Why I am not opposed to TPVs for irregular maritime arrivals

10,500,234 refugees, globally in 2012, according to the UN.  And while there is somewhere between 200,000 and 1,000,000 people exiting this category each year, for the last 15 years it has been stubbornly high, certainly not trending downwards.  See http://data.unhcr.org/dataviz/ do you own exploration of the numbers of people involved.

Australia has had (under both Labor and Liberal governments) a fixed refugee quota for each calendar year.  It varies, up and down, but the total number is set by governments, and from 2006 onwards this has been just over 13,000 – recently increased to 20,000.

Each person arriving by boat reduces by one the number of UN determined refugees Australia will take from the various refugee camps globally.  It doesn’t have to be this way, but in practice both brands of Government have done this.

20,000 will not make a substantial numerical dent on the 10,000,000 refugees globally, so we are in to a situation of “triage”.  Triage – where the helper’s resources are insufficient to the need, it is a system which seeks to maximise the good achieved.  This is largely non-controversial when applied at hospital A&Es throughout Australia.  Run a thought experiment for a moment if the walk in patients were in charge of establishing priority would there be better health outcomes? A more maximised good? Australia should undertake a refugee program which is triaged by Australia.

The UN convention on refugees is a deeply flawed document, but by far the best we have, or are ever likely to have.  It has quite tight definitions on who is, and who is not, a UN categorised refugee.  Basically “a well founded fear of persecution” is required – abject poverty, and lack of opportunity is NOT a basis.  Refugee determinations in UN camps globally tend to occur at around the 10% rate, with placements at around 1% per year.  Once in Australia the determination rate largely inverts (around 90% or higher) and the placement rate is in excess of 25%. The UN convention also makes it effectively impossible to return a cluey asylum seeker against their wishes.

Under the current system there is a clear incentive to move from UN camp to Australian shores, or at least Australian interception at sea.

Temporary Protection Visas are within the guidelines of the UN Convention.

TPVs do remove the risky and lethal incentive to undertake an irregular maritime arrival.

Reducing IMAs will allow Australia to triage its refugee response – as such you would anticipate a maximised good.

On this basis I am not opposed to a policy that implements TPVs for IMA asylum seekers.

It has been said “you should talk softly and carry a big stick”.  I think when it comes to this difficult policy area this should be reversed.  Talking up toughness, but delivering a generous response is defendable.

Whether it is reasonable to retrospectively apply this to asylum seekers already in Australia is another level of difficulty – I suspect the answer is no.


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