Monday, 20 August 2012

Australia's Asylum Policy

Australia has witnessed a continuous stream of refugees who attempt to enter the country via the sea. These 'boatpeople' usually set sail from Indonesia, but many are caught by the Australian authorities, and some also die at sea. 
  • Some 600 asylum seekers are believed to have died making the dangerous journey by boat to Australia since late 2009.
  • Between 2009-2011, more than 60 per cent of all asylum seekers arriving by boat had come from Afghanistan. 

How to tackle these refugees has been a concern for Australia. Most recently the Australian Government has decided to reopen off-shore processing centres on Nauru and Manus Islands in Papua New Guinea. However this move is also gathering criticism.

The controversial policy was introduced in 2001 by the government of John Howard, in response to a reported rise in the number of asylum seekers arriving by boat- this was also referred to as the 'Pacific Solution'.  Processing centres were set up on Nauru and on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, the governments of the two nations receiving millions of dollars in aid in exchange. The Australian navy diverted all boats carrying asylum seekers to those camps, where many were detained for months - sometimes years - under high security. Some went on hunger strike to protest against their living conditions and continued detention.

When the Labor government under Kevin Rudd came to power in 2007, it ended the Pacific Solution. However the present labour government under Julia Gillard is contemplating opening the centers. Gillard states that the boats must be stopped before they reached our shore line from their point of origin, by taking out the profitability of the trade and emphasizing the danger of the voyage. This assumes importance because Indonesia has refused to accept returned boats, thus there is nowhere to turn the boats back to.
This is a global challenge which needs to involve all concerned states and multilateral agencies. Thus Australia is working with its regional neighbours and the UNHCR to deal with the problem. 

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