Asylum-seeking is a strategic policy problem and refugee flows need to be tackled at their source

The Refugee Convention is intended to encourage neighbouring countries to resolve refugee flows at source and permanently. Extra-regional permanent resettlement is also often not the panacea assumed by some. First, few countries provide it and even fewer in large numbers (such as the USA, Canada and Australia). Second, contrary to a key intention of the Refugee Convention, it removes strategic and moral pressure on neighbouring countries (to the source of the refugees) to get actively involved so persecution ends permanently and the refugees can return home swiftly, safely and with the best chance to rebuild their civil society. Third, the willingness by some signatories to permanently resettle refugees now often tends to discourage countries from even signing the Convention, temporarily hosting refugees (as the Convention principally intends) or respecting even customary international law regarding them. Finally, rescuing some refugees through extra-regional resettlement often now perpetuates greater misery and danger for most refugees over the long run. Not least because it takes pressure off the perpetrators of persecution, and off the complacency or apathy of the neighbouring countries usually best placed to end it.


Letter to The Australian 
Tuesday, 19 May 2015
(published Wednesday, 20 May 2015)

By confusing actual resettlement by Refugee Convention signatories with the temporary hosting of refugees by neighbouring countries intended by the convention, James Sharp (letters, 18/5) repeats the confusion besetting most asylum-seeking debate.

A confusion long propagated, often deliberately, in much refugee advocacy.

Australia continues to have has a longstanding, notable and rare record for refugee resettlement and we also remain the only genuine convention signatory among the 40-odd countries between here and Europe.

Our situation in particular, and the now widespread break-down of the 1949 UN Convention generally, remains primarily a strategic policy issue with domestic ramifications, not vice versa, and can only be tackled effectively using this context.

As the convention breaks down — mainly due to its modern gaming by economic migrants,  people smugglers and corrupt officials and bludging governments in non-signatory countries — its principal aim of tackling refugee flows at source by concerted regional action becomes even more important.

In the case of Rohingya asylum-seekers and Bangladeshi economic migrants, only other ASEAN members and Bangladesh can pressure Myanmar to stop creating them in the first place.

Australia and other convention signatories bailing them out, yet again, will mean future and growing regional and wider refugee flows are certain because the perpetual misery involved is never permanently resolved.


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