Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Asylum Seeker Detention Unlawful and Extreme - Conversation.

Earlier I shared a link to this article on Facebook. I commented that though I have very little respect for Sky News I was glad to see someone making this point.

A response from another friend prompted me to clarify a few points. The conversation went as follows:

Me: "Hate sky news, but yes, it is certainly an extremist act to lock people up indefinitely when they have committed no crime and haven't even been given a trial."

Friend: "Do we really want those people on our roads though? If yes, you know they will keep coming."

Me: "Roads? That seems like a very strange thing to say. There have never been enough asylum seekers to make any noticeable difference to traffic congestion and wouldn't be even if their numbers doubled or tripled. Anyway, since government policy is to try to increase the population with things like the baby bonus, any extra people, especially ones who have already grown up and gained skills and life experience, should be welcomed. I'm not all that pro population, but surely giving homes to asylum seekers should be a higher priority than having more babies born here."

Friend: "I disagree with you. Bear in mind that tax payers money will go to them, and they won't have the education needed to adapt in Australian culture. before they are released, and are allowed to live within us, the government must create some sort of education system, and ensure they find a job when they are released. we simply cannot release people in a new country. It's like releasing an animal in the wild, whre they'll have to find their own prey to survive, they'll grab the first one and think that's only there is. we have to educate them on what is prey and what is not. I have got my permanent residency in Australia the hard way, and so should they. if the requirements to come to Australia is an academic transcript, it must be followed."

Me:  "There are some things you need to consider here: 1. They have a legal right to seek asylum and to have it granted if they have genuinely fled from danger. This is international law and Australia must either adhere to it or give up it's international reputation, if it has not done so already. Australia, as a country, is committing a crime by imprisoning people illegally. It's an infringement of the universal bill of human rights and of Australia's constitution. 2. There are many ways and reasons to come to Australia and academic transcripts are just one of many criteria. 3. Migrants with or without transcripts have been shown historically to be of net benefit to the economy. Many unskilled immigrants set up small businesses and others perform jobs for which labor otherwise has to be imported in the form of temporary workers from Asia because locals won't do it. Such work includes fruit picking and work in food preparation for factories that supply supermarkets. 4. The cost of detaining these people while their claims are assessed is about four times as much as it would cost to allow them to live in society and pay them social security money.

I agree that there need to be proper educational resources made available. Our primary and secondary schools can be pretty hopeless and because refugees are often allocated to a school level based on age rather than ability, it is often difficult or impossible for those who arrive as teenagers to progress through the most direct channels to university. There are other ways, but of course that needs improving. Also, two terms of specialized ESL schooling, which is what is offered with a refugee visa now is obviously insufficient. Australia has a duty of care to these people and it is in the national interest to provide better education and integration services, both because it will help the economy by enhancing skills while reducing dependance on welfare and because it demonstrates a requisite level of respect for people's livelihoods upon which the country's reputation depends.

Anyway, there is not necessarily any need to increase refugee intake in order to make the system more humane. Simply providing social security and a place to live in the community would be far less costly than detention. Once claims are processed, people who are found to be genuine refugees are currently allocated to any of the refugee intake countries, not necessarily Australia, based on their intake quotas. The only differences would be a. a reduced cost to the tax payer and b. freedom for the asylum seekers during the processing of their claims."

Other friend: "The solution's remarkably simple, really - massively increase the resources devoted to processing the claims, and pay for it by not having to pay for such lengthy detention. The only arguments I'm aware of against this plan are purely political.

The main rhetoric I hear from the other side is along the lines of "we shouldn't make ourselves a soft target", and it's only just occurred to me to think that through properly. If we actually care about our legal obligations (or, y'know, human rights and welfare), we should want to be a very soft target indeed for genuine refugees. We don't necessarily want to be a "soft target" for those we don't judge to be genuine refugees, but it's utterly barbaric to achieve this deterrence by punishing all asylum seekers (or even any asylum seekers). As a modern democracy, what we should do with false claimants for refugee status is to process their claims quickly and thoroughly, and then promptly kick them out.

*****, Australia is fundamentally an immigrant nation - we've had wave after wave of immigrants more than twice as long as we've actually had a nation, and technically we're all immigrants anyway. I've heard quite a bit of rhetoric about the newest batches of immigrants, but I've not yet heard a substantial argument for why this particular episode is in any meaningful way worse or more dangerous than any other. The numbers are trivial in context of our existing population - we've dealt with much more significant waves in the past - and in stating your argument you're making some fairly serious claims without actually providing any evidence.

As ***** notes, overall population is a separate question. I also have grave reservations about overpopulation here, but the "boat people" we're talking about here are utterly insignificant to that debate. The vast majority of refugees come by plane anyway, and the vast majority of illegal residents are people (especially students) overstaying their visas. The public panic about "boat people" overrunning the country has no basis in fact."

Me: "I'm afraid that solution just makes too much sense to ever happen." 

Hope this clears up a few popular misconceptions.  

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