Refugees: We’re Making It Worse

On water matters: Irish Defence Forces 15 Jun 2015 3
The LÉ EITHNE successfully located and rescued approximately 362 migrants on a wooden barge, 50 kilometres north-west of Tripoli, the Libyan capital.​

What if the Australian approach to migrants is utterly misguided. What if it’s helping to create and grow the very problem it is trying to solve?

Demand for a new life here is high, but we keep supply artificially low. As a result, the price is high. As high as the cost of your life. And people still pay it. So whatever else our policies are doing, they are not reducing demand.

How can we reduce the demand?

Offer equally attractive alternatives: Cambodia doesn’t cut it.

Remove some of the pressures creating the demand: don’t escalate the already devastating conflicts in places like Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq. Make peace, not war.

Tackle poverty. Make poor countries more bearable in the short term with generous overseas aid.

Don’t sell the rulers expensive weapons systems.

Fiercely tackle corruption.

Build what local governments can’t: schools, universities, hospitals. Run scholarship programs. Support local businesses.

Conduct trade on generous terms.

But at present we do the opposite. We increase the demand by increasing war and instability. We increase poverty and desperation by cutting overseas aid. And we severely restrict supply by preventing more than a very few people from claiming safe haven with us, and punishing those who try.

We are creating the boats, drownings, smugglers. Not just in Europe, but in our region. Our navy should be rescuing those on boats and bringing them onshore, not shoving them off to die elsewhere unseen.

If you don’t want people fleeing to other countries, for their lives, for a future, for help, don’t create and support the conditions that drive them from their homes. Make their homes better, not worse.

Don’t support war in their homelands.

Give overseas aid generously: it’s a lot cheaper than paying for planes, drones, bombs and ships, and kinder, too.

All these things take time to put right, especially when we’ve been doing it wrong for so long. The crisis is here now.

In the short and medium term, the answer is not to restrict supply, but to increase it.

We can all manage with a bit less money, a bit less room, share a small proportion of our incredible wealth with people who have nothing. We can give them a safe home while we help them put things right in their homelands.

Some of them may eventually want to return. Some of their children, or their children’s children, may. But this is not a short term project. It will stretch over generations.

What they need immediately is safety and stability. For as long as it takes.

It’s been suggested that we could take an additional 20,000 refugees. Even that would be a drop in the bucket, given the worldwide demand. Close to 20,000,000 are fleeing war and poverty in their homelands. I’m no mathematician, but that’s a pathetically small response. Barely even a token.

Australia could, and should, play its part, firstly, in our own region, and secondly, to take some of the burden off Europe.

In order to do this we need a fair, transparent and speedy system to assess the needs of individuals and give them a settled home here within 12 months of starting their journey: not an apparently endless wait in barren camps in already poor countries.

We need safe, well equipped short term onshore camps here, to hold people for assessment, for a maximum of three months. After that, they can be released into the community and allowed to work, set up businesses, get the children into schools.

We need to provide safe transport so that they do not risk their lives on unsafe boats: charter ships and planes and run our own migrant transport service.

We can use the money we would have wasted on bombers and fighters. For example, we can raise money by a special impost on all big businesses operating in Australia, a percentage of their turnover, until we reform the tax so that multinationals pay their way here properly.

It will take international effort and co-operation. It will take a massive effort by all of us.

Yes, it will change this country. For the better. Instead of daily creating thousands of new enemies, we shall create new friends and neighbours.

It’s time to reject fear and hatred, and throw open our hearts and our borders.

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)