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What now for asylum seekers?

A couple of nights ago, I attended an event that looked at the issue of asylum seekers, and where to now. The event was very well attended – they were expecting about 30 people, but instead had about 100.
One of the big things I took out of this was an understanding of the two main issues in asylum seeker policy – that of fairness, and of standards.

Refugees are welcome main banner - Refugee Act...
Refugees are welcome main banner – Refugee Action protest 27 July 2013 Melbourne (Photo credit: Takver)

In terms of fairness, this is dealing with our basic idea that the system shouldn’t reward a “first come, first served” mentality. It acknowledges that there is a difference between those asylum seekers who can gain access to a people smuggler, as opposed to those who are stuck in UNHCR refugee processing centres. On the flip side, the issue of fairness also deals with the treatment of asylum seekers. In our current system, the people sent to Manus Island and Nauru were seemingly selected at random, and couldn’t understand why they were there, and their friends were living in Australia.

The issue of standards is about how we deal with asylum seekers. This comes from the understanding that by detaining people, the Australian government takes on a duty of care, and that should include certain standards of care to ensure that the people detained there are safe and healthy. While it must be noted that the conditions provided for asylum seekers are far higher than many refugee camps, I believe many Australians would be ashamed of the conditions. Considering these people have committed no crime, a valid question to ask should be, “are you willing to live there?” If not, then standards need to improve.

Another consideration is the availability of services such as physicist and medical programmes to help people detained there to remain healthy, physically and mentally. Current facilities are not able to cope with the demands presented to them, and need to be improved. Safety of those detained is also a concern, with reports of assaults (both physical and sexual) meaning that those who are detained and cannot escape are no longer safe.

Now, some may see what I am saying here, and think that I am in favour of mandatory detention. Let me be clear here – I believe that community processing in Australia is the most effective and humane way of processing asylum seekers, and that investing in foreign aid to try and reduce the push factors, will be the most effective and efficient policy. However, considering that both the major parties have offshore detention as a major part of their policy, the chances of them shifting on such a major issue are slim to none. However, we can seek for our politicians to make this bad policy better by improving the fairness and the standards of policy.

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