For $8,000 you can bypass refugee camp migration queues & national migration criteria
|For my American audience, this question may seem a somewhat arcane and remote antipodean dustup. Your border problems are more difficult and larger than ours because you have a long and very porous southern land frontier. And the politics are different in many ways. But there are enough similarities for many of the arguments to sound familiar to you. And you will not be surprised to hear that they are as vexacious here as I know they are stateside. You will note that this critique is aimed at a left wing readership; right at them. Read on...
For me, the touchstone for any policy, let alone one for asylum seekers, is its sustainability for the long term. And in large measure, that is determined by the capacity for a disciplined global overview that takes account of all the foreseeable variables and risk vectors. So on the whole, empathy, at least by itself, risks the production of poor policy making, indulgent behavior and gratuitous sentimentalizing.
This is made a more urgent problem because our slightly left-of-centre humanitarians, who are most vocal on behalf of asylum seekers, tend not to be able to tell the difference between compassion and an uncritical soft touch, discipline and repression, or toughness and abuse. It is all the same to them, even when it isn’t. And just like the paranoid anti communists of the 1950s, who could see a red under every bed, this lot see a racist instead.
What they may really mean is the ordinary exercise of critical inter-social group judgment. They designate this as ‘judgmental’, ‘bigoted’, ‘prejudiced’ or ‘stereotyping’, which it sometimes is, despite these propaganda labels themselves being thoroughly deadbeat clichés that save on the need for real analysis. However, only the people they disapprove of suffer from these heinous ‘conditions’; those people that do not share the sunny assumptions they make about their adopted causes célèbre. Naturally, they never own to these vices themselves because they have the intellectual and moral conceit to imagine that they have a lockdown on being objective, rational and high minded.
Marx, Engels and Lenin would probably have referred to this group’s ideological thinking as a petit-bourgeois infantile disorder that had wandered off from class analysis to a dialectical caricature running from ‘poor thingism’ into ‘naughty unfairism’ through to a habitual conflation of wants and needs into sacred rights; a conflation that very neatly turns ‘progressive’ liberalism into a consumer ideology and an instrument of consumer capitalism.
It is easy to feel morally overwhelmed by the scale of suffering in our world. It is easy to feel guilty about living in a very privileged and comfortable corner of it. And there is a certain logic in wanting to make the world a better place by sharing our good fortune liberally with the not so fortunate. But that decent philanthropic instinct becomes an infantile disorder if it adopts childish and simplistic understandings of cause and effect, which in the multifactorial and sometimes paradoxical adult world are often contradictory, perverse and much less tidy and clear than the childlike cartoon would allow.
If all you can see are poor things who are the victims of unfairnesses, you have missed most of the picture, like children do, who have yet to see and understand more than fragments of what they observe. You disable the ability to judge the difference between 'fairness' and sectional interest, respect for rights and indulgence, critical discernment and 'discrimination’, judgment and ‘judgmentality', reasonable assumption and 'prejudice', legitimate social or ethnic characterization and 'stereotyping', compromise and being compromised, or just cause and excuse making.
When dealing with the issue of asylum seekers, it is obvious that they are desperate people, either because they have gambled their life savings and that of their extended family on crashing or crashing through our ordinary migration system and/or because life has become intolerable where they were living. They have made a rational assessment that going into camps adjacent to where they used to live, get processed by the UNHCR and wait, is for those that cannot afford otherwise. Or they have made the equally rational assessment that they have negligible chances of gaining access to Australia by the conventional channels as ordinary migrants.
If I were in their shoes, I would inevitably think like them and behave as they do. But I am not in their shoes and as a citizen of a host society, I have to consider not just our existing interests, not just the interests of those who can’t make it by boat, but also the interests of all the people that we do allow to settle and bring up their children here, who will become part of the melded (or not so melded) community that we will become.
Multiculturalism is not risk free. There are examples of inter-ethnic/religious relationship failure both now and in the recent past, that are so numerous, globally widespread and egregious, we would be irresponsible not to take account of them when determining immigration and asylum policy. We can make a mess of this and there are plenty out there who have and paid dearly for it.
