Resettlement is the key to asylum solutions


Having worked for the UN High Commission for Refugees this article is one in a series I published from 2000 through to 2011 lamenting the great shame of the paucity of Australian public debate.

Resettlement is the key to asylum solutions

The deep flaw in the government’s asylum policies is that refugee resettlement, not refugee processing is the driver of the people smugglers trade. The location of processing is not relevant. The Gillard Government policy was flawed from birth and a replacement policy must recognise this fact.

We need a refugee policy that reflects Australia’s position as a leading country, not a fearful one. We should also balance the needs of the refugee and asylum seeker needs, as well as address the concerns of Australians around health and identity.
If you want to break the people smugglers business model, as Chris Bowen says, then you must ensure rapid resettlement after asylum processing is complete, regardless of where that processing takes place.
Whatever policy exists, it should have three objectives. 

  • One, improve the conditions for asylum seekers. 
  • Two, protect Australian boarders. 
  • Three, enhance Australia’s reputation.
Each of the three major Australian parties fails on at least one of these.
Arrival by sea has people embark on the dangerous journey those results in death for too many desperate people.  Too many drown on route. The Greens are wrong to say ‘let the boats land’, not because we don’t want refugees here, but because we don’t want refugees to drown en route.
But the fear mongering coming out of the Coalition is also wrong. The Coalition policy is contributing to a negative brand image of Australia as an unwelcoming county. This must stop.
We receive such a small proportion of the global refugee intake. We are asked by some in the Coalition ranks “do we want those sorts of people here”? My response is to think: Do we want someone willing to risk their lives for nothing other than a better future for their children?
My answer: Absolutely we want that sort of person here. But we want them here in an orderly way.
Likewise the ALP’s solution to ship people off to Timor, Malaysia, Nauru, Manus or wherever they might think of next is misguided. It too does not discourage people from getting on the boats in the first place.
Giving a realistic alternative to boats as a route to resettlement is the key to stopping the boats. Turning boats around is too late. We need to stop them leaving by taking from the people smugglers their horrific trade. If we stop the delay in resettlement, we stop the market. If we stop the market, we stop the boats. If we stop the boats, we stop the deaths.
Currently in Indonesia and Malaysia, once a refugee is assessed as genuine, and they pass through health and security checks, the still have to wait for many years for resettlement.
If they have been processed as genuine and they have health and security checks, why make them wait?
Currently the regional burden is being handled mainly by Malaysia and Indonesia. Malaysia currently has over 200,000 refugees, asylum seekers and ‘persons of concern’ listed by UNHCR, Australia has only 25,000. Australia  needs to step up to the plate, take a fair share and need to do so from a regional perspective.
A regional treaty should be negotiated that would define an asylum seeker as ‘arrived in the region’ when they land in the first county – most often Malaysia or Indonesia. Each regional country should agree to bear a fixed percentage of the burden of refugees, with this burden including a percentage of the cost share of processing and repatriation of non genuine asylum seekers, and a fixed percentage of automatic acceptances and immediate resettlement of genuinely assessed refugees.
They should be processed in the country of first arrival with health and security checks are undertaken as part of refugee assessment overseen by UNHCR in the country of arrival. If accepted as genuine refugees these people should be resettled immediately to whichever of the regional countries that is under-quota on refugee acceptances.
Refugees would not choose which country they are resettled in. They would be resettled in whichever country is next in line to accept processed refugees according to the resettlement percentages.
This would discourage refugees coming with an aim to get to one particular country.
A genuine regional solution like the above would take away the market for people smugglers as it would remove the delay in resettlement. It would stop the boats. It would allow Australia to take a genuine regional approach and allow us to take our fair share of genuine refugees. Critically it would also remove the fear of terrorism as refugees would have been assessed for  health and security.
It is time for a politician to stand up and lead. They should lead from the basis of both pragmatism and humanity, not just fear or populism.

Read more?

See here: Maria. This is the story of the Bosnian  refugee girl I met in northern Serbia. A 12 year old who changed my life forever.

But what is an alternative?

Below are some links to  my views on alternative asylum, but also a positive, short video extract from the Richard Searby Oration where I think setting out where Australia should be.

If you are interested in my views on alternative asylum policy, see my other blogs:


  1. Tampa 12 months on.
  2. Stop the Bollocks: Is Abbott trashing Australia’s reputation?
  3. Fear of refugees is a red herring.
  4. Resettlement not Processing is the real solution for refugees?
  5. Carrots and sticks can provide answers to asylum policy.
  6. Mental health of refugees our new Stolen Generation.

More discussion like this is in: 


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