Sunday, July 21, 2013

Letter To My Local MP: Requesting Support For a More Compassionate & Sensible Asylum Seeker Policy

Natasha Collins
[Address Address Address]
[Address Address Address]

[Address Address Address]


Mr Mike Symon MP
Federal Member for Deakin
5/602 Whitehorse Road
Mitcham, Victoria 3132

Dear Mr Symon,

Firstly, I would like to thank you for your service and commitment to the electorate of Deakin. I appreciate and respect that you have chosen to dedicate this period of your life to serving the local community.

I am writing to express my despair at the nature in which both major political parties are treating and speaking about asylum seekers and refugees arriving by boat, and to ask for your support on this matter. I am strongly opposed to redirecting asylum seekers and refugees to Papua New Guinea for processing and resettlement, ‘turning back the boats’ and to keeping refugees in indefinite detention. I am also disgusted at some of the language that is used when discussing the plight of asylum seekers and refugees.

I have attached two documents that may help you understand why I have come to hold this opinion.

I would particularly like to bring your attention to a few points:

1.    Myth: ‘Boat People’ are not genuine refugees
The allegation that boat arrivals are not genuine refugees is both inaccurate and no cause for alarm. It is inaccurate because, although there are many asylum seekers who are in fact not genuine refugees—between 2007 and 2010 the approval rate for asylum seekers varied between 48 and 67%—most of those rejected arrive by plane, not boat. For obvious reasons, those who attempt the perilous journey by boat are more likely to be genuine refugees. While plane arrivals typically have only a 40% success rate, 85–90% of boat arrivals are generally granted a protection visa.

2.    Myth: ‘Boat People’ are queue jumpers; they take the place of refugees who are patiently waiting in overseas camps
It is not boat people but government policy that is directly responsible for this unjust outcome. Since 1996, Australia has denied one spot from its offshore program for refugees in overseas camps for every successful onshore applicant arriving by air or sea. No other country in the world links its onshore and offshore programs in this way. The policy could easily be changed so that Australia accepts all successful onshore applicants in addition to the number of offshore places already dedicated. This would not result in unsustainable numbers. If such a policy had been in place last financial year (2009–10), Australia would have received a maximum additional 4543 refugees. That would take the total number to 18 313 as opposed to the 13 770 actually taken. This is still well below the level of what most refugee receiving countries accept and is still less than the UN recommended 20 000 places, or 0.1% of our population.

3.    Myth: Asylum seekers are secondary movers, ‘economic migrants’; they could have stopped at safe places along the way
Many of the asylum seekers who arrive onshore in Australia are not secondary movers, such as many originating from China, Sri Lanka, Myanmar (Burma), Timor Leste (East Timor) and West Papua. Nonetheless, it is true that many asylum seekers who arrive from Africa, the Middle East and South Asia travel through intermediary countries before arriving in Australia. However, there is nothing unjust or deceptive about this.

The so called ‘safe places’ on the way to Australia are largely not signatories to the Refugee Convention or do not have the capacity or will to deal humanely with the large numbers of refugees they receive.

Around two thirds of the world’s approximately 10 million refugees remain for years in exile without basic rights or essential economic, social and psychological provisions. The average stay in such conditions is now approaching 20 years. Many refugees in such countries continue to endure conditions equal to those they originally fled. Sexual and physical violence is common. The majority of asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat come through Indonesia and Malaysia, where they have no legal status and risk arrest, exploitation, torture or being returned to a country where they may be killed.

Papua New Guinea may be a signatory to the Refugee Convention, however, it’s commitment to compliance, in practice, has been dangerously weak and inadequate. Furthermore, even the government’s own travel advice states to exercise a ‘high degree of caution’ due to high levels of serious crime.

“Law and order is clearly one of the most pressing demands confronting the nation of 7 million, a point Prime Minister Kevin Rudd acknowledged before his flying visit earlier in the week that set in train this latest announcement.
A woman was stripped, tortured, doused in petrol and burnt to death in February after villagers in the highlands branded her a witch.
The murder rate in PNG is 13-times that in Australia – and closer to strife-torn Sierra Leone, according to most recent World Health Organisation figures – and the government's response has been retrograde threats to impose the death penalty.
Corruption is also rife. The respected monitoring group Transparency International ranking PNG a lowly 150 out of 176 countries surveyed.”

