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Treatment of Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Australia

The Problem

In the last decade, a great number of asylum seekers and refugees, cramped in small boats, are increasingly trying to enter Australia. Some of these individuals are escaping the vagaries of war, while others are in search of greener pastures. The Australian government has in turn enacted strict policies and border controls measures meant to deter asylum seekers from entering Australia. Of major concern, reports of major human rights abuses have emerged over the recent past. Human rights violations targeting asylum seekers include torture, police harassment and brutality, arbitrary detention, and deportation to home countries (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2013). The policies adopted by the national government have elicited divisions among various factions. While some factions feel that the country should allow asylum seekers into the country, others feel this may be a potential security threat. This report will examine the various policy responses in relation to the issue of asylum seekers in Australia.

View point 1

Asylum Seekers have the Right to Seek Refuge

Asylum seekers are entering Australia in great numbers. A few become refuges due to strict border control measures put by the government and local authorities. All individuals irrespective of their race, ethnicity, religion, or background have the right to seek refuge in another country. All countries across the world have the legal mandate to grant asylum to those who flee their countries due to war or other calamities that might befall them. If an individual feels threatened in his or her own country, they may look for other places to live as long as they follow the outlined legal protocols. No country should deny individuals who flee their country due to war or other reasons the right to seek asylum (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2013). It is inhuman for politicians to enact laws barring asylum seekers from entering Australia. The government in conjunction with aid organizations should work to see that asylum seekers enjoy basic human rights, including the right to education.

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It is important for the government to screen asylum seekers in order to ensure that their asylum claim is justified. In the recent past, cases of illegal immigrants have tremendously increased. Some of the illegal immigrants may try to enter the country as asylum seekers. As such, there is need to the government to ensure that it screens all asylum seekers. The government should ensure the deportation of illegal immigrants. On the other hand, registration of those who qualify as genuine asylum seekers should occur in order for them to gain recognition as refugees. The government, aid organizations, and other support groups should ensure that refugees receive welfare support during their stay. Registration as refugees enables asylum seekers to receive aid from the government and other support groups. The government thus should show support to those displaced by war and other calamities.

Policy Response 1

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights protects the rights of individuals to seek asylum from serious human rights violations, persecution, and other forms of harm that may endanger their lives. In addition, international conventions such as the 1952 Refugee Convention enshrine the basic rights of individuals to seek asylum (UNHCR, n.d). Australia having acceded and being part of the international conventions must thus respect the rights of refugees as outlined in the international law. Australia is party to the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees signed into law in 1967, and as an amendment of the 1952 Refugee Convention declarations on rights of asylum seekers (UNHCR, n.d). By being party to these international treaties, the country shows its willingness to enhancing international cooperation with other nations by giving asylum seekers accommodation and support they need. International conventions and treaties bind Australia and until recedes its position, then it must be ready to accept genuine asylum seekers.

Since international laws governing asylum seekers bind Australia, all policies and laws that the country enacts must take into consideration the declarations of the international conventions to which it is party. Countries make their own laws and policies while using the international law as a reference or guide (Law Council of Australia, 2014). There also exist other Conventions that Australia is party, and which provide guidelines on treatment of refugees. For instance, the Convention of the Rights of the Child provides guidelines that form the foundation upon which countries should base their policies concerning children seeking asylum. States bound under this convention must ensure that child refugees receive appropriate care in the country they seek refuge. This is irrespective of whether they have their parents or not. States should also go further and assist such children to find the parents, guardians, or a member of their family for reunification purposes.

Stage in Policy Cycle

A policy cycle acts as a general guide for policy development. The policy cycle model introduces order and coherence in the complex public policy process. The formulation of effective public policies is often a complex process, which requires some degree of simplification. Public policy frameworks enable policymakers to solve issues in a rationalized manner (McClelland & Marston, 2010). The above issue is currently at the consultation stage. Consultation is a key stage in the policy cycle. This involves ensuring that the policy chosen has the necessary support or backing from key areas such as the legislature, executive, and support from interest groups. Consultation enables policymakers to improve the relevance of the policy decisions they make through analysing different perspectives or gaining access to a variety of information about a particular issue (McClelland & Marston, 2010). It is important for policymakers to analyse the opinions of major stakeholders involved in the issue. This ensures that there is a consensus relating to the final decision made on the issue.

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Consultation stage enables policymakers to review the different solutions possible regarding a particular problem. In Australia, the issue of asylum seekers has become a major challenge among policymakers, with one faction calling for allowing refugees to enter the country while the other faction sees refugees as a threat to the stability of the country. Policymakers are currently engaged in consultations in order to ensure identification of viable solutions. Policy participants must establish goals that reflect the values, beliefs, and interests of the various stakeholders involved. Consultation may at times involve expert input. Various agencies may also coordinate in order to come up with a coherent policy that addresses the needs of all stakeholders. The issue of asylum seekers require thorough consultation among all stakeholders in order to develop appropriate policies that will be applicable even in future situations.

View point 2

Asylum Seekers are a Threat to Stability of Australia and should be Treated Harshly

A faction of Australians see asylum seekers a threat to the country’s security and stability. As a result, they advocate for harsh treatment of asylum seekers fleeing persecution or other things in their home country. This group has called for detention or immediate deportation of asylum seekers arriving on boats. A section of politicians has called for enactment of new policies meant to deter asylum seekers from coming to Australia. One of the “soft” policies adopted is delayed registration process. Asylum seekers go through compulsory detention as they await verification for their asylum claim (Parliament of Australia, 2011). The verification process is lengthy, which is often to deter other asylum seekers from moving into the country. Those against asylum seekers advocate for tough or harsh attitude towards them in order to turn away others who may consider coming to Australia. There is also debate on whether it is right to allow refugees to work and gain a permanent status in Australia.

