30 November 2012

Paris Aristotle on asylum policy

If it were not already obvious that any similarity between the Government's approach to asylum seekers and the recommendations of the Houston Panel is entirely coincidental, the op-ed by Paris Aristotle published in the Tuesday edition of The Age should put the matter beyond doubt.

While I don’t like the Houston Panel’s solution, it is much better than the approach the Government has taken since the Panel reported; whereas the Panel was at pains to emphasise the integrated nature of its recommendations, the Government has simply picked up the nasty bits, proceeded with indecent haste to fling people in the direction of Nauru, and done little if anything about the main body of the recommendations.

The key paragraphs of Aristotle’s piece are:

The panel presented an integrated package of 22 recommendations knowing it would take time to implement them and have the desired effect. The report's most important components were measures to establish an effective regional processing and protection framework that would build a safer system. Increasing the humanitarian program to 20,000 places immediately and to 27,000 over the next five years, adding 4000 places to the family migration stream and $70 million dollars to improve regional processing underpins these measures.

However, there were also strong measures designed, not to punish, but to discourage people risking their lives while a better system is created. They included reintroducing processing on Nauru and Manus Island; building on and implementing the ''Malaysia Arrangement'' and increased co-operation with Indonesia.

To mitigate the associated risks the panel recommended safeguards. They include no arbitrary detention, appropriate accommodation, legal assistance and merits review, an oversight group and services such as health, mental health, education and vocational training. To date not all of these measures have been implemented, particularly in terms of appropriate accommodation and the processing of claims. They are designed to ensure processes comply with our convention obligations. Both Australia and Nauru are signatories to the convention and therefore should implement these measures without delay.

On the Minister for Immigration’s draconian announcement last week he says:

The announcements last week to disallow asylum seekers work rights and timely access to family reunion, even after they have been found to be a refugee, were not recommendations of the panel. The minister on Monday clarified that these measures were not associated with the panel recommendations. I welcome his commitment to work further on this with community groups and his advisory committee in the coming months.

The measures are highly problematic because they are a punitive form of deterrence in response to a specific and new phenomenon in people smuggling from Sri Lanka that the government believes is for economic reasons as opposed refugee protection. This is best established by properly and quickly processing their claims. Those that are refugees should be protected and those who are not can be returned.

He also has some news for the Coalition:

The coalition's proposal to slash the humanitarian quota back to 13,750 places and reintroduce temporary protection visas also makes little sense. These measures offer little in terms of a longer-term regional response.

Read Paris Aristotle’s article in full here.

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