(‘Numbers Don’t Lie: PNG Solution Flawed’ in The Sydney Morning Herald, Sat July 20, 2013:

4.   Myth: Australia is losing control over it’s borders
No country in the world has greater control over its borders than Australia. While most countries share at least one border with another country and usually many more, Australia is an island continent with vast surrounding seas. These natural barriers make irregular migration extremely difficult. In the United States, it is estimated that there are between 7 and 20 million illegal migrants living inside the country. In the European Union, the number is between 3 and 8 million, and this is increasing by half a million every year. The UK alone has between 500 000 and 700 000 illegal migrants. The numbers are even greater in parts of the developing world. In comparison, Australia has only around 50 000 people unlawfully in the country at any one time, mostly tourists and temporary migrants who have overstayed their visa. As for asylum seekers, there were 5627 unauthorised boat arrivals in 2009–10.34 Clearly, Australia is not losing control of its borders.

That’s all good and well, you might say. But we need to stop the boats in order to stop people dying at sea…

5.   Myth: Stopping the boats will save lives
Turning back boats is not a viable option. It is not clear that the countries from which asylum seekers depart would accept returned boats. Indonesia’s foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, rebuffed calls by Tony Abbott in March 2010 for boats to be towed back stating bluntly that it would be ‘a backward step’. There are real dangers in attempting to force desperate people back into limbo where their most basic rights may not be protected. In a desperate attempt not to be returned, asylum seekers have understandably sabotaged boats in the past, resulting in a number of tragic deaths. This also places Australian naval authorities at risk. Even Australia’s own Defence Department has advised the government that turning boats around would not work and would put lives in danger.

The largest factor in driving asylum seekers to risk their lives in leaky boats to reach Australia is the inhumane conditions they are forced to endure while waiting in countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia —this is ignored by deterrent measures such as turning boats back. According to a recent survey of asylum seekers in Indonesia, more than 90% do not arrive there with the intention of getting on a boat. The long, dangerous and potentially fatal journey is the last thing that most families wish to confront. Asylum seekers come to Indonesia to be processed by UNHCR and resettled. They are willing to wait for this to happen. However, when weeks stretch to months and months stretch to years, with no apparent action on their claims, the prospect of boarding a boat for Australia begins to look more attractive.

What about refugees in indefinite detention here in Australia? Surely, this is justified when ASIO reports a failed security assessment? Right? Wrong.

6.   Myth: Refugees in indefinite detention are a criminals, and have been proven to be a security risk to Australia
Refugees in indefinite detention have been granted refugee status, acknowledging that they have well founded fear of persecution or harm in their home country. As part of the refugee assessment, they have been found not to have committed war crimes. However, they have been given an adverse security assessment (ASA) by ASIO based on classified information that they are not allowed to see which has never been open to a legally binding appeal, and consequently, are held in detention indefinitely, with no hope of a release date.

Recently, the High Court ruled that an ASIO ASA cannot be used as a reason to deny a protection visa. An independent review process was introduced, in which retired judge Margaret Stone would review the ASA’s of the 55 refugees in indefinite detention. Her findings would be then given to Immigration Minister Brendan O’Conner, Attorney General Mark Dreyfus and Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Dr Vivienne Thom, who are under no compulsion to accept the findings. In this process, refugees and their lawyers have been given very short summary statements of the reasons leading to adverse assessments. These statements are as vague as, in at least one case, stating that the person is believed to be in support of violent action in some cases.

By this logic, should every Australian who supported our going to war in Afghanistan or Iraq then be stuck in detention indefinitely? Furthermore, we are not a country that punishes people for crimes that they may, but have not yet, committed… are we?

7.   Myth: It is best that refugees in indefinite detention remain there until they can be sent either back to their country of origin or to a third country
No third country has ever taken a refugee with an ASA.
Refugees cannot be removed to their country of origin under UN refoulement laws

So, you see, Mr Symon, neither sending asylum seekers to PNG, turning back the boats, or keeping refugees in indefinite detention is actually helpful to either our country or to those who are seeking freedom and safety from persecution and oppression. Please support the call for more caring, compassionate & sensible policy.


Natasha Collins

Attached documents:
1. ASRC Myths, Facts & Solutions
2. Refugees in Indefinite Detention – Fact Sheet

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