Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) are rarely debated objectively. Most discussion particularly ignores that the principles underlying TPVs are sound and fully compliant with both the intention and processes of the 1951 Refugee Convention (and with the work of the UN High Commission for Refugees). While some aspects of TPV administration did fail during a previous use in the early 2000s these problems have now been fixed.
As with any informed debate about asylum-seeking and refugee matters, the Australia Defence Association notes that these are strategic policy issues with domestic ramifications, not vice versa.
They comprise just one part of our broader and longer-term strategic relationships with neighbouring countries and our broader region collectively.
They also involve moral aspects of strategic policy far broader than just domestic concerns or party politics.
Strategic policy context
The geo-strategic and geo-political background to Australia's strategic dilemmas concerning refugee flows and asylum-seeking are often not well understood across the Australian community.
Nor is Australia's unique strategic setting in such regards.
Apart from Cambodia, East Timor, Phillipines, PNG, Japan and New Zealand, no other country in our near or wider region is a Refugee Convention signatory or is even willing to sign and comply with the Convention.
Yemen, Afghanistan and Iran are ostensible signatories but not genuine ones. Turkey is not a signatory to the 1967 Protocol extending the 1951 Refugee Convention outside Europe.
Even Cambodia, East Timor, Phillipines and PNG are really nominal signatories, being either a source of refugees or not receiving many asylum claims.
With the exception of Israel, all other countries in the Middle-East and West, South and South-east Asia are not Convention signatories.
This large part of the world is also the source of most global refugee flows and nearly all of them in Australia's wider and near-region.
No other major and genuine Convention signatory in the world faces Australia's strategic setting in this regard.
Japan, for example, hosts very few refugees and resettles miniscule numbers of them.
In principle and practice, Australia and New Zealand are the only genuine Refugee Convention signatories across our near and wider region.
This means Australia – predominantly because geography means Australia shelters New Zealand from people-smuggling. Including the major flows of both genuine refugees and bogus asylum-seekers gaming the Refugee Convention to bypass our immigration processes.
New Zealand also resettles far fewer refugees than Australia, even on a per capita basis.
Australia has consequently become the main target for regional buck-passing generally, and people-smuggling in particular, rather than real and fair regional burdensharing being implemented.
This lack of a true regional solution is often ignored in Australian public debate and regional diplomatic statements generally.
"Regional processing" is often only discussed as a way of organising eventual entry to Australia (and sometimes New Zealand) alone.
Cultural and economic context
Australia is one of the very few countries with a longstanding record of permanently resettling refugees, rather than just providing the temporary refuge the Refugee Convention primarily intends.
As Australia is also a first-world democracy, and one of the few countries with a mass immigration program and associated culture, both our refugee resettlement record and our immigration program mean we attract a high rate of immigration fraud.
Most refugees in our region do not seek refuge in nearby Convention signatories, East Timor, Cambodia, Philippines and PNG. Nor do they tend to seek resettlement there.
The demand-pull effect of Australia as a favourable destination, especially for permanent resettlement, is generally absent from single-issue refugee advocacy.
Even though its effect is generally far greater than the real and purported push factors behind refugee flows.
Law enforcement context
Would-be immigrants unable to meet our immigration program requirements (education, age, health, skills, employability, sponsorship, security checks, etc) are increasingly tempted to bypass them by posing as asylum-seekers.
Especially when problems with deporting them, even when their asylum claim is found to be bogus, means many – and often most – get to stay in Australia anyway.
This risk of immigration fraud, and its effect on the asylum-seeking and people-smuggling problems, is largely ignored, downplayed or obfuscated in much single-issue refugee advocacy.
Even though this generally results in harming the cause of those refugees most at risk and unable to seek refuge in Australia (or anywhere else).
Asylum and refugee matters also integrally involve Australia's practical support for international law and the strategic settings needed to support such law effectively. Including the Refugee Convention.
Need to maximise sovereign control
Finally, disputes about refugee and asylum policy are also rarely over Australia's responsibility to provide refuge or even the numbers of refugees to be given sanctuary in practice.
To the contrary, our notable record of refugee resettlement since World War II and opinion-poll trends over decades consistently show most Australians are compassionate about refugees but consider our national compassion needs to be focused using three principles:
- It is impossible for Australia to shelter and particularly resettle all the world’s refugees — and even all those in our region — so some focusing of our compassion using prioritisation and equity must be applied in practice.
- Our refugee intake, including any increases, should largely not occur (or occur at all) by means outside reasonable Australian control (including the ability to deport asylum-seekers who do not qualify as genuine refugees).
- Those who lack the means to get to Australia and claim asylum should not be disadvantaged by those who can, especially where those who cannot are often more deserving of temporary sanctuary or permanent resettlement.
