The Australian government introduced a milestone bill on asylum seekers last week… It seeks to remove the already limited ability of the courts to evaluate Australia’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in accordance with the international obligations and introduces an “Australian Version” of the international refugee definition. For the convenience of the state, the bills says the government could even remove people with no consideration of their risks of torture or other human rights violations.
At the same time, the government of Australia held a toast after signing to resettle refugees from Nauru in Cambodia. Australia has put $40 million on the table to ensure the success of this transaction. In fact, although the Minister of immigration is thinking about unlimited numbers to be resettled there, Cambodia seems to be looking at handful.
On the other hand, the Australian civil society is further concerned about the asylum seekers who were returned to Sri Lanka.
All these incidents, only leave us with the question “who is responsible for these asylum seekers?”
In the context of the above events, one may argue the fact that recently signed agreement to resettle some refugees from Australia’s offshore detention centres will provide a path to settle and determine the future for the so called illegal maritime arrivals, rather than being in uncertainty in life over years.
However, most rights groups have criticised the agreement calling it as inhumane. Considering the human rights record of Cambodia they have further condemned relocating the vulnerable refugees there.
Whilst the arguments for and against are put through various forms, from a humanitarian point of view, asylum seekers are mostly a symbol of our turbulent times. As each new conflict erupts, the media is filled with pictures of masses on the move, fleeing from their own country. Those who eventually survive depend on the willingness of mostly developed states to open their borders and various humanitarian organisations to provide new arrivals with the basic needs. In fact, subsequently when the message goes back to the country of origin, it is always possible to use this international obligation of another state in an abusive manner.
In the case of Sri Lankan asylum seekers, even after 5 years since the end of the war we hear more and more boats coming to Australia. Irrespective of ethnic differences they are fleeing seeking for better opportunities and life prospects in the developed world. People smuggling is the real problem to be addressed in this regard. I have heard stories about smugglers attempting to pass on people through boats and at the time of failure, if they are returned they torture the people, expose them to media as the next step. If the governments reply they consider to be lucky. If not, the world turns its attention to another crisis and they are left behind in their usual routines back at home.
While we claim that asylum seekers are a responsibility of the entire world and it is imperative to ensure their human potentials are not wasted during their time in exile, providing them with the right solutions, it is also the responsibility of the people not to exploit these humanitarian laws.