REBLOGGED: Alternative to Offshore Detention

Agreed! Genuine regional processing is the way to go.
Other links are at the bottom. Also, here is this link to another post of mine outlining the ‘genuine regional solution’ idea (from Daniel Webb).
The important thing is to remember the humanity. Refugees are people, just like us, with hopes like ours. We’re only a few steps – degrees of separation, if you will – of facing a situation like theirs.
Remember that – and spread the word.

Today, as I write perhaps, the Labor caucus is scheduled (I believe) to debate whether or not offshore detention should be part of their policy. I have written an email to my local MP, Catherine King, about this. I republish it here.

Dear Ms King MP,

I hear that today Labor will be debating its offshore detention policies, possibly as I write now. Please, I beg you, vote for change. Close the camps.
We have heard of many horrors being perpetrated against those who have come to us seeking protection. The rapes of women and children on Nauru; the deaths of men, Reza and Hamid. Now, even Christmas Island is tainted by death, with the death of Fazel. This is a disgrace. When will it end?
You and other Labor caucus members have the power to stop it. As Shadow Health Minister, surely you are concerned by the risk to the health of these people? They are more than detainees, more than numbers, more than labels such as ‘boat people’. They are people who have made an unimaginable choice, to leave behind everything they knew and seek safety by throwing themselves at our mercy. In response, we have treated them terribly. I am ashamed.
There is another way. Julian Burnside and other human rights lawyers have spoken freely about the different, humane ways. Ways that would still involve background checks and probably a clearly limited form of detention. Ways that are fair, not fearful. The current policies continue because of fear. It is fear politics, demonising one group of people in order to get the rest to agree. We do not need to be protected against asylum seekers. We will not be ‘overrun’ by ‘boat people’. I reject the politics of fear.
The current model of processing for asylum seekers is also hugely expensive. Other models, as well as being more humane, are cheaper. It’s a win-win.
Please, Ms King. Do the right thing and reject offshore detention.
There are many asylum seekers in the community in Ballarat – families and young people in community detention, or who have had their claims accepted. Many of them came from offshore detention and have friends still there. They want a fair process too. Ten days ago, I was part of a group of at least fifty people who walked around Lake Wendouree in support of a welcoming Australia. There were all sorts of Ballarat people there. I am not alone in wanting to free the refugees from the camps and process them in a more humane way.
Abbott and his ilk may have used the Bible and his Catholic faith to push for the deterrence model. I, as well as many other Catholics in my community, are ashamed of this. We want a better, more humane solution.
Say no to inhumane offshore detention.
If you don’t – though I hate to make this about politics rather than people – then I’m afraid you have no chance of regaining my primary vote.
Yours in hope,
Clare Keogh

An alternative to offshore detention – WRITTEN BY JULIAN BURNSIDE

by winstonclose


by | Nov 4, 2015 | Asylum Seekers, Human Rights | 0 comments

The  present system of dealing with asylum seekers who arrive by boat is cruel (intentionally) and hideously expensive.  There is a rational alternative to the  intentional cruelty of the present system. That system reflects the attempts of both major parties at the last election to outdo each other in their promises to mistreat a particular group of human beings.

And it’s expensive.  The current system costs between $4 billion and $5 billion a year.  That’s a big number: think of it as one million Geelong chopper rides each year!

Australia’s treatment of boat people needs a radical re-think.  It is shameful that we are now trying to treat asylum seekers so harshly that they will be deterred from seeking our help at all.  It is shameful that this deliberate mistreatment of asylum seekers has been “justified” by describing them falsely as “illegal”, when in fact they commit no offence by coming here and asking for protection.  It is shameful that the deliberate Coalition lies about asylum seekers have not been roundly condemned by the Labor party.  It is shameful that, out of an alleged concern about asylum seekers drowning in their attempt to reach safety, we punish them if they don’t drown.

There are better ways of responding to asylum seekers.  If I could re-design the system, I would choose between two possible models.

A Regional solution

Boat-arrivals would be detained initially, but for a maximum of one month, to allow preliminary health and security checks.  That detention would be subject to extension, but only if a court was persuaded that a particular individual should be detained longer.

After that period of initial detention, boat arrivals would be released into the community on an interim visa with a number of conditions that would apply until the person’s refugee status was decided:

•  they would be required to report regularly to a Centrelink office or a post office,  to make sure they remained available for the balance of the process;

•  they would be allowed to work;

•  they would be entitled to Centrelink and Medicare benefits;

•  they would be required to live in a specified rural town or regional city.

A system like this would have a number of benefits. First, it would avoid the harm presently inflicted on refugees held in detention.  Prolonged detention with an unknown release date is highly toxic: experience over the past 15 years provides plenty of evidence of this.

Second, any government benefits paid to refugees would be spent on accommodation, food and clothing in country towns.  There are plenty of towns in country areas which would welcome an increase in their population and a boost to their local economy.  According to the National Farmers Federation, there are more than 90,000 unfilled jobs in rural areas.  It is likely that adult male asylum seekers would look for work, and would find it.

However, even if every boat person stayed on full Centrelink benefits for the whole time it took to decide their refugee status, it would cost the Government only about $500,000 a year, all of which would go into the economy of country towns.  By contrast, the current system costs between $4 billion and $5 billion a year.  We would save billions of dollars a year, and we would be doing good rather than harm.

A variant of this would be to require asylum seekers to live in Tasmania instead of regional towns.  As a sweetener, and to overcome any lingering resistance, the Federal Government would pay on billion dollars a year to the Tasmanian government to help with the necessary social adjustments. It would be a great and needed boost for the Tasmanian economy, and Australia would still be billions of dollars better off.

Genuine regional processing  

Another possibility is to process protection claims while people are in Indonesia.  Those who are assessed as refugees would be resettled, in Australia or elsewhere, in the order in which they have been accepted as refugees.  On assessment, people would be told that they will be resettled safely within (say) two or three months.  Provided the process was demonstrably fair, the incentive to get on a boat would disappear instantly.

At present, people assessed by the UNHCR in Indonesia face a wait of 10 or 20 years before they have a prospect of being resettled.  During that time, they are not allowed to work, and can’t send their kids to school. No wonder they chance their luck by getting on a boat.

Genuine offshore processing, with a guarantee of swift resettlement, was the means by which the Fraser government managed to bring about 80,000 Vietnamese boat people to Australia in the late 1970s.  It worked, but it was crucially different from the manner of offshore processing presently supported by both major parties.  In addition, other countries also resettled some of the refugees processed in this way.  It is likely that Australians would be more receptive to this approach if they thought other countries were contributing to the effort.

A solution along these lines would face some practical problems.  At present, the end-point for refugees who reach Australia via Indonesia is a dangerous boat trip.  You have to be fairly desperate to risk the voyage, which probably explains why such a high percentage of boat people are ultimately assessed as genuine refugees: over the past 15 years, about 90% of boat people have been assessed, by Australia, as refugees lawfully entitled to our protection.  If the end-point is less dangerous, it is obvious that a number of people will set out who are not genuine refugees.  That would cause a problem for Indonesia, and Australia would have to help Indonesia deal with that problem.  But since our current system is costing about $5 billion a year, we can probably work out some arrangement with Indonesia which suits them and us.

There is another problem.  Because we have been indelicate in our relations with Indonesia in recent years, the Indonesian government may not be receptive to an approach like this.  Their reluctance may be softened if Malaysia was also recruited for a similar role.

Both of these solutions have these features in common: they are effective, humane, and far less expensive than our present approach.  But more than that: they reflect the essential decency of Australians – something which has been tarnished and degraded by our behaviour over the past 13 years.

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