The refugee debate, Malcolm Turnbull's sad intrusion

Malcolm Turnbull’s intrusion into the refugee debate (20/5) makes for sad reading. Turnbull writes “there is nothing generous about policies that lead families to drown at sea.” In April 2014 10,567 asylum seekers and refugees were registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees ( UNHCR ) in Indonesia.

Successive Australian governments have failed to consider alternative ways of stopping people losing their lives at sea, such as by providing a prompt assessment by the UNHCR in Indonesia and similar transit counties, and then transport to countries such as Australia for resettlement This has been suggested by many refugee advocates

 In February 2016 the Greek islands coped with 2000 asylum seeker arrivals per day. If Australia could manage to process and take in 2000 asylum seekers per month then we could accommodate these 10,567 asylum seekers in under 6 months. But as one asylum seeker put it, processing is done at the speed of a turtle.

 And instead of taking action to expedite the processing, Scott Morrison has ruled that asylum seekers who registered with the UNHCR in Indonesia from  July 2014 are no longer eligible for resettlement in Australia.

 Asylum seekers languishing in Indonesia, unable to work or send their children to school, have declared that by getting on a boat all they are risking is their bodies, not their lives because their lives have already been lost. Turnbull boasts that we are able to increase our annual refugee intake from 13,750 up to 18,750 by 2019. But consider the case of Germany which last year took in 1.25 million asylum seekers or 1.5% of their population of 80 million. If Australia took in 1.5% of its population of 24 million that would amount to 360,000.

Or consider the case of Lebanon which, with a population of 4.5 million, has just over 1 million refugees and asylum seekers.

 Turnbull writes “these settlement services are costly.” Well, consider the cost of offshore detention. Detaining a single asylum seeker on Manus or Nauru costs $400,000 per year and the total cost to taxpayers exceeded $1 billion in the 2014-15 financial year. Close Manus and Nauru detention centres and the savings could be used to increase our refugee intake.

 But cost is not the only reason why the Manus and Nauru detention centres should be closed. These offshore detention centres are factories producing cruelty. There have been deaths from murder, from failure to take urgent steps to treat serious medical conditions and from people setting themselves alight such is their despair at being detained for 3 years with no end in sight.

 No business in abuse

Ferrovial, the company which currently runs the detention centres on Manus and Nauru, has been under intense pressure, including from investors, to divest itself from these detention centres. One financier spoken to  said any business association with the offshore camps and their gross human rights violations would be a commercial disaster. As a result of this pressure, Ferrovial has stated that it is planning to walk away from Manus and Nauru.  Advocates are keeping up the pressure on Ferrovial to expedite their departure plans.

 Robin Rothfield

National Co-convener

Labor for Refugees

31 May 2016

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