More punishment for asylum seekers and refugees. John Menadue

The Coalition has announced that in government, it would deny boat arrivals access to an independent review of their claims for refugee status.

It is another way of punishing vulnerable people and winning political points.

  • There will be no change in appeal rights of asylum seekers who come by air. The punishment will only be for boat arrivals.
  • 82% of initial rejections for refugee status were overturned in 2011/12 by the Refugee Review Tribunal. This has been the pattern for several years. This suggests that there is some fundamental problem with the way primary decisions are made by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.
  • One of the recommendations of the Houston Report was that the Refugee Status Determination system should be reviewed. DIAC says that it is doing this. The figures on overturning of DIAC decisions suggest that this is an urgent problem.
  • Over 90% of asylum seekers who come by boat are found to be refugees. But only 44% of asylum seekers who come by air are found to be refugees. Thus the Opposition proposes to penalise the group that historically has had much stronger claims to refugee status.

The announcement by the Coalition is consistent with its policy of highlighting only boat people and punishing them wherever possible. It is obviously a policy that is paying political dividends for the Coalition.

There is also I suspect a mistaken belief that by denying appeal rights to boat arrivals, it will act as a deterrent for boat arrivals. This is despite the fact there is no evidence whatsoever that policies to deter asylum seekers by receiving countries has any effect. The persecution and tragedy which asylum seekers face and which force them to flee their country has far greater force than any ‘deterrent’ policy that we can throw at them.

Only last month on February 5, the Australian Parliamentary Library reported on ‘factors affecting asylum seekers choice of destination country’. The report pointed to the failure of policies designed to deter asylum seekers. It said

‘It is clear from the existing literature that opportunities for governments to curb asylum flows through policies of deterrents are extremely limited. Asylum seekers are often simply unaware of policy measures aimed at discouraging their arrival. Where they are aware of such measures, they respond to them in complex and often unpredictable ways. This represents a considerable challenge for policy makers charged with stemming the flow of asylum seekers and appeasing a public which is increasingly demanding for various reasons that the government “stop the boats”.’ (p.12)

Once again politics and demonization of asylum seekers is put ahead of fact-based policies and the dignity of very vulnerable people.

John Menadue

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