The whole basis so far of our successful and evolving multicultural immigrant society is that the system of migration has been orderly and had the confidence of the overwhelming majority of the established population in the country. Preserving that happy state of affairs is an important element in maintaining its legitimacy. Responding to informal migration pressures in an ad hoc and laissez-faire fashion, by in effect taking all comers who arrive on our doorstep begging for asylum, will undermine that. This is particularly the case if that traffic is seen as an organized ‘trade’ run by people expert in the business of manipulating international asylum rules, our legal system and local constituencies, to bulldoze government and an orderly system of good governance.
Further, when I speak of an ‘orderly system’, I mean a containment system that holds asylum seekers in temporary accommodation outside their target destination, where they wait their turn for resettlement, not necessarily in a country of their choice. The last of the displaced persons camps established in Europe after WW2 did not finally close until 1957. And Jewish refugee boats trying to make land in Palestine were firmly sent back by the British authorities, despite vigorous flak coming from Zionist constituencies, propagandists like Leon Uris (‘Exodus’) and sympathizers who thought that the holocaust gave Jews a moral blank cheque drawable against anybody.
Some Indo-China war refugees stayed ten years in camps before they were resettled or repatriated back home. The main reason we saw Vietnamese boats coming into our waters was that the security forces in countries adjacent to Vietnam were shooting at them or towing them back out to sea. They didn’t care where they went as long as it wasn’t Vietnam. For them, the longer the sea journey, the riskier it became and the greater the hardships. Their problem was eventually solved by a broad regional encampment solution that separated them from local communities and allowed them to be gradually filtered out all over the world, as it could be done.
We have to have an orderly system because there are over forty million displaced at risk persons worldwide. We cannot possibly deal with that on a first come first serve basis. There are millions of people who have already been processed by UNHCR and who have been waiting in camps for many years. Most of those do not have the money to queue jump the system. If we give way to the moneyed asylum constituency, we not only further encourage that market and the operators who trade in it, but further marginalize the genuinely completely dispossessed. It sends a terrible message back to the refugee camps of first resort that their populations just have to somehow find the money, or rot. And it sends a terrible message to those who despair of ever making it to sunny Australia by applying through the normal channels.
Even if long time refugee camp denizens have been processed onto our waiting lists by Australian officials, every time an asylum boat comes into Australian waters, its occupants force their way in front of them. It is not as if the boat arrivals are any more desperate than the people who can’t pay the equivalent of a first class plane ride from Australia to the UK to get here. In fact many of them do fly into Indonesia and just use the boat for the Australian asylum leak ‘n sink pick up leg, ending somewhere near Ashmore reef, off the norhern Australian coast.
The injustice of that seems so self evident that it shouldn’t have to be raised. However, from an ordinary migration standpoint, people with the considerable means to pay their passage here are very likely more enterprising, commercially savvy, better educated, English speaking and likely to fare better here more quickly and at less long term cost to us, than their totally dispossessed poor peasant competitors. In that sense, they are very similar to Vietnamese boat wave who largely represented the late middle and upper middle class of the former Republic of South Vietnam.
If a sense of justice were not such an issue for me, smoothing the way of ‘boat people’ might be a conveniently beneficial way to fill up our refugee quota. The only trouble might be that we would rapidly lose control of the quota numbers.
And that is the rub. We as a society of just under 23 million people, are not big enough to solve the refugee problems of the world. Although our official migration number in 2010-11 was over 127,000, our net migration was 39,000. 14,000 refugees was a substantial proportion of that, and especially significant, as it is unlikely many of them will end up being returnees. The new 20,000 target will make it a much bigger one. There needs to be a balance between those who come here because they are the most suitable migrants and those who have been forced from their homes, but would unlikely qualify under normal migration criteria.
And part of achieving that balance well is ensuring that the refugee settlement programs are well funded and ongoing. Many refugees just do not have the skills to integrate into a modern society without a lot of help. The Australian economy simply doesn't have the capacity to absorb unskilled non/limited English speaking migrants in the way it once did when my Greek peasant in-laws came here in the early 1950s. For this latest wave of newcomers, Australia really can be a very alien place. Failure to provide that help adequately can be disastrous later. And right now, federal and state governments are cutting expenditures as they try to balance budgets in an increasingly challenging financial environment.
We need an orderly system that discourages the asylum traffic. It is all too easy to fudge asylum status and use it to cherry pick destinations, force a passage through the ordinary migration requirements, tie up significant immigration department resources in very expensive remote location bona fides checking of claims, that is difficult and time consuming, make extensive use of our appeal rich legal system at our expense if an application is rejected, stay in accommodation that by refugee camp standards is mostly palatial (or soon will be) while all this is going on, and then lash out because the system isn’t snappy enough with the service, garcon.
