Refugee Policy Idea #3: No Malaysia Solution, No Pacific Solution, But a Regional Solution
January 8, 2012 2 Comments
Currently there are two policies being proposed to deal with asylum seekers arriving by boat to Australia, and one other option that deserves more attention. Read and learn.
ONE: Labor’s Policy – The Malaysia Solution
This one has two basic components:
- if you come by boat you will be taken to Malaysia and,
- four other refugees who have been waiting to be taken by a country, will be accepted in your place.
This policy ‘works’ by (a) disincentivising the choice to take a risky boat journey, while (b) giving the Malaysian government a reason to cooperate (they get to give us some of their refugees) and (c) providing a fairer deal to those refugees who have waited in Malaysia for a long time and not paid a people smuggler to take them to Australia. Critics point out that Malaysia is not known for taking particular care of their refugees (they haven’t signed the Refugee Convention). In any case, the Malaysia Solution was deemed illegal by the High Court so unless the legislation is changed this policy will not ever be applied. In the interim Australia is practicing onshore processing.
TWO: Liberal/National’s Policy – The Pacific Solution
This policy involves:
- taking all unregulated arrivals to Nauru where they are processed and, if genuine,
- giving them Temporary Protection Visas.
This ‘works’ by playing that a trip to Australia does not get you a permanent visa anyway, so there’s no point taking the risk. The problem with it is that the sheer majority of those sent to Nauru under Howard’s policy were found to be legitimate refugees and were so resettled in Australia and eventually given permanent visas anyway. Whether or not this makes Nauru a viable option for ‘stopping the boats’ now can only be settled by giving it a go again. A problem with Temporary Protection Visas that needs identifying anyway is that it actually encourages women and children to get on boats. Where no TPVs existed the majority of boat people were younger males who, upon getting their permanent visa, would then apply for their family to join them. Because TPVs do not give refugees that right, the only way for genuine refugee families to get out of their dangerous countries is to join them on the risky journey too.
There is a third possibility though.
THREE: The Regional Solution
The maths of it are:
- any asylum seeker who arrives anywhere in South East Asia or the Pacific is assessed by the country they arrive in first.
- Upon assessment, if found to be legitimate, they are added to a region-wide-queue and
- eventually settled in a free country once their name comes up.
- If the claim is found to be illegitimate, however, the seeker is not allowed to try again in another country in the region.
These provisos remove the incentive for hopping from country to country on leaky boats, stop illegitimate asylum seekers repeatedly taking resources from those who genuinely require assistance, and makes it fairer for those refugees who can’t afford to pay a people smuggler. For the system to work the whole region must take more refugees, process them quickly in good facilities, and do a decent job looking after them during the settlement phase. Perhaps Australia could take a leading role in staffing and managing these facilities? We spend millions of dollars fighting people smuggling already anyway.
If you’re wondering, I did not make up this system. This is the method adopted by Europe under the Dublin Regulation. Sadly it is not perfect either – countries on the periphery of the region have to process many more asylum seekers than those in the centre, and it is probable each country will assess and treat their refugees differently thereby muddying the unity of the system. For example, how Australia provides for her asylum seekers is likely better than how some poorer countries in the region provide for their own citizens. Similarly, how strictly one country applies the refugee criteria to asylum applicants might be considerably more generous than another. For these reasons getting the region to an agreement will prove incredibly difficult.
But there is some cause for hope. Though diplomacy is never reported by the media, the wheels are in motion. There is a working group called the Bali Process that is making progress towards a regional approach and though their agreements to date have been very vague (“an inclusive but non-binding regional cooperation framework” anyone?), at least we have some steps. Also I have recently learnt that the UNHCR only expects 805,000 refugees to require resettlement in the next five years. That’s a lot, but 84,000 refugees were resettled worldwide in 2009 by the 25 countries that take UNHCR refugees currently. Adding some nations to that list, and increasing intakes marginally, could be enough. While every solution will be imperfect, a better deal is possible.
I’m also happy to take ideas on this issue. Please post/comment them if you have them.