21 December 2011

Australian immigration still searching for refugee solution

The Coalition government of Australia is continuing to struggle to legislate an effective, humanitarian refugee policy. Immigration minister Chris Bowen, who survived in his position following Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s recent cabinet reshuffle, has most recently attacked the Australian Greens as being "naïve and out of touch".

Australian immigration

The Australian government is continuing to struggle to legislate an effective, humanitarian refugee policy.

The Australian immigration minister’s comments follow the death of up to 200 middle-eastern asylum seekers hoping for entry to Australia by boat, whose vessel sank off Indonesia. The government have also confirmed that hundreds of asylum seekers are expected to arrive by sea over the holiday period. It is not illegal to travel to Australia by boat if seeking asylum, however despite the fact that Australia’s refugee intake is significantly smaller than the vast majority of countries, it is perceived as a major area for the government to resolve.

One key issue is whether applications for asylum are processed in Australia or offshore. Both major political parties insist that onshore Australia visa processing attracts people-smugglers however there has been no agreement on a location for processing applications offshore.

Addressing Senator Bob Brown, leader of the Australian Greens, Immigration Minister Bowen said: “He needs to consider that there is nothing humanitarian about a policy which says to people: your best chance of a new life in Australia is to risk your life to get here. All the evidence shows that if you have proper offshore processing in place then it does discourage boat arrivals.” Mr. Bowen did not elaborate on where this evidence can be found.

Meanwhile Senator Brown cited the events of October 2001, in which 353 died when a boat containing over 400 asylum seekers sank in international waters just south of the Indonesian island of Java. Brown pointed out that the tragedy occurred under then-Prime Minister John Howard’s policy of diverting people to Nauru.

Politicians on both sides remain deadlocked, with opposition leader Tony Abbott rejecting an approach by Prime Minister Julia Gillard to work together on the issue. In a written response, Mr. Abbott told Gillard: “This is a problem that you have created and it is your responsibility to solve."

The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent consulting company specialising in helping people lodge their Australian visa application with the Australian High Commission

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