There is a general feeling that asylum seekers are a burden to the country. Some factions feel that asylum seekers will lead to unnecessary financial burden to the country. Others fear that there may be increased social problems such as crime and terror attacks. In a world where terror attacks against innocent people has become commonplace, there is need for states to be cautious about those entering the country. States must consider the possibility of illegal immigrants and terrorists masquerading as asylum seekers in order to gain entry into the country. Another concern about asylum seekers involves the possibility of spreading new diseases in the country (Parliament of Australia, 2011). Some individuals fear that asylum seekers may pose a health risk to the citizens. Lastly, there exists a perception among individuals that refugees may take up jobs meant for citizens, and hence compounding the employment situation in the country.

Policy Response 2

Australia is not an open country

A few policy responses are used when responding to the issue of asylum seekers in the country. Even though Australia is subject to the international laws governing refugees, enactment of new policies has fundamentally changed the way the country deals with asylum seekers. In 1992, the mandatory detention legislation came into law in Australian parliament (McAdam, 2013). This legislation calls for the detention of all foreigners arriving from other countries without valid travel documents. This was in response to an increasing number of Indochinese immigrants arriving into the country through the sea. The 1992 legislation enabled the country to reduce illegal immigration. The legislation also affected the ease in which asylum seekers could gain access to the country. Prior to the legislation, asylum seekers could easily file asylum claim as they awaited confirmation as refugees (McAdam, 2013). During the waiting period, asylum seekers would normally receive temporary status as refugees. Currently, all asylum seekers receive detention for an undefined period.

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Australia has recently introduced new legislation meant to deter further asylum seekers from entering the country. In 2012, the government introduced “third country processing”, following amendments of the 1958 Migration Act (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2013). Third country processing involves transferring all asylum seekers who arrive in the country without valid travel documents (such as visa) to another country, without the option for returning. The government selected Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Nauru as the destination for asylum seekers affected by the third country processing legislation. This has further worsened the asylum seekers’ situation in relation to entering Australia. The new legislation reflects the attitudes of most politicians with regard to the recent influx of immigrants. It is clear that majority regard them as a burden to the country, and thus the need to deter them from entering Australia.

Stage in policy cycle

The above issues are currently in the implementation stage of the policy cycle. Once formulation of policies occurs, implementation follows. Implementation is a crucial stage since it ensures that formulated policies become meaningful or influence the lives of the stakeholders (McClelland & Marston, 2010). Policymakers must ensure the planned implementation of outlined policies to avoid falling into traps. For instance, conflicting objectives, inadequate resources, conflicting directives, and communication failures may lead to serious implementation challenges. A key element of the implementation stage is the passing of appropriate legislation or development of appropriate programs to support the proposed changes. In Australia’s case, a number of legislative policies were enacted over the last two decades regarding asylum seekers. In 1992, the mandatory detention law came into law requiring the mandatory detention of all asylum seekers. Implementation of this law significantly reduced the number of asylum seekers opting to seek refuge in Australia.

The implementation stage in public policy cycle requires the establishment of an organization or body that oversees the entire process. The organization must have the legal mandate to conduct implementation (McClelland & Marston, 2010). The Australian parliament has enacted various laws and passed the legal authority to the necessary bodies that are overseeing the implementation of the laws concerning asylum seekers. Currently, the third country processing law is in full effect. All asylum seekers arriving in the country receive automatic transfer to third countries unless the minister for immigration recommends otherwise. This indicates that the enacted policies are already in effect. Authorities are also ensuring that the implementation of policy decisions (mandatory immigrant detention and third country processing) as planned or outlined in the policy documents.

Conclusion

To conclude, the issue of asylum seekers has become a contentious public policy issue in Australia. In the last decade, Australia has increasingly played host to thousands of asylum seekers who arrive in the country clamped in small boats. Majority of the asylum seekers have fled their countries due to war and other calamities. However, a significant proportion of asylum seekers comprise of immigrants seeking jobs or better livelihoods in the country. Concerns are emerging from a faction of politicians and other individuals over the influx of asylum seekers in Australia. The greatest concern is that asylum seekers may lead to high number of social ills such as crime, terrorism, erosion of morals, and other social concerns. Public health concerns are also rise, with fears that asylum seekers may bring contagious disease into the country if they enter the country without through medical tests. On the side of the debate, individuals are concerned over the rights of asylum seekers, arguing that Australia is party to the 1952 Refugee Convention pact, which requires countries to accommodate asylum seekers.

References

Australian Human Rights Commission. (2013). Asylum seekers, refugees and human rights.        Retrieved from    http://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/document/publication/snapshot_report   _2013.pdf

Law Council of Australia. (2014). Asylum Seeker Policy. Retrieved from             https://www.lawcouncil.asn.au/lawcouncil/images/LCA-PDF/a-z-            docs/AsylumSeeker_Policy_web.pdf

McAdam, J. (2013). Australia and asylum seekers. International Journal of Refugee Law, 25(3): 435-448.

McClelland. A. & Marston, G. (2010). A framework for understanding and action. In A.   McClelland & P. Smyth (Eds.) Social policy in Australia: Understanding for Action, 2nd      Edition. South Melbourne, Vic.: Oxford University Press.

Parliament of Australia. (2011). Asylum seekers and refugees: what are the facts? Retrieved         from http://www.aph.gov.au/binaries/library/pubs/bn/sp/asylumfacts.pdf

UNHCR. (n.d). The Refugee Convention, 1951. Retrieved from      http://www.unhcr.org/search?comid=3c07a8642&cid=49aea9390&scid=49aea9398

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