The interception near Christmas Island of a boat carrying 85 asylum seekers and the Howard plan to ‘Pacific Solution‘ these people once again brings to fore the inconsistencies between Liberal Party refugee policy and Australia’s obligations to assist those fleeing persecution.
According to UNHCR, a refugee is any person who:
[has a] well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.
The history of international cooperation in protecting refugees goes back to the displacement of civilians in Europe after World War II. War caused the breakdown of several governments, with the attendant inability to issue travel and identity documentation. As such, lack of documentation is recognised and specified in the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees as not being just cause to deny refugee status or grant protection to those who appear on the shores or borders of UN Refugee Convention signatory nations.
Australia was one of the drafting signatories to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees- yes, Australia helped craft the language in the Refugee Convention- yet these days does not fully honour the agreement, particularly with regard to asylum seekers who arrive by boat.
In terms of actual numbers of undocumented or ‘illegal’ migrants, Anglos who arrive by plane and overstay their tourist visas outnumber Asian boat people transported by people smugglers by a very significant margin. It’s a lot easier for an Anglo to blend in with the general Australian herd. Even in terms of the actual headcount of illegal migrants to Australia by boat, the numbers are miniscule, certainly in comparison to the overall numbers of all ‘illegal’ migrants.
Asylum seekers have a right to a speedy assessment of their claims to refugee status. Parking them on an offshore island prison camp for several years doesn’t cut the jam when per the UNHCR, the test is provision of sanctuary. These people are in desperate enough need for sanctuary that the clear and present danger of staying where they are is greater than the risk of drowning- or being jailed for years while their refugee claims are assessed by the Australian government.
Whether the most recently intercepted group of boat people sabotaged their own vessel or not, I somehow don’t see the crime in forcing a UN member nation to comply with the terms of the UN Refugee Conventions they’ve signed up to defend.
Exactly who is breaking the law or is failing their internationally agreed obligations when refugee vessels are turned (or towed) back, or immeasurably worse, allowed to sink?
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