As we move toward a Federal election I will post comparisons of some key policy areas held by Labor, the Coalition and the Greens. In this post I look at refugee policy.
The world faces a global refugee crisis. Over 15 million people have been forced to flee their country due to a well-founded fear of persecution. That is, if they return to their home country they will face unfair imprisonment, violence, or other severe deprivation.
Upon fleeing their homeland a person becomes an asylum seeker, that is, they are asking to stay in another country where they can be safe. Under international law an asylum seeker has the right to show up in and apply for asylum at any country.
An asylum claim is usually assessed under the auspices of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. In the case of asylum seekers who arrive to Australia their claim is assessed by the Department of Immigration. If the person is deemed to be fleeing persecution they are granted the status of “refugee”.
Very few of the world’s refugees come to Australia. In recent years around 4000 asylum seekers have arrived each year by boat. Of these 80-90% have been found to be refugees. This year the number of boat arrivals is around the 20,000 mark. All up Australia accepts 20,000 refugees per year, some from refugee camps overseas and others from those who arrive here by boat or plane.The total is fixed, so that the more spots given to onshore arrivals, the fewer there are for offshore applicants.
Should Australia accept more refugees?
ALP: No. The number was lifted from 13,000 to 20,000 by the Labor Government in 2013.
COALITION: No. The number should be reduced from 20,000 to 13,750.
GREENS: Yes. Number not specified in their policy.
Should we delink onshore and offshore numbers?
COALITION: Yes. 11,000 of the 13,750 humanitarian spaces will be reserved for offshore applicants
GREENS: Yes. All asylum seekers reaching Australia should be granted asylum if their claim is found to be true. The number of offshore applicants accepted should be separate to this.
What should we do about the asylum seekers arriving by boat?
ALP: We should deter people from arriving by boat by making it policy that they may well be sent to PNG or Nauru for processing and will have no greater chance of finding asylum in Australia than if they apply from anywhere else in the world. Those that are processed in Australia will have health,identity and security checks then be released into the community. If released into the community they will not be allowed to work, will receive benefits equivalent to 89% of the dole, and will have limited access to medicare [note that this is Government policy and is contrary to the ALP National Platform]. They will never be allowed to bring family members to Australia. On the no advantage principle it will be 5 years or more before they will be accepted as refugees.
COALITION: Those who arrive by boat are arriving illegally and should be treated as such. The navy will be instructed to intercept and turn back boats where it is safe to do so. Those that do make it to Australia will be processed in another country where they will be kept in detention that is rigorous. Their claims to asylum will be given lower priority than those applying from offshore. If they arrive without documentation (eg passports) there will be a presumption that they are not refugees. If found to be refugees they will receive only a temporary protection visa, ie they will not be able to settle permanently in Australia but will have to reapply every 2-3 years.
GREENS: We need to shift the discourse from “border protection” to “people protection”. Asylum seekers arriving by boat should be welcomed, detained for no more than 30 days for health, security and identity checks, then accommodated within communities with full support, opportunity to work, and access to medicare. Their asylum claims should be processed as quickly as possible, and, if found to be refugees they should be granted a visa permitting them to live permanently in Australia. Detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island PNG should be closed.