The fact that some of the applications have been ‘engineered’ to make investigation very difficult never comes out except incidentally, say if one happens to know an interpreter who deals with some of these people on a daily basis and understands what they say to each other in their own language. I do know someone and this interpreter reports that many of them think we are “idiot sucks” deserving only to be lied to, used and regarded with contempt.
And just to underline that, a 2006 Report by the Australian Human Rights Commission showed that of the 1509 Asylum Seekers sent to Nauru by that time, 32% were deemed not genuine refugees and sent home. And that doesn’t include the dubious ones who got the benefit of the doubt. The system is just so fudgable, the temptation to take advantage of it is almost overwhelming.
Even if the asylum claims are demonstrably bona fides ones, it is a hideously expensive way of taking in refugees and diverts resources from quality resettlement programs for already processed refugees elsewhere. It diverts resources out of our foreign aid budget that at very least ought to be going to support the desperately underfunded work of the UNHCR and Red Cross, at places nearest the points of refugee exit, where refugee/asylum processing ought to be done, because it is the least expensive and most efficacious point of first contact.
The much maligned and politically stymied ‘Malaysian solution’ was weighted so heavily in favor of the Malaysians (800 of our asylum seekers swapped for 4000 of their already processed refugees) because it reflected the relative costs as much as it was giving the Malaysians the opportunity to screw us. It was a good deal not only because it really would help stop the asylum traffic, but it would bring in a large number of refugees who could be processed into our community immediately and without any hassles, or the sort of controversy that plays into the hands of those who oppose multiculturalism. It feeds straight into their paranoia and the advocacy of drastic fixes that have an awful way of catching on, if it even vaguely looks like we are losing ground in the battle with this problem, which we are in danger of doing.
And the beauty of Malaysia as an asylum seeker diversion would be that there, the 'clients' wouldn’t even dream of abusing/attacking the guards or wrecking/burning down their accommodation, or going on hunger strikes. It wouldn’t even cross their minds as an option. Very nice. Respect.
Spare me the reproaches about some of their methods for enforcing it. They have an orderly society with firm parameters and moral compasses. We don’t. And what is more, they know it and not surprisingly, regard our social culture as decadent and degenerate. Ask any of them, when they don’t feel like being polite; especially the Malay Muslims.
We cannot take multiculturalism for granted. The well being of our children and grandchildren depends on it. The immigration system and multicultural funding and support are the centerpieces of this great experiment and we cannot afford to allow anything to compromise their work.
Uncritical humanitarianism, laissez-faire libertarianism and immigration policy are a dangerous mix that is just bound to come to grief, if for no other reason that their moral judgment has become so blurred.
To keep multiculturalism vibrant and safe, we have to keep the trust and confidence that maintains its legitimacy in the host community. We have to demonstrate to newcomers that we are prepared to be robust in defending this consensus; that we demand respect for the integrity of our institutions and recognition that they can’t be just brushed or bulldozed aside by the abuse of international asylum and human rights obligations; and that the newcomers have to recognize that inter-cultural compromise is a two way street and that most of us are not fools, dupes and unworthy of respect, even if there is an influential and vociferous minority here that might make the rest of us appear that way.
The reality is we all have an enormous stake in newcomers of any type succeeding in the migratory enterprise, like all the others that have come before them. But we also recognize that each new migratory wave produces new and greater challenges that must be overcome if we are to continue to be the Lucky Country. That is the main game, which is to settle them successfully with as little controversy as possible. The second rank business is to absorb as many refugees as we reasonably can, as a seamless part of our total migration stream. The 'poor thing' asylum business is really just a diversion from that, because it does not make any difference to our commitment to refugees in general. The fact that the asylum seeker issue has been blown up into the moral issue it has become is a measure of just how poor the moral and practical judgment of its sponsors and advocates has become.
Hard headed conservative pragmatism and steely resolve can be the difference between a benign evolution of our multi-cultural ideal and an invasion that eventually cantonizes us into ethnic and religious ghettos. Complacency about this is the last thing we need, as are good intentions that provide no defense against adverse outcomes for which there are numerous and very regrettable precedents.