Asylum Policy: Discussion of Houston panel report ignores pitfalls ahead

Asylum and refugee policy remains primarily a strategic issue with domestic ramifications, not the opposite as many incorrectly assume.

Letter to The Australian Financial Review 

Tuesday, 14 August 2012
(published Wednesday, 15 August 2012)

Asylum and refugee policy remains primarily a strategic issue with domestic ramifications, not the opposite.

Despite the Houston panel clinically removing most party-political controversy out of public debate, much subsequent discussion is still bogged down in false assumptions, single-issue perspectives and mis-aimed (only local) compassion.

The prime strategic and humanitarian purpose of the Refugee Convention is to bolster Chapter VIII of the UN Charter by encouraging neighbouring countries to a conflict to solve it, so refugees are not created in the first place or so they can return home directly, swiftly and safely.

But most countries now refuse to accede to the Convention or otherwise meet their strategic, legal and humanitarian responsibilities.

Especially in our near and wider region where only one out of 35 countries between here and Greece is a genuine Convention signatory.

Little or nothing is done to resolve conflicts, nor the consequent misery and danger suffered by the bulk of the refugees thereby marooned by them.

Globalisation and modern transport further encourages and complicates such strategic and moral bludging.

Neighbouring states to a conflict can simply export the most troublesome or exploitable refugees extra-regionally to countries of mass immigration that are Convention signatories.

Australia’s strategic situation is that virtually all our neighbours regard refugees as Australia’s problem alone, not a shared humanitarian or strategic responsibility, and exploit us accordingly.

Any debate on the issue needs to start from this geo-political reality, not ignore or downplay it, by dwelling on only domestic policy aspects.

Any discussion of neighbouring countries, for example, needs to start with asking how they can refuse to accede to the Convention and how do they supposedly justify their perpetual buck-passing to Australia.


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