Quick Post: Regional Resettlement Agreement released #auspol #asylumseekers #refugees

English: Kevin Rudd on Novembre 2005. Français...
English: Kevin Rudd on Novembre 2005. Français : Kevin Rudd en novembre 2005. (Image découpée à partir Image:Rudd4.jpg) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday, I quickly knocked out a preliminary analysis of the agreement between Australia and Papua New Guinea.  As predicted, there hasn’t been much analysis of the new policy, but lots of gnashing of teeth.  Since then, the content of the agreement has been released and we have got a better picture of what’s going on.

Needless to say, the agreement shows that this is really a fourth- or fifth-best option.  We should continue to ask whether this approach perverts something important in the unwritten understanding of what a Regional Cooperative Approach (also called a Regional Protection Arrangement, also called  a Regional Protection Framework) would be.

Yesterday, I pondered the relevance of other countries in the region.  The agreement has provisions for other states to get involved in the agreement:

Commencing on the day of announcement, any unauthorized maritime arrival entering Australian waters will be liable for transfer to Papua New Guinea (in the first instance, Manus Island) for processing and resettlement in Papua New Guinea and in any other participating regional, including Pacific Island,states

The attraction to other states, of course, is greater levels of assistance with their development needs.  PNG was able to secure an increase in foreign aid targeted to its development.  Naturally, some commentators called this ‘bribery’.  In the laissez-faire world of the libertarian left, there is no cooperation — only coercion.

But it shows what the price will be for Australia’s unease when it comes to irregular maritime arrivals: greater levels of assistance to regional partners.  If the region benefits from the disproportionate outrage, it’s hard to see how this is a bad thing.

Again, we need to ask whether this is really in the spirit of the proposed regional framework.  The idea was to treat everybody equally, regardless of where they were detected in the region.  Now there’s a group that will be treated slightly differently: those people who move towards Australia.  Will Indonesia, Malaysia, or even Thailand begin to make similar moves?   ‘If you are detected in one of these countries, you will not be settled in Australia.’

It’s here that the agreement starts to become more interesting:

In the case of Papua New Guinea, unauthorised maritime arrivals would be transferred to Papua New Guinea following a short health, security and identity check in Australia.

PNG clearly doesn’t want to be burdened with the ‘exceptional’ cases of the sick or the security risks.  Given the riots that occurred yesterday, I’m sure this just reinforced their view.  On the other hand, the riots that occurred yesterday would also confirm to ‘middle Australia’ that they don’t want asylum seekers here either.  But combine that statement with:

Australia will provide support, through a service provider, to any refugees who are resettled in Papua New Guinea or in any other participating regional, including Pacific Island, state

And it becomes even more evident how the proposal is intended to work.  Regional partners are not being asked to undertake additional risk.  Australia is financing the entire operation for the benefit of middle Australia.  It was largely suspected that this is how a regional framework would operate: Australia would bankroll the whole thing and coordinate with regional partners.  At the same time, it was expected that Australia would be carrying some of the load (being honest: the majority of the load) in resettling this cohort.  This agreement has changed that understanding, with Australian money being contributed so that Australia would not resettle any of the cohort.

Still, missing from the agreement are provisions relating to complimentary protection.  So if a person would be tortured in their home country for a reason other than one of the five Refugees Convention reasons, they might not be resettled in the region (because they’re not a ‘genuine’ refugee).  Further, there is no provision in the agreement for stateless persons.  As such, we should have concerns that people might be indefinitely detained in regional processing centres around the place.

At the same time, we can see this as a promising step in the right direction.  The Refugees Convention is inadequate for its modern work and the Regional Resettlement Agreement opens the door for a regional agreement for the protection and administration of asylum seekers.

Although I see this as a fourth- or fifth-best option, it’s just plain ignorant to be quite as upset as many people have become.  Under the Australia’s humanitarian programme, the number of places is capped and includes both offshore entrants and irregular maritime arrival entrants.  Thus:

Number of Protection Visas: Number of Refugees Who Were Offshore Entrants + Number of Refugees Who Were Irregular Maritime Arrivals (+ a comparatively smaller number of refugees who were ‘Air Arrivals’).

Under the new arrangement, the number of refugees who were irregular maritime arrivals is set to zero.  Thus:

Number of Protection Visas: Number of Refugees Who Were Offshore Entrants (+ a comparatively smaller number of refugees who were ‘Air Arrivals’)

Meanwhile, the people who were irregular maritime arrivals are being resettled elsewhere in the region.

In effect, this policy increases the number of people who will be resettled.  Irregular maritime arrivals will be resettled in the region, and the number of offshore entrants will increase to the cap.

Thus, the criticism in this regard depends on whether you think it’s more important for people to be resettled in Australia than it is for people to be resettled anywhere.  Most of the criticism I’ve seen and heard thus far has been that Australians think the region is shit and the only adequate place for a person to live is Australia (or New Zealand). 

If the commentators on the left are correct, the number of irregular maritime arrivals will continue at its current rate (people just want to be resettled rather than a desire to be resettled in Australia specifically).  If the number of people drops, we would then have some pretty good evidence that Australia’s policy framework influences irregular maritime arrivals.

What we should look out for is how the policy will affect people currently in Indonesia who have been awaiting resettlement for some years.  If moving towards Australia means that they get a resettlement option more rapidly, then they’ll move — even if it means being resettled in Papua New Guinea.  The agreement now gives them a mechanism to speed up that outcome, rather than continue to wait in Indonesia.

Obviously, the next step is to get other regional partners into the agreement (in exchange for increased development funds, of course).  It is a shame that the current level of noise is drowning out sober analysis: we should really push for a regional understanding on stateless persons and a regional agreement on complimentary protection.  That way, people in the region will be appropriately protected, even if they don’t meet the strict definition of a refugee under the Convention.

 

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Author: Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher is a Canberra-based blogger and policy wonk who writes about conservatism, atheism, and popular culture. Read his blog at OnlyTheSangfroid. He tweets at @ClothedVillainy

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