Australia’s refugee resettlement program desperately needs attention

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Image: UN

Nauru and Manus Island immigration detention centres are still in operation with over 1,000 refugees remaining detained offshore.

And Australia’s harsh refugee policy is only getting harsher, with a newly proposed lifetime ban permanently preventing refugees who sought to enter Australia without a visa from mid-2013, from ever reaching the country.

Is it time for Australia to change its stance?

Dr Melanie Baak, Convener of the University of South Australia’s Refugee and Migration Research Network, like many other Australians, believes all offshore detention centres should be closed.

“There have been alternative proposals for processing refugees and asylum seekers onshore in ways that they could contribute to the culture.

“They are much more cost effective than the offshore detention centres that we currently have, which I think cost approximately $5 billion a year, as well as being much more likely to have the long-term damage to mental health.”


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Refugee and Asylum Seeker Rights Rally, Melbourne | Image: John Englart (Tavker)

Australia has a proud history of accommodating refugees.

Since WWII, the country has been one of the strongest in resettlement programs.

Dr Baak believes refugees and asylum seekers have collaboratively helped shape Australian society into what it is today.

“Refugees have a very, very important role to play in building our community and I think it’s a shame we’ve become so fearful.

“This rhetoric around terror and fear of the other that has now come to be seen with refugees and asylum seekers is really a very unfortunate happenstance.”


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Zaatari Refugee Camp, Jordan | Image: Dominic Chavez/World Bank

Security seems to be one of the key components behind the Australian government’s harsh refugee policy.

But it must be questioned why it takes Australia years in security and resettlement processing, when other countries take only months.

For example in May this year, Canada had already reached its goal of resettling more than 26,000 Syrian refugees.

Meanwhile Australia’s resettlement program will take another 6 months to complete.


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Atme Refugee Camp, Syria | Image: IHH Insani Yardim

“I think if we look at the stories of most refugees and asylum seekers that are seeking asylum on our shores, they’re all fleeing persecution from the regimes that we’re fearful of,” Dr Baak says.

“I understand the need for a degree of caution, but when other countries can process claims for asylum in two to three months without four years of apparent security checks, I don’t understand why the government needs to take so much longer.”


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Destruction in Homs, Syria | Image: Xinhua/Pan Chaoyue

For Australia’s current immigration statistics, visit the Australian Human Rights Commission.

For some alternative onshore processing proposals, Julian Burnside AO QC provides some interesting insights.

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