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At what cost?

The human, economic and strategic cost of Australia’s asylum seeker policies and the alternatives
Asylum seekers Immigration detention Offshore detention Australia
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Following an increasing number of asylum seekers reaching Australia via irregular maritime migration in 2012 and 2013 and an increase in the instances of asylum seekers drowning at sea,6 successive Australian governments made significant changes to asylum seeker policies. These all shared a primary objective of deterring people from seeking asylum in Australia through irregular maritime migration.

While recognising that there are other policy settings that also add to the policy framework of ‘deterrence’ (such as the reintroduction of temporary protection visas), this report focuses on the following key policy settings which we believe establish the core architecture of Australia’s approach to asylum seekers who seek to arrive by boat:

  • the mandatory and indefinite detention of asylum seekers who arrive by sea both onshore and offshore, a practice which while technically dormant in offshore processing, remains permissible under the laws of Australia
  • the current system of offshore or ‘regional’ processing in Nauru and Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the policy that those who seek to arrive by sea will never be permitted to settle in Australia
  • the practice of naval interceptions or boat turn-backs pursuant to which asylum seekers are repelled from Australia’s maritime borders
  • the closure of regular resettlement channels from Indonesia for certain groups of refugees, and
  • those measures which seek to avoid transparency and accountability in relation to the practical implementation of these policies and thus conceal the true ‘cost’ of these policies from the Australian public.

The impact of these policies is examined in the context of the unprecedented scale of global forced migration. It is further considered in light of the scale of Australia’s annual humanitarian intake, which currently restricts the number of places for humanitarian migrants to enter Australia through government-sanctioned pathways to 13,750 people per annum.

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