Refugee Processing at Source

Geoff MillerCOUNCILLOR COMMENT: Tuesday’s news of the Government’s policy in regard to bridging visas for asylum-seekers in the community, and the reactions to it, and reports of the situation on Nauru, show how far we are from arriving at a refugee policy which is both effective and acceptable to the community as a whole. It is indeed an enormously difficult issue, and one can only sympathise with those, such as the Minister, who have the responsibility for dealing with it.

I should like to offer a comment in regard to one aspect, and one source of asylum-seekers.

Some time ago “The Australian” had a report on its front page quoting an Afghan woman refugee now settled in Australia as saying that efforts to slow the flow of refugees from Afghanistan were “crap” without processing of would-be migrants in Afghanistan and/or Pakistan. There seems to me to be quite a lot in what she says, since more recent reports quote Hazaras in particular as saying that even though Australian regulations have been toughened they will continue to try to reach Australia, since reports from settlers already here are of “a happy life”, and their future prospects in Afghanistan are unbearably hazardous.

It seems to me that if they are so determined to come, not having an accessible channel to apply to come legally or officially pushes them from the start into the people-smuggling channel, which culminates in the dangerous sea-voyages which both major Parties say they are so determined to prevent.

So why have we no migration facilities available at or near the source of this at risk and determined group? Is it simply that we fear the numbers would be too great? I suppose that is an understandable concern, although I must say that it seems there are a number of Australian employers very happy with their Afghan workers. But if we don’t offer a practical legal channel, isn’t there an element of humbug in going on as we do about the consequences of desperate people taking the only course open to them?

Geoff Miller is a long standing Council member at the AIIA (NSW) and a retired public servant who worked in the Department of Foreign Affairs, with time at the Attorney Generals Department and the Office of National Assessments.

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