In September, the first 54 of those remaining refugees on Manus Island and Nauru departed for arrival in the United States. This occasion reflected a momentous breakthrough for the world’s refugee population. Having dismantled the insidious trade of people smuggling and restored control of borders, the Turnbull Government’s Operation Sovereign Borders has secured Australia’s return to pre-eminence in refugee resettlement.
Australia is the greatest per capita permanent resettler of refugees in the world – and one of only 27 nations that even do it. With control over refugee inflows, we open our arms and our wallets with unrivalled compassion.
Yet remarkably, throughout the past month, Greens’ senator Nick McKim has been on Manus Island encouraging asylum seekers to leverage the detention centre’s closure so to force their way into Australia. In an astonishing attack on the Coalition Government’s policy that has seen no asylum seekers placed in detention and no deaths at sea for over three years, McKim threatens to undermine our generous resettlement capability.
The refugee left pursue an unproductive idealistic utopia for personal moral comfort – it is only the people smugglers that benefit from their moral incompetence. Their view is of Australia as an international pariah; a refugee-hating nation that seeks to control movements in its citizenry out of racism, not rationalism. In great contrast, OSB is intrinsically refugee-centric and the envy of pragmatic leaders around the globe.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that there are some 60 million displaced people and refugees globally – the greatest number since the Second World War. Although we would like to offer a new home to each and every one of these people, to suggest so is ridiculous. Australia, as a nation of 24 million people with skyrocketing housing prices and an escalating budget deficit, simply does not have the capacity to resettle on demand. The global crisis needs a cooperative response from a network of first world nations, empowered through border control to contribute generously to refugee resettlement.
What is quintessential to generous resettlement is the placing of border control squarely in the hands of the Australian government. This is no more evident than in the bane existence facing those who flow over the southern US border from Mexico. A second-class citizenry of unauthorised immigrants now dwell throughout the United States, living in perpetual insecurity and abominable conditions. An unmanageable domestic crisis, these people now face the threat of deportation.
Whilst vastly different nations, America’s immigration deterioration poses a stark warning to Australian policy-makers. Quantity never triumphs quality.
The greatest threat to the offering of legitimate resettlement to refugees in Australia is irregular maritime arrivals. Accepting those who come by boat places refugee policy squarely under the thumb of people smugglers. People smugglers decide who gets to resettle in Australia – arbitrary numbers that vary with demand.
It is Australia’s domestic immigration policy, which either empowers or maims the smuggling trade. Marketed on lapses in border stringency, when control appears slack, refugees are convinced there is an enhanced chance of resettlement.
History and statistics serve as a harsh reality-check for those who deny this fact. Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd came to the inane conclusion that it was not Australia’s strong border control, which had deterred maritime arrivals during John Howard’s term. Despite ever worsening turmoil in the Middle East, he attributed such to a reduction in persecution and violence. Rudd believed he could resettle any person who came by boat.
What ensued was the arrival of 800 boats, carrying some 50,000 asylum seekers. 1200 vulnerable men, women and children died a tragic death at sea. Rudd was unable to accommodate such enormous arrivals in such short time. 17 new detention centres were opened with over 10,000 asylum seekers (including 2000 children) dumped into them.
Recent events further highlight the pandemonium brought by this policy. Six Iranian boat arrivals granted asylum by Labor having claimed to fear for their lives if they were to return to Iran were in May, found holidaying in their homeland. Our generosity was exploited. Inner city elites and university radicals may have laid their heads more softly on their pillows at night, but their moral signalling achieved nothing for refugees.
This is why calls to bring those few remaining in detention to Australia are so misguided. The Government must maintain an unwavering commitment to the fact that anyone who arrives by boat, will not be resettled in Australia.
In extraordinary fashion, Kevin Rudd last week tweeted that “they (Manus refugees) should come to Oz”. To demand repeat of the exact failure of judgment which placed such people in detention is absurd and dumbfounding.
The hypocrisy of the refugee left is astonishing. In their boundless search for moral supremacy, they hold the Turnbull Government responsible for the detention of asylum seekers. Entirely to the contrary, it was the soft border policy of the Rudd Government that placed refugees in detention. When the government loses control of its borders, it must resort to this practice.
My question to the UNHCR, and the other institutions which have condemned OSB is this; where was their condemnation when Labor placed refugees in detention to begin with?
Under the Coalition Government, all but 800 people have been removed from detention, all children have been removed, and 17 of 21 detention facilities have been closed. With the commenced settlement of those remaining on Manus and Nauru to the US, the future looks bright for refugee resettlement in Australia.
Tom Akhurst is a journalism and political science student at the University of Melbourne.
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