Groundviews

Swimming against the tide: Australia’s new asylum-seeker package

Photo courtesy Sydney Morning Herald

Though launched with much fanfare and media acclaim, Australia’s new raft of proposals embodied in the Houston package to handle the surge in asylum-seekers is simply treading water and will get the country nowhere. The flow of migrants to Western countries by both legal and illegal paths has increased steadily over the years. The large pool of migrants then encourages kinfolk and friends to migrate through information, good-luck tales and remittances. Thus one has a snowballing process of increased migration.

In brief, I assert that the main reason for the increased flow of illegal asylum-seekers is the impact of snowballing chain migration. It is an educated surmise on my part from anecdotal evidence from the Sri Lankan situation and my explorations of this topic in the recent past. Logically, this argument would apply to both the Afghan, Iranian, Iraqi migrant situations as well. Indeed, it is supported vividly by the opinions expressed in such a forthright manner today in The Australian by Ms Najeeba Wazefadost and Esmat Adine (25 yrs), both recent Hazara Afghan refugees who had secured entry earlier via Indonesia (Morton & Guest 2012).

Clearly, illegal migration is also promoted by other factors:[B] political dissatisfaction, inclusive of feelings of discrimination or persecution; [C] economic difficulties and a belief in the prospects of self-advancement abroad; [D] a combination of political and economic motives; [E] the fact that one is already a refugee in Africa, Pakistan, southern India, Malaysia or Indonesia and [F] the availability of people smuggling networks.

In temporal terms this combination of factors creates migration flows that are subject to cycles of increase or decrease. But I am confident in my assertion that it is the push-pull factor of inducements offered by previous migrants that is the biggest single factor in stimulating people from a wide range of classes in such countries as Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan to seek self-advancement and/or refuge in such countries as Canada and Australia.

I do not see how the so-called “Nauru-PNG solution” will have an imposing deterrent effect on this process. Of the 1509 detained at Nauru, 68 per cent found a haven in Western countries with Australia taking 586 and New Zealand 360 and 33 elsewhere; while 32 percent or 482 persons “were returned to their country of origin.” Whether these proportions will deter would-be migrants is doubtful. I do not, however, advocate turning the boats back as the alternative course. That is neither feasible nor desirable.

My position is pragmatic. Since (1) Australia’s ratio of working people against non-working is on a sharp dip in any demographic graph projection for 2012-2040 and since (2) The Australian yesterday indicated that “800,000 workers” were wanted in five years, I affirm that more migrants should be accepted by any which route.

It is Australia’s egalitarian ideology combined with a bureaucratic control philosophy that generates an ideological hostility to “queue-jumping.” It is hardly surprising that a control-freak like Kevin Rudd was one of those most attached to a hardline programme against “boat people.” This is a form of elevated thought that amounts to tunnel-vision. Pragmatic thinking suggests more openness to those who beat the rational order by getting on boats [which, incidentally, are not as leaky as made out anyway].

Pragmatic analysis would also indicate that the Houston package unfurled yesterday will have little impact on the flow of boat people. The body of migrants in the fertile West will spawn fresh shoots from every which way.

*This essay was drafted on 14 August before the article by Amanda Hodge appeared in The Australian on 15th August. It has not been altered. Albeit without much hope of acceptance, I sent the essay to ABC Unleashed (online media) and to the opinions editor of The Australian on the same day. The readership I have in mind is Australian; but alternative outlets are better than none and Groundviews does reach international-wide.

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