Report critical of Australia’s asylum regime
Australia’s refugee and asylum seeker policies are a ‘schizophrenic’ mix of progressive, world-leading programs and harsh policy aimed at deterrence, a new report claims.
The Refugee Council of Australia’s State of the Nation report says that while Australia’s refugee resettlement effort is world’s best practice, the nation’s asylum seeker policies are the world’s worst.
It claims the federal government has wasted billions of dollars in detaining people on Nauru and Manus Island, caused great damage to many thousands of people and seen Australia condemned by the international community over “brutal” policies on asylum.
It is also critical of Australia’s temporary protection visa regime, which is says leaves refugees and people seeking asylum in ‘limbo’.
“People going through the ‘fast track’ process, even if formally recognised as refugees, will never truly be able to call Australia home. This is because, for anyone whose claims for protection had not been finalised by 2014, new laws meant that they could no longer get a permanent visa,” the report says.
“The only option was for people to get a temporary visa – either a visa for three years (a temporary protection visa or TPV), or a visa for five years (a Safe Haven Enterprise Visa or SHEV),” it says.
The report says other issues for refugees and people seeking asylum attempting to settle in Australia include the separation of families, lack of support for people with disabilities or mental illness, difficulty learning English and struggling to get a job.
“Australia’s policies towards resettling refugees from overseas lead the world. Yet its policies towards people seeking asylum, especially those who come by boat, are among the world’s worst,” the report says.
“Australia, alone in the world, sends people seeking asylum by boat to tiny islands with threats they will never be able to seek safety in Australia. Australia is one of the few countries in the world that locks people up indefinitely,” it says.
“Australia forces people into destitution. Australia leaves people in limbo. Australia forces people seeking asylum to go through a fundamentally unfair process to claim protection, without any real legal help.
“Even if people get protection, they only get it for a few years before they have to start over again, meaning they can never really start to plan their lives, their future and can never really become Australian.
“Australia’s current policies are causing enormous harm, both physical and mental, to tens of thousands of people,” the report says.
The refugee council’s report also claims government policy is damaging the nation and the Australia people.
“Australia’s current policies are also causing harm to the Australian public: they undermine our liberal principles; they encourage racism and hostility; they undermine social cohesion and trust; they create an underclass of vulnerable people, and possibly a generation of people who are locked out of Australian society,” it says.
“This is a generation that could bring so much to Australia but we are at real risk of losing them. In so doing, we risk losing our own understanding of what it is to be an Australian, to be part of a country that celebrates multiculturalism and is strengthened by its diversity,” the report says.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton have both argued that it is only by securing the nation’s borders that Australia can offer such a generous refugee resettlement program.
Mr Turnbull has argued that the best way for a country to secure support for a multicultural society is to get control of its borders.
In a recent address to a think tank in Germany, the Prime Minister said strong borders were a “fundamental foundation” for the success of a multicultural society like Australia.
Addressing the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Mr Turnbull said Australia was the world’s most successful multicultural society.
But it had been based on a strong line towards those who sought to come to Australia illegally.
“We manage our immigration program very carefully, we go to great lengths to ensure that when people come to Australia, particularly through the humanitarian program as refugees, that they are settled,” he said.
“So the settlement services have always been a very big part of our immigration program.
“Migration programs in a multicultural society need to have a commitment and an understanding, a trust of the people that the government, that their government is determining who comes to the country so being in control of your borders is absolutely critical.
“I think that is a fundamental foundation of our success as a multicultural society, as a migration nation … you have to be able to exert your sovereign right to control your own borders,” Mr Turnbull said.
AMES Australia Senior Journalist