Informed public debate, and sustainable public policy, therefore need to blend compassion with the exercise of priorities, equity and control as necessary principles.
Principles and practice underlying TPVs
The principle of employing TPVs is sound both practically and morally.
This applies to both the national security requirements and across the broad range of public viewpoints concerning the necessary balance between community diversity and the national unity required to support our national security and sovereignty.
Just as importantly, but generally ignored, the granting of protection to refugees using TPVs is also totally in accordance with our national obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention and, even more importantly, the practical implementation of such obligations.
Indeed, the use of TPVs actually strengthens the Convention and helps sustain public support for both it and for Australia's mass immigration and community diversity programs in general.
What went wrong with TPVs in the early 2000s was purely to do with some aspects of their administration. Such as limitations on the right to work and a near-total ban on family reunions for such visa-holders.
The latter restriction actually served to encourage people smuggling, and other illegal practices, both in Australia and overseas.
Particularly by focusing emphasis on unauthorised entry to Australia by boat — or through authorised means of travel using false documents — as the only apparent methods of speedily reuniting families where one or more members were already in Australia.
While some types of bridging and humanitarian concern visa can resemble them in many aspects, the unequivocal use of actual TPVs sends a clear message of Australia's resolution to defeat people-smuggling, immigration fraud and other Refugee Convention abuses.
The use of TPVs bolsters the Convention internationally as well as declaring that Australia is not denying or evading our obligations as a longtime signatory.
Much, probably most, public discussion of asylum-seeking and refugee is skewed because many disputants on all sides incorrectly assume such matters are wholly or chiefly domestic policy matters and largely social policy ones at that.
Informed debate about TPVs instead needs to consider all the strategic setting, cultural setting, law enforcement, national security, legal, community confidence and other national public policy contexts applying.
Much single-issue refugee advocacy also tends to discuss international law selectively.
Particularly when it conflates any Convention signatory's responsibility to offer genuine refugees temporary sanctuary, to whatever degree, with Australia's internationally rare, particularly distinguished and long record for also offering confirmed refugees permanent resettlement.
Due to mass immigration being a longstanding part of Australia's culture, single-issue refugee advocacy is also prone to exploit community misperceptions.
Particularly that our Refugee Convention obligations somehow mean that every refugee is somehow entitled to permanent resettlement and then citizenship, as if they were immigrants, rather than the temporary refuge obligation that is the principal intention of the Convention and what it actually requires of Australia.
The more polemical single-issue refugee advocates are especially prone to proffering "apples and oranges" comparisons between the numbers of asylum seekers or refugees being temporarily hosted or protected in other countries at any one time, with the numbers that have or are actually being permanently protected by being resettled in Australia (as our sovereign choice as a country).
Whether this conflated misuse of responsibilities and records, and evasive employment of confusing comparisons of numbers, are deliberate or not seems to depend on the intensity of the polemical approach involved.
Whether deliberate or accidental it results in misconceptions that seriously hamper informed public debate.
In regard to the use of TPVs, some single-issue refugee advocacy claims that being granted entry to Australia on a TPV (rather than a permanent visa) adds a degree of unnecessary stress to all such visa-holders.
This is a subjective judgement as the perceived degree of stress, and its causes beyond a TPV itself, must vary widely in any case and can only be appropriately and effectively considered on a case-by-case basis.
Even if or where any stress might occur in individual cases, any conditional limitation on Australian sanctuary that a TPV enables always needs to be balanced against its public policy necessity in the wider national interest.
Just as individual needs and rights generally are continually balanced with the national interest in many other areas of community inter-action and citizenship for all Australians (and with our immigration program generally).
The ten advantages of TPVs
Protecting asylum seekers and confirmed refugees by providing sanctuary through a system of TPVs has ten significant advantages:
Strengthens the international position of the Refugee Convention
- TPVs strengthen the Refugee Convention internationally by removing real and perceived barriers to accession by countries still avoiding a responsibility to protect or otherwise deal humanely with refugees.
- This is particularly relevant to Australia's situation because, disproportionately, so many of these non-signatory countries are in our near and wider regions.
TPVs demonstrate internationally that refugees can be successfully and safely hosted on the temporary basis that underwites the legal, practical and moral foundations of the Refugee Convention.
This also helps remove hostile international perceptions and objections to much-needed reform, modernisation and wider burden-sharing of the Convention and its responsibilities.
- Restores the integrity of the Refugee Convention
- TPVs help restore Convention integrity by emphasising one of its key aims — encouraging concerted international, and especially regional, action under the UN Charter to resolve crises or end conflicts in afflicted countries and regions so as to directly prevent the creation of refugees or the prolongation of their plight in the first place.
- As a key principle, the Convention has always sought to facilitate the safe and swift return home of refugees and to help them rebuild their lives and their civil society.
