Australian customs officials and navy personnel escort asylum-seekers onto Christmas Island.The Abbott government’s success in stopping the boats has “sullied Australia’s global standing” and, whilst proving a short-term success, the hard line policy will not solve the long-term asylum seeker crisis, a leading foreign policy and migration expert says.
Figures directly involved in Operation Sovereign Borders are not even confident it represents a sustainable solution to the refugee problem, according to Khalid Koser a senior fellow in foreign policy studies at Washington DC’s Brookings Institution.
In a paper written for the Lowy Institute for international policy, released Thursday, Mr Koser says that Australia’s “gung-ho” politicians have “reneged on international commitments” but the country is nonetheless well placed to lead international action on a new framework to replace the outdated 1951 Refugee Convention.
“The Australian government’s current approach may be working in the short term, but it is unlikely to diminish Australia’s asylum crisis in the long term, and it is damaging Australia’s international reputation,” Mr Kosher writes.
“Measured exclusively by the recent decline in boat arrivals, Australia’s current approach has been a success. But even those closely involved in the policy are not confident that this outcome is sustainable. Fewer — but still some — boats continue to launch for Australia. At the moment, they are being intercepted.
“However, as in the Mediterranean, there has traditionally been a seasonal pattern to boat arrivals in Australia, and the ‘boat season’ is nearing. How long will the government’s tactics manage to outwit those of the people smugglers? A fast boat that cannot be easily intercepted, a deliberate capsizing, or a mass launching that would stretch the current naval safety net, are genuine possibilities.
“By most other measures the current approach can hardly be considered a success. It consumes significant resources and will continue to do so. It has strained relations between the executive and judiciary. It has similarly poisoned bilateral and regional alliances. And it has sullied Australia’s standing in the global community.
But Mr Koser believes Australia is also a “champion of refugee resettlement”. A poll released on Wednesday found nine in ten Australians support orderly immigration but half of all people want stronger action to “exclude illegal immigrants”.
He writes that Australia can use its reputation for action to lead a reform debate to replace the 1951 Convention, which he said was drafted with the exodus from Europe during and after the Second World War in mind.
As an example of how dated the pact is, he raises the prospect of climate refugees in coming decades. The 1951 convention does not refer to environmental factors as a cause for flight.
Mr Koser’s analysis is that Australia could reduce its “asylum hinterland” through a new deal that would attract more countries in Asia to sign up to. Currently, none of the main transit countries for asylum seekers heading to Australia are signatories to the 1951 convention.
A better international protection system would focus on protecting people at home so they do not need to flee and promote protection close to home so that they do not need to pay people smugglers to reach safety, he writes
A new deal would include “burden sharing” so that origin countries would for the first time bear some of the financial burden for the return of asylum seekers.
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