 25000 refugees are issued visas selected from refugees camps from around the world, and are carefully screened on security grounds and their ability to assimilate. Where the program has got into trouble in the past, is where its rules have not been properly enforced (eg in Lebanon and Somalia after their civil wars). In both cases, this led to civil unrest and criminality on the Australian homeland which historically has been very, very unusual in Australia’s migrant populations.

In early 2018, the UNHCR identified that there are over 30 million refugees housed in 125 refugee camps around the world. All these refugee camps are desperate to find permanent homes for their “temporary” populations. Australia is desperate to find homes for the inmates on Nauru and Christmas Island. Why doesn’t Australia offer to take refugees from selected camps at the rate of say 5 people in exchange for every one of the asylum seekers from the Australian detention centres (provided they meet Australia’s selection criteria for new migrants). In that way the Government will be able to close the detention centres, and play a responsible role in helping, albeit in a small way, empty the refugee camps of their populations while maintaining an orderly processing regime for international processing of refugees: in other words, no “queue jumping”. It is estimated that over 20% of the population of these refugee camps have either tertiary degrees or trade qualifications, both of which are in high demand in Australia. By selecting these people from these camps, it also does something about the issue of “queue jumping” issue i.e. where boat people are perceived to have been given higher priority for consideration of entry to first world countries merely because they are present on the ground in those countries, rather than waiting their turn to have their cases considered while they wait their time out in Refugee camps.

 

It is time to act, and get rid of this scourge on Australia’s very successful track record in immigration.

 

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