JANE McADAM An evidence based refugee policy agenda


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.

Professor Jane McAdam is Director of the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, UNSW Sydney.


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2 Responses to JANE McADAM An evidence based refugee policy agenda

  1. Kevin Bain says:

    There’s not much new in the above article or the linked road map and no end of “shoulds”, though we know “the problem is the politics.” However the longer “Principles…” linked above does have pragmatic proposals and useful insights for a change strategy. The 6 Principles in the document answer the What, Why, How questions and will be useful to refugee supporters. For lobbying of decisionmakers, the examples given of international comparators in law and practice are suggestive, such as the transborder institutions and human rights norms in Europe which are presumably some constraint on treating refugees badly.

    To increase popular support for refugees, family unity and the best interests of the child are obviously a key argument and included here, but I suggest more is needed on reasons for the high incidence of male refugees, lest they are seen as self-interested deserters, rather than representatives of families which I suspect is often the case. Making resettlement numbers a percentage of the migrant intake is proposed which also sounds very sellable. The Pew survey of xenophobia and the last election (see below) shows we can break with our odious past and work out how to leverage this into politics.

  2. Charles Lowe says:

    Again, again, again. Wonderful sentiments. No enforceability.

    When Whitlam said “It’s Time” – he enforced it.

    Here enforcement is procedurally simple but requires consummate patience and steadfast determination. Those injured by Australia’s actions need to sue – all the way to the High Court and with crowdfunding, if necessary.

    Lambs bleat. Humans act.

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