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Reality and rhetoric: Australia’s response to refugees and asylum seekers Paul Power CEO, Refugee Council of Australia Christians for an Ethical Society.

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Presentation on theme: "Reality and rhetoric: Australia’s response to refugees and asylum seekers Paul Power CEO, Refugee Council of Australia Christians for an Ethical Society."— Presentation transcript:

1 Reality and rhetoric: Australia’s response to refugees and asylum seekers Paul Power CEO, Refugee Council of Australia Christians for an Ethical Society 12 May 2010

2 What would Jesus do? – Tony Abbott Well, Jesus wouldn’t have put his hand up to lead the Liberal Party, I suspect. Or the Labor Party, for that matter … Don’t forget Jesus drove the traders from the temple as well … The point is.....Jesus didn’t say yes to everyone. I mean Jesus knew that there was a place for everything and it is not necessarily everyone’s place to come to Australia … Jesus was the best man who ever lived but that doesn’t mean that he said yes to everyone, that he was permissive to everything, and this idea that Jesus would say to every person who wanted to come to Australia, “Fine”, the door is open, I just don’t think is necessarily right. But let’s not verbal Jesus. I mean, he’s not here to defend himself. ABC-TV Q&A, 4 April 2010

3 What would Jesus do? - Kevin Rudd (2006) Another great challenge of our age is asylum seekers. The biblical injunction to care for the stranger in our midst is clear. The parable of the Good Samaritan is but one of many which deal with the matter of how we should respond to a vulnerable stranger in our midst …. We should never forget that the reason we have a UN convention on the protection of refugees is in large part because of the horror of the Holocaust, when the West (including Australia) turned its back on the Jewish people of Germany and the other occupied countries of Europe who sought asylum during the '30s. The Monthly, October 2006

4 Convention definition of a refugee To be a refugee: A person has to be outside his/her country of origin The reason for flight has to be a fear of persecution This fear of persecution has to be well founded The persecution has to result from one or more of five grounds – race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion The person has to be unwilling or unable to seek the protection of their country

5 How refugees enter Australia Asylum process (Onshore Protection Program) Australia’s commitment to Refugee Convention process Different treatment for asylum seekers who arrive with some form of temporary visa and those who don’t (mandatory detention, boat arrivals denied access to courts) Linked numerically to Special Humanitarian Program (7750 places p.a) Resettlement process (Offshore Refugee and Humanitarian Program) Voluntary sharing of responsibility with countries receiving much larger numbers of refugees Refugee Program – resettlement process coordinated with UNHCR (6000 places p.a.) Special Humanitarian Program – those in need of resettlement nominated by Australian residents (7750 places p.a. shared with Onshore Protection Program)

6 Australia’s global role in 2008 Australia’s share of global responsibility for refugees in 2008: 0.4% of the world’s asylum applications (4771 out of 1,203,140) 0.3% of the asylum seekers recognised as refugees (1845 out of 557,809) 12.4% of the refugees resettled (11,006 out of 88,800) Of the world’s 15.2 million refugees, 0.6% were resettled in At that rate, it would take 171 years to resettle those currently refugees.

7 Changes in refugee policy 1992 – Mandatory detention and detention debts introduced 1994 – No time limit on mandatory detention 1996 – Refugee program set at 12,000 places, offshore and onshore programs linked 1997 – Work rights, Medicare denied to asylum seekers who apply after 45 days 1999 – Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) introduced 2001 – Excision policy and offshore processing 2004 – Refugee program increased to 13,000 places – Limited changes to TPV system 2005 – Children out of detention centres – Start of improvements to detention system 2006 – Community Care Pilot begins 2007 – Citizenship test introduced

8 Rudd Government’s changes Nauru and Manus detention centres closed Temporary Protection Visas abolished Merits appointments to Refugee Review Tribunal Abolished ’45 day rule’ for work rights, Medicare Turned Community Care Pilot into ongoing program Abolition of detention debts Introduced ‘New Directions in Detention’ values statement (enacting legislation delayed) Proposed system of ‘complementary protection’ to cover protection needs under other human rights treaties (legislation on hold)

9 A shift in rhetoric and policy 2009 – A shift in rhetoric April – Fatal fire on asylum seeker boat - People smugglers “vilest form of human life” Oct – Interception of 255 Sri Lankans on Jaya Lestari 5 - Start of ‘Oceanic Viking’ saga - Australian policy “tough but humane” 2010 – A shift in policy - Tougher anti people smuggling legislation introduced - Suspension of asylum applications for Sri Lankans and Afghans - Announcement of reopening of Curtin detention centre

10 What the Opposition is saying Every boat arrival is a policy failure Turn back the boats Introduce temporary protection for all refugees recognised in Australia Asylum seekers on boats are illegal immigrants If I rocked up at Los Angeles without a visa, without papers, the Americans would give me very short shrift indeed and they would say ‘Mate, you’re illegal’. Simple as that. – Tony Abbott, 30 April Millions of asylum seekers could come to Australia If global conditions worsened, millions might at least be tempted to swap their current existence for the opportunities of a new life in Australia. – Tony Abbott, 4 May

11 Public opinion in Australia Morgan poll, March and April 3-4, 2010 Please say whether you support or oppose (Muslim / Asylum seeker/ Skilled migrant/ Family reunion) immigration? Should asylum seekers arriving by boat be allowed to apply for immigration as now, or should they all be returned and told to apply through normal refugee channels?

12 Refugee realities in Asia 147 out of 194 states have signed Refugee Convention or its Protocol (76%) Of 47 non-signatories, 26 are in Asia-Pacific and 10 in Middle East Only 4 out of 19 countries in South and South-East Asia have signed Convention - Afghanistan, Cambodia, Timor Leste, Philippines South and South-East Asia has 6.7 million people who are refugees, asylum seekers or stateless. Too many lack safety, legal status, right to work, access to education. Non-signatories marked in grey

13 What RCOA is proposing Reverse policies which create additional harm to already damaged people, especially indefinite detention in desert detention camps; Prompt and fair assessment of applications for refugee status, with no discrimination on the mode of arrival; Staged expansion of Australia’s offshore refugee resettlement program over five years to 20,000 places; A positive vision for Australia’s support for refugees and of how Australia has benefited from the energy and enterprise of 750,000 refugees since Federation; A positive strategy for Australia’s international cooperation on refugee protection – based on aid and development programs, inter-government cooperation on refugee determination, brokering resettlement options.


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