- Rather than these outcomes be denied them — and the people affected instead becoming long-term or even permanent refugees, subject to the perpetual hazards and miseries of long-term or permanent refugee camps (or worse).
- Particularly for the majority of refugees unable to escape such a predicament through lacking the financial, educational or other resources needed for international travel outside their region.
- Unfortunately this key first-principles aim of the Convention is now ignored, resulting in long-term refugee situations.
- International action now mainly focuses on treating the symptom (the refugees as victims) rather than also tackling the cause (the oppression or conflict creating them).
- Globalisation of information and travel now excacerbates this problem. Chiefly because it often enables regional neighbours of a conflict to pass on refugees, rather than resolve their situation directly and permanently by collectively ending the conflict locally.
- TPVs also encourage those most qualified to rebuild their country's civil society — particularly the educated middle and upper social strata — to take up their community responsibilities to return and lead such rebuilding.
- Rather than them choosing to resettle elsewhere permanently. Thereby often prolonging and worsening the refugee situation of those of their community left behind. Especially those who are less educated, poorer or otherwise unable to resource travel elsewhere.
- This now often means those least qualified or equipped for the rebuilding of their civil society are abandoned to face the hazards and difficulties of the task alone.
- Does not neglect or abandon the rights and needs of genuine refugees overseas
- An up-front system of TPVs reassures genuine refugees living for long periods in overseas refugee camps that they will be treated fairly and equitably by Australia.
- This especially applies to our provision of humanitarian visas for sanctuary and, more importantly, actual permanent resettlement and future life as Australians when no other option is viable for them.
- Preserving such equity is particularly important in comparison to the overall minority of asylum claimants able to bypass UNHCR and Australian immigration processes — and become a majority of asylum claimants in Australia — only because they can (unfairly or not in individual cases) resource authorised or unauthorised travel to Australia in order to lodge an onshore claim for asylum.
- Separates Australia's national responsibility to protect from an individual's personal desire for an immigration outcome
- TPVs mean immigration fraud is deterred and negated by clearly separating an immigration outcome from a need for political asylum or other protection.
- The issue of deterring or combatting immigration fraud is invariably ignored or obfuscated by those seeking to criticise TPVs.
- Directly targets the core attraction of the people-smuggler business model
- TPVs directly target the core attraction of the people-smuggler business model — permanent resettlement in Australia as a first-world country through bypassing immigration or humanitarian visa processes.
- This market outcome is weakened or removed by the institution of TPVs, without affecting the right to claim asylum by anyone or diluting our national responsibility to provide relevant protection.
- Restores public confidence in our national ability to control potentially wayward asylum seekers
- Public confidence is restored or strengthened by TPVs because they enable effective management of any security risks and long-term community harmony.
- Especially concerning the willingness, or not, among authorised and unauthorised arrivals to accept residence or potential citizenship obligations.
- TPVs enable Australia to add additional control measures or incentives as necessary or, in extreme situations, cancel the protection as allowed by the Refugee Convention on national security grounds.
- Combats criminal conspiracies within Australia
- TPVs help combat growing criminal conspiracies within Australia aimed at achieving permanent residence, and consequently Australian citizenship, by those illegally avoiding our immigration processes through concocting bogus claims for asylum.
- That some within Australia might be desperate to reunite with family members, seek to help ethnic compatriots overseas or disagree with Australian law as political activists, is no excuse to break Australian law or disregard their other reciprocal community and citizenship obligations in Australia.
- Furthermore, even without criminal acts being involved by those tolerating such behaviour, public confidence in the integrity of our immigration and community diversity programs is needlessly undermined by such activities. TPVs help prevent this.
- Combats public scepticism about the need to provide asylum to genuine refugees
- TPVs help negate public scepticism about the necessity and responsibility for Australia, and Australians, to provide asylum to genuine refugees.
- Not least because TPVs reassure the public that an automatic immigration outcome or the high risk of immigration fraud is reduced and often precluded.
- Combats public scepticism about refugees generally
- An up-front system of TPVs directly combats public scepticism about whether asylum seekers are genuine, or not, by emphasising their status and rights as potential or actual refugees.
- Rather than bolster community perceptions that many asylum claims are bogus. Or otherwise undeserved in comparison to genuine refugees marooned overseas in countries that are not Convention signatories.
- TPVs also combat community disharmony due to public scepticism about whether those who have already successfully claimed asylum might have obtained permanent residence in Australia by fraud.
Restores public confidence in Australia's mass immigration program and community diversity
Overall public confidence in Australia’s immigration laws and mass immigration programs is strengthened, sustained or restored through using TPVs.
Not least by TPVs breaking the link between crime generally and immigration fraud specifically on the one hand, and asylum-seeking and the asylum determination processes on the other.