Friday, May 24, 2002


In Australia we have a discriminatory immigration system. We discriminate in favour of the people we invite in, and against we have not. Part of the system is the compulsory detention of all illegal entrants and visa overstayers until their status is determined, and then they are either given visas to stay as refugees, or deported as soon as possible.

This is a large country, with a bloody small population. It is also one of the most successful immigrant societies in the world. About 23% of the entire country was born somewhere else. We take more refugees per capita than any other country in the world, with the honourable exception of Canada. We are one of four countries in the world that actually goes out looking for refugees to take in.

The refugee policy is non-discriminatory. Since no refugees come from OECD countries, the refugee intake is comprised almost entirely of non-whites.

I think that any policy that can be supported should also be capable of being defended; that is the purpose behind this essay, and those to follow. I hope to answer the most common accusations against the policy, but I’d like to start with some basic assumptions:

1. Like every other State, Australia has the absolute right to control their own borders, and to decide who will enter, who will stay, and which non-citizens will leave;
2. Australia is a favoured destination for immigrants, and as such control over the speed and composition of immigrants is vital to our national interests;
3. Australia needs immigration in order to maintain economic prosperity for its citizens

Argument #1: They are refugees, and they’re locked up.

Actually, there is not a single refugee in detention in the country. One an asylum seeker is determined to be a refugee, they are released into the community. This usually happens within three months. Currently the average stay is being stretched by an large increase in unidentified boat arrivals, and by an increasing “tail” of people found not to be refugees, and unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin.

Argument #2: They have not been charged or convicted, why are they in jail.

There are thousands and thousands of Australian citizens in jail without being convicted of anything: it’s called remand. They are there until they are processed (trial), and their status resolved (verdict).

In the case of detainees, they are all in breach of the Immigration Act, which specifies that they all go into detention until their status is determined.

Argument #3: Asylum seekers should be let out into the community while being processed.

And what happens when their final appeals are turned down? Will they go willingly back into detention to await deportation? Or will they make themselves scarce? Instantly, an entire underground industry is created. Relatives become criminal harbourers, Immigration agents start kicking in doors. Unable to gain legal employment, illegal immigrants are vulnerable to exploitation in the workplace, in accommodation, even sexually.

Argument #4: Asylum seekers are not criminals.

Although everyone in detention has in fact broken the law, let’s assume this charge relates to “real” criminals, people who have committed felony crimes elsewhere, and are not eligible to stay here under any circumstances.

There are undoubtedly criminals mixed in with genuine refugees and economic migrants. They will include murderers, rapists, paedophiles and thieves. If just one half of 1% of the average 4000 boat arrivals per year is one of these types, and all arrivals are released into the community, then in 10 years we will have released 200 rapists, murderers and paedophiles into our community. None will have any motivation to give themselves up, and none will be able to support themselves legally. How long before they return to their original criminal trade?

And incidentally, since criminals almost invariable prey on the poor, how many refugee advocates are likely to end up as their victims?

Argument #5: Detention is inhumane.

Apparently not for the entire Australian convicted criminal population, who endure far harsher conditions for much longer, without a word of protest from refugee advocates.

Every person in detention is there voluntarily; either through coming here without authorisation, or refusal to accept their determination(s). Their opinion of their own deservedness is not relevant

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