The right to seek asylum

The right to seek asylum

When Grassroots politics went to air last week, news was breaking that would turn the refugee debate on its head.

For months, calls from the Federal Opposition have echoed throughout the lower house demanding to “STOP THE BOATS”.

Well, on Friday last week, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd did just that, establishing a new agreement with Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill. Mr. Rudd stated that any refugee who travelled to Australia by boat would be relocated to PNG, and would be resettled there, not Australia.

In the following days, Labor defended their policy, claiming the legalities of the plan are steadfast. But humanitarian groups are up in arms over the new laws.

Country Labor candidate for Calare, Dr Jess Jennings says he believes the plan will act as a disincentive to refugees travelling to Australia by boat.

“The key benefit in the change in the asylum seeker policy is creating a pathway that essentially removes the risk of travelling by boat, essentially. To date 1,100 refugees have died at sea. So essentially stopping the boats should stop those deaths.”

This week, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott responded with his Operation Sovereign Borders, announcing if elected at the next election, “a Coalition government will establish a military-led response to combat people smuggling and to protect our borders”.

The announcement comes at an interesting time for the Central West region as St Stanislaus College prepares to host Senior Protection Officer for the UNHCR, Ellen Hansen to speak at a local Refugee Forum. Ms. Hansen who is based in Canberra, works within the UNHCR in Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the Pacific and will speak at the forum, addressing human rights issues.

Ms Hansen says the dangers of travelling across the Pacific are concerning to UNHCR as the numbers of people arriving by boat in Australia have increased and this needed to be responded to in an attempt to prevent further loss of life. However, she says safer avenues of travel are becoming harder to find.

“Increasingly it is becoming very difficult for asylum seekers to move by air because more countries are putting in place visa requirements and carrier sanctions, they are penalising airlines for carrying people without proper documentation. So in some ways there are some explanations for the increase in the numbers arriving by boat.”

Dr. Jess Jennings recognises that these avenues are becoming increasingly harder to find, but says the government will be looking to increase the intake of refugees into Australia.

“The upside of this policy is that it will have the opportunity to link with refugee intake to Australia which Labor has already done from 13,000 to 20, 000 over the last few years and we will be looking to increase again from 20,000 to probably around 27,000 per year, which will put Australia well ahead of the rest of the world on a per capita basis for intake of refugees.”

Ms Hansen says Australia does take a substantial amount of refugees on a per capita basis, however in terms of spontaneous refugees, for example, refugees arriving by boat, we aren’t helping out quite as much as we could.

“Australia takes the highest number per capita or refugees under the resettlement program and that’s of course a generous contribution made by Australia in sort of a spirit of responsibility sharing. But in terms of taking refugees who arrive spontaneously, Australia receives less than 2 per cent of asylum seekers in the industrialised world.

She says new UNHCR statistics from 2012 the a 5.2 million people forcibly displaced people worldwide. Of those roughly 800,000 are in need of resettlement and there are less then 100,000 places for these people, worldwide.

See my exclusive interview with Ellen Hansen below and the interview with Jess Jennings.

Or tune in this afternoon on our show at 4pm streamed live from this site for the full story.

Ellen Hansen Full Interview

Jess Jennings Full Interview.rcproject

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