Refugees are getting a lot of press recently with an increase in boat activity between Indonesia and Australia. Whilst it is perfectly legal for a refugee to come to Australia and claim asylum we continue with political solutions that entail imprisoning those refugees who lawfully arrive by boat. Or else we try to offshore the problem with the help of third parties be it John Howards pacific solution or now Kevin Rudds somewhat similar Indonesian solution.
There are a lot of aspects to this problem including both moral and political concerns. The key political argument in simplistic terms seems to be that if refugees who arrive by boat are allowed easy entry (even after extensive mandatory detention most do get to stay) then the other 9 or so million refugees in the world will see a green light and all decend on Australian shores. Obviously there is some fallacy in this simplification purely because there are other nations besides Australia into which at least some of those 9 or so million refugees might seek to go irrespective of Australian policy. However on the face of it there is enough of a grain of truth in the claim for the Australian government to continue to pursue the same political solution as the last government (dressed up differently of course).
In seeking a political solution it seems to me worth noting that the refugees that pay people smugglers to come to Australia are not like a lot of other refugees. What sets them apart is a capacity to pay. A lot of the worlds 9 million people avoid travelling to Australia simply because of the costs imposed by our policies and the cost imposed by geographic factors. To solve the politicial problem (ie to take images of boat people off TV) this distinction is worth noting. A recent article in The Australian indicated that people smugglers are able to charge $15000 to smuggle people to Australia from Indonesia. Presumably many of them pay additional costs to get to Indonesia in the first place. Lets presume for the sake of the argument that the total financial cost is $30,000.
At the moment our policy amounts to creating costs for refugees via a tough policy, allowing people smugglers to profit from those costs by selling smuggling services, and then ultimately letting the vast majority of boat people to stay anyway. The smugglers appear to be winners from this approach.
A solution the government ought to consider would be to introduce a new permanent residency visa that refugees with the capacity to pay can purchase whilst abroad. For a fee of say $30,000 they can be expeditiously processed as refugees and then enter Australia via cheap travel means such as aeroplane. The net result is much the same except;
- smugglers suddenly lose a lot of customers
- there are a lot less boats on TV
- less people die in the ocean
- Australia makes a buck
- less innocent people end up in prisons
- the government can keep it’s tough border protection policy