Friday, April 2, 2010

Call to take more refugees

AUSTRALIA is being urged to stem the flow of boat people by accepting more refugees from south-east Asia before they risk the hazardous journey to Australia by sea.
The Refugee Council of Australia has recommended the government grant an extra 1000 offshore humanitarian visas to refugees from south-east Asia each year, saying more places will reduce the incentive for people to turn to people smugglers offering dangerous, insecure passage.
''Ultimately, the best way of reducing the incidence of asylum seekers and refugees risking hazardous journeys to Australia is to focus upon understanding and tackling the causes of secondary movements and original flight,'' the council said in a submission.
Last year 60 boats, carrying 2850 people, reached Australian waters.
So far this year, 25 boats with 1200 people on board, have arrived.
UN figures show more than 150,000 refugees are currently registered in south-east Asia, with some 98 per cent of those in just two countries, Thailand and Malaysia, consistently rated among the ''worst in the world'' for refugee treatment.
Thousands more have no access to the UN's refugee agency and, hence, are uncounted.
Australia, which has granted, on average, 11,910 offshore humanitarian visas a year over the past six years, should also look to assist south-east Asian countries improve their support for refugees, council head Paul Power told The Age.
''There's no magic answer to people feeling that they've got no choice but to engage a people smuggler to head to Australia,'' he said.
''But unless Australia is prepared to provide active support for refugees in south-east Asia, we're not even going to begin to find any response to the movements of people towards Australia by boat.
''Simply saying, 'Turn back the boats,' is hardly going to improve the situation for refugees in the region.''
Immigration Minister Chris Evans said the issue of increasing number of boat arrivals could not be solved by domestic policy alone, but was driven by international factors and required improved regional co-operation.
''The whole history of boat arrivals to Australia is the history of conflict and displacement in our region,'' he said.
He said Australia needed to help address the causes forcing people from their homes, as well as supporting the transit countries to which asylum seekers initially flee.