Australia has recently come under fire for its new policy regarding asylum seekers attempting to enter the country without a visa. According to the Australian prime minister, this policy is an attempt to “curtail the record number of people attempting the dangerous boat journey to claim asylum”. From now on, people arriving at Christmas Island will not be allowed to disembark their boats but will instead be sent to Papua New Guinea — an impoverished country with completely different asylum laws. The refugees arrive from countries such as Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Myanmar, Syria, Vietnam and Sri Lanka, in an attempt to escape civil, ethnic or religious strife or even bad economic conditions.
The international humanitarian community is up in arms about this — political asylum is every human being’s right and these people attempt this dangerous journey with the help of unscrupulous human smugglers because they have no other option. Humanitarians claim that Australia has no right to dump these people on a country that itself has a struggling economy, and especially so, when the total number of refugees arriving in Australia is quite small, compared with other Asian or European countries.
The Australian announcement is a response to the fact that every month, at least one boat, containing about 200 to 500 illegal immigrants, sinks off the coast of Christmas Island or Indonesia. Just recently, a boat carrying around 175 people sank — only 157 people survived and many children are still missing.
Add to this the terrible conditions at refugee camps in Malaysia — the one stop in the long journey that these refugees embark upon.
Australian authorities claim that Australia already has a working system that deals with people who legally apply for asylum and a continuous influx of refugees who ‘jump the line’ causes it to slow down. I wouldn’t blame them if they come up with more reasons. I’ve heard plenty of Pakistanis complain about the permeability of our own borders, about refugees taking up the government’s money and attention and about the illegality of all this.
Of course, refugees have some place to go — their own countries. Nobody ever wants to leave their homeland, their families or their lives. Nobody wants to be packed into an airless container for an indefinite amount of time and risk drowning, suffocation, starvation, dehydration and fraud. The governments of the countries these refugees come from are to be blamed for creating conditions that prompt people to abandon everything they have. These governments must be pressured into providing infrastructure and making solid plans for economic development. The inability of these countries to protect their own people is more despicable than Australia’s reluctance to continue accepting a large number of foreigners with open arms.
The refugee problem is not about the destination; it is about the source. If efforts are not made to solve the issues that cause these people to migrate, the deluge of impoverished, undocumented human beings will not stop. Poorer countries cannot willingly lean on richer ones for support and at the same time, resent them for the interference and attempts to safeguard the latter’s own national interest. No one wants someone else’s problems on their hands and I don’t blame Australia for not wanting ours.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 29th, 2013.
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