As the number of refugees and asylum seekers arriving to Australia by boat rose sharply in 2012 and 2013, the major political parties engendered a state of moral panic. The long-standing debate over push versus pull factors was resolved in favour of pull factors; that is, it was finally agreed that Australia’s policies of welcoming refugees and asylum seekers made Australia an attractive destination that refugees would cross the world to reach. In the face of this we closed our borders to refugees and asylum seekers arriving by boat. The Rudd government announced they would now be detained in offshore centres, refused entry to Australia at any point in the future, and the Abbott government implemented a policy of intercepting boats at sea and returning them to Indonesia.
Almost all of those who arrived in Australia by boat set out from Indonesia, so one would expect that after the implementation of these policies the number of refugees and asylum seekers arriving Indonesian would have fallen dramatically. Yet this has not happened. Indeed looking at the statistics for Indonesia, the nation is more popular than ever as a destination for refugees and asylum seekers.
This makes the cruel debacle that unfolded on Manus Island and Nauru and has now reached the point of farce even more tragic. Not only were there other options available to us that did not involve the degradation of human beings fleeing persecution, but the intentionally cruel option that we took looks like it was completely unnecessary. There were no hordes making their way across the globe to Indonesia to set off in boats for Australia. There were just men, women and children whose lives had been turned upside down by incredible violence and just wanted somewhere safe to live.
Source of data in the chart: UNHCR Statistical Reports 2012-2015 & Global Report 2016