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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

For those who’ve come across the seas...

Seeking asylum is a right under UN protocols, including Article 14 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. For people who arrive in Australia by boat, the method of arrival maybe technically illegal, however, this argument over legality of arrival diverts from the real problem which is addressing the humanitarian issue that they are escaping from.

Similarly the term 'border protection' implies that we are being invaded (with 5500 arrivals by boat this year it is hardly an invasion). Certainly we need to protect ourselves from a foreign power invading us, but as almost all suspected illegal entry vessels are carrying people who apply for asylum, the term again detracts from the humanitarian issue; that these are people escaping real tragedy and abuse.

Following this, the vast majority of asylum seekers who arrive by boat are found to be genuine refugees and make up just 2% of our entire migrant intake. Additionally, the Australian government (including the former coalition government) has quotas for accepting both off-shore applicants (those who apply from overseas) and on-shore applicants (those who apply within Australia).

To put their situation in perspective, we should ask ourselves what would we do in their situations? We get hung up on emotive phrases such as 'queue jumping', yet in Iraq & Afghanistan there are no Australian embassies for them to apply to. A few years ago the Australian embassy in Islamabad had 10,000 asylum applications from Afghanistan, and was processing roughly 500 per year; that would take 20 years to process that batch. These people are not queueing for burgers at maccas, this is life & death. How many of us would subject our families to the threat of abuse, rape, murder while waiting for bureaucracy to decide our fate?

The Howard, Rudd and Gillard governments have failed to offer adequate solutions to asylum seekers and instead have kowtowed to the electorate's fears.

These are some options that I believe should be considered:

- increase our refugee quotas (Australia takes very few refugees compared to other nations.). -engage with our international neighbours, rather than just push the problem back to them (which is what happens if we just 'turn the boats around'). - assist with funding the UNHCR to establish processing centres at ports of origin, including indonesia, pakistan and so on to increase the numbers that can be processed and to hopefully speed up the process. - rather than mandatory detention in Australia, there should be community detention.

The second verse of our national anthem sums up the position we should take:

For those who’ve come across the seas We’ve boundless plains to share; With courage let us all combine To Advance Australia Fair.

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