It looks like some conservatives are keeping a weather eye on Australia’s territorial waters, as they prepare for an influx of illegal immigrants in the wake of changes to the mandatory detention policy. Apparently we are up to three boats bringing unauthorised arrivals since the new policy was announced.
Instead of comparing this year’s rate to previous years (e.g., five boats arrived during 2007), here is my reaction: so what? Even if there is an increase in the number of boats carrying unauthorised arrivals to Australian waters, why should I be so concerned about that?
In particular, why should I think it is better to have a policy with mandatory detention for all – even kids – that reduces the number of arrivals than to have a policy that treats people reasonably and humanely, even if it did mean that some more people might attempt to come here illegally?
For any unauthorised arrivals who have a legitimate claim to asylum, then I am happy if they find safety, security and prosperity in Australia. For unauthorised arrivals who do not have a legitimate claim, then they will be returned to their place of origin. For unauthorised arrivals who are a genuine security risk, they should be detained while their claims are assessed. I would prefer a system that achieves these appropriate outcomes over one that achieves the absolute minimal number of unauthorised arrivals.
My primary concern about the number of boats that attempt to bring people to Australia illegally is the safety of the passage – I would imagine that the last thing anyone wants to see is another SIEV-X. But attempting to prevent it by adopting a policy of locking up every man, woman and child who survives the trip makes no sense to me.
Toaf points out that, relative to other, less well-resourced parts of the world, our “burden” in terms of providing support to those in need of asylum is pretty minimal. I would rather see us consider how we can best identify and support those people who need it than argue about how to reduce the number of people who reach our shores.