The Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers, established by the Prime Minister on June 28, 2012, is designed to provide advice on the policy options available to prevent asylum to prevent asylum seekers risking their lives on dangerous boat journeys to Australia.
The Panel will accept submissions from interested organisations to provide input to this work.
The following submission, addressing the Terms of Reference of the Panel, is a contribution by the Isocracy Network, an incorporated association in the state of Victoria.
on behalf of the Isocracy Network, Inc.
Submission to the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers
The source, transit, and destination country aspects are very well known and thoroughly documented. We are contributing no new information by stating a rise, from the 1990s onwards, in asylum seekers using irregular migration from countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and most recently from Sri Lanka. We need only refer to our previous comments in Reference #1 for the causes of this increase and the solution. However the opportunity is taken to make a particular note the significant number of Chinese asylum seekers, the top source country. This rarely reported, as nearly all arrive by plane and then apply for asylum.
The opportunity is taken here however to reject the statistically invalid claims that certain government policies from 2004 and 2008 were a contributing factor to a reduction in asylum applications during that period. A comparison of Australian applications in Australia and globally show a very high level of correlation. Statistically, external factors are the primary and overwhelming cause of the quantity of asylum seekers to Australia.
The first measure to prevent asylum seekers engaging in such risks is to remove the need for people to seek asylum in the first instance. Conflicts that cause asylum seekers are typically the result of impoverishment, a highly unequal distribution of wealth and income, and totalitarian and authoritarian regimes. The correlation between these factors is not accidental.
As a result the Isocracy Network recommends:
Recommendation 1. Raise overseas development assistance to a minimum of 0.7% of Gross National Income, the level targeted by the UN for developed countries, from the current (2009) level of 0.29%, particularly targeting those countries that are (a) the source of asylum seekers and (b) where asylum seekers are currently located.
Recommendation 2. With regards to targeting those countries that are the source of asylum seekers, to implement the importance of the international community in assisting governments to fulfil their primary responsibility to prevent genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing, as per paragraphs 138 and 139 of the 2005 World Summit of the United Nations, and UN Security Council resolution (S/RES/1674).
Assuming however that such actions do not sufficiently reduce the number of asylum seekers from the point of origin, the next preventative step would be to reduce the number from leaving a point of departure for a dangerous naval journey to Australia.
As well recognised Indonesia is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees or the 1967 Protocol . Relevantly, nor is India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Laos, and Malaysia, among others which are more probably a source of refugees. This means that, for the purposes of international refugee law, asylum seekers in such countries are not afforded the usual legal protections provided by the Convention (e.g,. cooperation with the UNHCR, exemption from reciprocity, non-refoulment etc).
As a result, legal judgement in countries which are signatories, such as Australia, declares that such locations do not constitute a "first safe country" for the purpose of seeking asylum. The UN Convention for the Rights of the Child must also be added to the list of international legal obligations that Australia is a signatory towards that is relevant in this debate, given the content of recent legislation.
Processing of asylum seekers is therefore effectively carried at the most probably point of naval departure to Australia and prior to that departure, i.e., Indonesia. If additional processing was provided, this would reduce the numbers of those willing to engage in dangerous naval journeys. In this regard, the proposal of the Australian Greens have significant merit.
As a result the Isocracy Network recommends:
Recommendation 3: Immediately increasing funding to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees by $10 million, specifically in Indonesia and Malaysia to boost the capacity to assess asylum applications.
Recommendation 4: Increasing Australia's humanitarian refugee intake to 20,000 a year and resettling 1,000 people from Indonesia and 4,000 people from Malaysia per annum.
Recommendation 5: That Australia engage in medium and long-term efforts to encourage the aforementioned regional countries to become signatories to the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.
Promoting off-shore processing of asylum seekers in Indonesia and Malaysia in no way implies suggests that off-shore processing should occur for asylum seekers who have already arrived in Australia, whether Malaysia, Nauru, East Timor, or Papua New Guinea, to cite some locations or proposals previously used.
Claims that returning asylum seekers to such offshore camps "breaks the business-model of people-smugglers" is unsubstantiated; furthermore it punishes victims of such a trade. The most effective way to undermine people-smuggling efforts is, as per any other business, provide better products at lower prices i.e., funding UNHCR facilities in Indonesia as per Recommendation 3.
Likewise the cost of processing asylum seekers on the validity of their refugees through punitive measures such as Temporary Protection Visas, Mandatory Detention etc. Pilot projects for Community Care are cost-efficient and effective alternative as pilot programmes have illustrated.
Recommendation 6: Asylum seekers who arrive in Australia should be assessed in Australia by Australians. Detention shall occur only for the period required to ensure identity, health, and security checks.
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