The asylum-seeker plan that keeps disappearing over the horizon

Refugees Right of asylum Asylum seekers Australia


The collateral damage is too great for policy-by-slogan to be sustainable. The alternative can bring benefits for asylum seekers and for Australia

WRITING in the Guardian last month, Robert Manne saw the drop-off in boat arrivals as an opportunity for a compromise between supporters and opponents of asylum seekers. Supporters (“the left”) will need to acknowledge that offshore processing and towbacks have stopped the boats and dramatically reduced the number of deaths at sea. Opponents of asylum seekers (“the right”) must acknowledge that the same policy continues to inflict enormous psychological damage on tens of thousands of people who have been, or are likely to be, recognised as refugees. The compromise is straightforward: the left should accept that naval interception and offshore processing work to stop the boats and should continue; the right must agree to end the misery inflicted on the 30,000 or so people currently caught up in the system in Australia, Papua New Guinea and Nauru. 

Reducing the risk of large numbers of asylum seekers dying at sea and accelerating the processing of previous arrivals – it’s an attractive prospect. But a compromise of this kind will fail because it treats the problem too narrowly. Left out of the equation is the collateral damage caused by Australia’s asylum policy – the deterioration in our relationships with neighbouring countries (particularly the largest, Indonesia), the impact of the processing centres on the development of Nauru, Manus Island and PNG (and perhaps Cambodia next), and the consequences for tens of thousands of asylum seekers whose other options for gaining protection are bleak…

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