Some belated thoughts on the asylum-seeker “debate”

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:

Parties to the 1949 UN Refugee Convention (green), and the 1967 Protocol making it global (yellow for those parties that only joined the protocol)

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.

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4 Responses to Some belated thoughts on the asylum-seeker “debate”

  1. Interesting take.

    I can’t figure out my opinion on this. The issue is beyond murky.

    Are there any countries that have legalised these operations or dealt with this kind of problem successfully?

    I remember from my stint in Spain that it’s a problem for them even despite the presence of legal ferries from Morroco

  2. Iain Hall says:

    Just how many should we take?
    please drop the nonsense about our obligations for a minute and think about what sort of country we would become with open borders and then tell us where we should draw the line. please.

    • “International obligations” are not nonsense.

      When we signed up for the Refugee Convention, we promised to open our borders to any genuine refugee. Whether you like it or not, that is the current situation however much we try to fudge.

      If we don’t mean it, our politicians should at least be honest and propose to renounce the convention.

      As for the effect on our society, we have – what is it – 180,000 net immigrants coming here every year.

      • Iain Hall says:

        Robert the issue turns on just how we tell the difference between an economic migrant and a “refugee” doesn’t it? While we have signed up for the former do you think it obliges us to take an unlimited number of the later?
        As for the convention I think that it has past its use by date in age of mass migration on the pretext of seeking refuge.

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