Late to the debate due to marking hell, but a couple of observations:
The first relates to the distribution of the countries which have signed the UN refugee conventions:
It is striking that South Asia, and south-east Asia, make up the overwhelming majority of the countries that have not signed the convention. I don’t know why this is historically the case, but given the increasing wealth of many of the countries in the region it would seem that at some point this should change.
That, however, is an issue for the future. The issue for the present is TEH BOATS, and the disgusting farce that was the parliamentary debate in the wake of the most recent tragedy.
If we wanted to, we could stop people dying in boats coming from Indonesia tomorrow. Bass Strait is a treacherous body of water in bad weather, but people aren’t drowning in their hundreds on the Spirit of Tasmania. The only reason that people are drowning is because we have made “people smuggling” – that is, assisting people to assert their legal right to seek asylum – illegal. We could legalize the ferry operations tomorrow. But we don’t, because we collectively want to evade our responsibilities under the refugee convention.
So, we are offered a choice from the two major parties. Aside from the nonsensical policy of “turning back the boats” (does Tony Abbott seriously want to encourage asylum seekers to burn or scuttle their boats?) the Tories want to stick people on the island gulag of Nauru for some indefinite period to scare others from coming. Aside from being outrageously cruel, the clear evidence is that this won’t work, because asylum-seekers are prepared to put up with years of cruelty to get a safe haven in Australia. Labor wants to “turn back the boats” in a slightly more sophisticated fashion, by carting off asylum-seekers to Malaysia, a country in which they have no legal protection and as such is skirting dangerously close to “refoulment”.
But let’s imagine either of these strategies work and future asylum-seekers are deterred. What is the net result of this? Simple. People who are sufficiently desperate that at present they believe their best option is to get on a leaky boat to Australia, an option which presents a substantial risk of drowning at sea, will have to choose something else. That’s right – we are condemning them to something they think is worse.
Now, it may well be that a majority of Australians don’t care, they just want asylum seekers to be somebody else’s problem. But Australia’s major party politicians can take their teary parliamentary speeches about their concern for the fate of asylum seekers and shove them up their disingenuous arses.