Sunday 25 Feb 2018 | 05:33 | SYDNEY
Sunday 25 Feb 2018 | 05:33 | SYDNEY

Let\'s get real about boat arrivals



17 December 2010 11:24

Dr Khalid Koser is a Lowy Institute Non-Resident Fellow and Associate Dean at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy.

Earlier this week I made the case in a Lowy Institute Analysis for more effective asylum policies in Australia. I argued that Australia is not really facing an asylum crisis, but also acknowledged that more boats have arrived this year than in any of the previous twenty, and that asylum is a serious concern for many Australians. The tragic events off Christmas Island on Wednesday make a far more compelling case for more effective asylum policies: not because of 'surges' or opinion polls, but because of the human consequences.

Of course, we will now never know the motivations of those who perished. Historically, most boat arrivals in Australia have been recognised as refugees, so we can be confident that some of those who drowned were fleeing conflict, violence, and human rights abuse. Even if they weren't, and even if they were simply looking for a better life for themselves and their families, their deaths are still an appalling end to a desperate life.

Nor will we ever know what motivated them to try to get to Australia. Did they make the choice or was it made on their behalf by family members' Were they misled by smugglers who were almost certainly involved in their journeys' Were they attracted to a country that is wealthy, fair, and just' Or did they spot a lapse in Australia's asylum policies' The answer is probably some combination of all these factors and more.

But given that there are so many unanswered questions (we don't yet even know where these people came from), it seems premature at best, and plain wrong at worst, to blame the Government's policies for the arrival of this boat. And it is even more inaccurate to try to blame the policies for the deaths; it is just good fortune that none of the admittedly fewer boats that arrived when different policies were in place did not also founder in deadly seas.

Instead of condemning the Government, we should condemn the circumstances that forced these people to leave their homes, regret the fact that they felt they couldn't find safety (or prosperity) anywhere else, and target the smugglers who profited from their desperation.

If Australia wants to stop the boats for good and avoid further tragedies, addressing these factors – conflict and underdevelopment in origin countries; the lack of capacity in transit countries; the multi-billion dollar smuggling industry – is just as important as border enforcement and detention.

Photo by Flickr user margolove.

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