Australia: the Malaysia Solution was "wrong", so what now?

What is the right solution? And are there really so many boat-people that Australia needs to worry that much?

In the latest issue of The Economist an article claims the Gillard-led government's 'Malaysia Solution', kicked into touch by the Aussie High Court, was "the wrong solution". 

The periodical asserts that suburban Australia's concerns about boat-arriving asylum seekers have been stoked by "the "National-Liberal opposition, backed by radio "shock jocks" and tabloid journalists." Furthermore, it calculates that "by August 22nd this year only 36 boats carrying 2,183 people had arrived." It quotes a poll on August 16th stating that "53% of Australians believed asylum-seekers arriving by boat should be allowed to land and processed in Australia; only 28% wanted them deported."

Importantly for Julia Gillard, her get tough strategy hasn't reaped political dividends, it appears. Her government is no more popular than it ever was. Sure, Malaysia hasn't signed the UN Refugee Convention (unlike Australia). And yes, Malaysia has a fairly robust refugee policy - it would have, as "90,000 refugees" are holed up there waiting for claims to be processed. Unlike the island-continent, Malaysia has porous land borders. It's poorer than Australia and less proficient at sifting through complex applications swiftly, right now. (But, as Malaysia's economic growth accelerates, so its ability to rectify this will improve, no doubt).

Meanwhile, Australia's refugee conundrum remains. The Economist offers no solution, its article merely appears to infer that this is a storm in a teacup. That there isn't political capital to be gained from harsh measures. 

But why should Australia have to focus its attention and expend its wealth on this issue at all? Yes it's big, relatively unpopulated and rich. But these refugees usually arrive after dangerous sea trips from far-off lands, like Sri Lanka or Afghanistan. Refugees usually nip over local borders to neighbouring countries, not travel half way across the globe to a distant place. Some do, but do they have to? It's been asserted that Sri Lankan Tamils can't gain access to Tamil Nadu state in India. Why not? And Pakistan already houses several million Aghans.

It appears Australia sits between a rock and a hard place on this topic. If it attempts to quell the flow its international treaty obligations are flouted. If it accepts refugees for processing it only encourages others to attempt the journey.

The Economist states that most asylum-seekers reach Australia by air anyway, "over twice as many" land at airports, it asserts. Do airlines not have obligations to check the acceptability of passengers' visas prior to take-off?  Surely by allowing refugees to board they are incurring huge processing costs at the Australian end? Perhaps airlines' responsibilities could be re-examined?

Check out all commentaries here.

No comments:

Post a Comment