A successful refugee policy not only manages national borders but also protects people who need safety, and demonstrates leadership in meeting the global challenge of displacement. That’s why the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law has set out an independent, nonpartisan, evidence-based refugee policy agenda, challenging policymakers and the public to reimagine Australia’s current approach – so that both refugees and the nation can prosper amid today’s real challenges.
Australia’s current approach to asylum is causing irreparable harm – to refugees, our social fabric and our international reputation. When our children ask why refugee children are trying to kill themselves, how should we respond? How should we deal with the vicarious trauma suffered by our psychologists, lawyers, doctors, and volunteers who cannot offer any hope or solutions to the people seeking asylum with whom they work? How can we genuinely say that Australia respects everyone’s dignity, and provides a fair go for all?
As the damage mounts, the policy failings grow harder to ignore. Our current approaches to refugees are inhumane, unsustainable and fiscally irresponsible. They exact a significant human cost, and a significant economic cost – more than $2 billion a year. Indeed, keeping refugees on Nauru and Manus Island costs Australian taxpayers 56 times more than it would to have them live among us.
It’s time we embraced an evidence-based, humane and lawful approach. The Kaldor Centre Principles for Australian Refugee Policy, which will be launched tonight in Sydney by David Gonski AC, set out an independent, non-partisan, fact-backed refugee policy agenda. These challenge policymakers and the public to reimagine Australia’s current approach – so that both refugees and the nation can prosper amid today’s real global challenges. They provide a practical roadmap for long-term success in reforming Australia’s laws affecting people seeking asylum.
First, let’s abide by the international commitments we voluntarily made, rather than erasing them from our domestic laws. Let’s allow people seeking asylum to live among us in the Australian community, not in detention facilities. Let’s give people a fair hearing, in a transparent system that would yield more durable decisions, greater public confidence, and help newcomers integrate into the community
Let’s keep refugee families together, instead of compounding trauma through policies of enforced separation. Let’s enable refugees to contribute fully to our economy and communities, instead of hampering their chances depending on whether they came by plane or boat. Let’s work more collaboratively with neighbouring countries to expand the solutions available to refugees. And let’s invest in refugees for long-term success, by abolishing temporary protection and supporting the education and skills training that enables refugees to contribute to their own well-being and that of their families and community.
We can do this, because we’ve done it before.
Although there are more refugees now than ever before, on a per capita basis the numbers are much lower. After the Second World War, Australia generously helped those in need of protection, and we can do so again. In 1949–50, 48 per cent of Australia’s immigrants were refugees or displaced people. Now, only 10 per cent are.
Research shows that refugees are among our best-educated and most entrepreneurial people. They help to address labour shortages, counter the effects of an ageing Australian population and support economic growth. Refugees have lower crime rates than the population at large. And they also bring great social and cultural richness to our society.
Worldwide, about 1.4 million refugees need to be resettled each year. Between even just a handful of countries, this is completely manageable. It’s less than 0.5 per cent of the population of the United States alone.
Displacement won’t end by keeping people behind a wall, offshore, or otherwise out of sight. But it will be eased if we reorient our focus towards helping people who have fled some of the world’s most horrific conflicts and abuses, instead of pushing them away.