Amongst all the arguments about boat-people, a little perspective on the refugee problem is warranted, so then we could decide from among those wishing to come to Australia who should come as a “refugee” and who is actually simply proposing to immigrate, legally or illegally.
Currently, there are many destitute refugees sitting in refugee camps awaiting resettlement largely sponsored by the United Nations. These are mainly camps associated with recent conflicts in Sudan, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. Australia accepts 13,799 of these yearly, according to the 2010/11 statistics produced by the Commonwealth Department of Immigration and Citizenship’s Humanitarian Program Statistics.
Legal immigrants allowed into Australia come in under various schemes, including skilled migrants (113,725), business migrants (417, especially those with lots of money), and family reunion (54,543), according to the same department’s Migration Program Statistics, 2012.
Legal entry into Australia using visas for work, tourism or education total 6,254,735 yearly, according to official figures issued by the department, Visitor Arrivals (Temporary Entrants) — Short- and Long-Term Visitor Arrivals: Selected Countries of Birth by Main Visa Category and Number of Entries — Financial Year 2010-11.
This results in some overstayers (15,800 in the year 2009-10, total in Australia of 53,900 as at June 30, 2010), who then apply for permanent residency, some for asylum as refugees, 90 per cent of whom are eventually accepted, none of whom are locked up unless they are found to be engaging in criminal activities. (Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Fact Sheet 86 — Overstayers and Other Unlawful Non-Citizens, 2012).
Illegal entry is largely confined to the “boat people”(4,906 in the year 2011). It seems the majority of these catch a commercial flight to Indonesia with their documents intact, then pay a “people-smuggler” around $10,000 for passage in a leaky boat to Australia. When picked up, they no longer have their documents. A number have large quantities of cash, jewellery, etc, secreted on their persons.
These are clearly desperate people, but they are also clearly not destitute refugees fleeing persecution. They also clearly believe that if they keep their documents and attempt to enter Australia legally, even on a tourist visa, they will be refused. They also clearly wish to hide their identity from the Australian authorities, otherwise they wouldn’t destroy their documents before departing Indonesia for Australia.
Whether these people might be guilty of war crimes, terrorism, or even plain criminal activity, is open to conjecture. As they have no documentation, it takes a long time to sort out.
The problem for the Australian government — and hence the Australian taxpayer — is not that we will be swamped by the relatively small number of boat people, nor does it appear to be that we should have “compassion” on them, because there is a lot to be suspicious of.
Should we accept such people? I suggest not. Perhaps they should be taken to the refugee camps nearest their country of origin, on the borders of Pakistan, Sudan, Sri Lanka, etc., and swapped for genuine destitute refugees who are next in the queue, and await UN determination of their status.
Taking another 4,000 per year of those waiting wouldn’t strain us. It would be an act of compassion, and show those with money that they can’t use money to queue-jump.
If we must settle “boat people” in Australia, perhaps we could put their undoubted abilities to good use and give them land in northern Australia to develop and use, e.g., around the Ord River scheme.
A bit of farming would soon sort out who wants to be here and who just wants some of the generous Australian welfare payments available to “refugees”.
Dr Philip Dawson is a GP in George Town, Tasmania.