The 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol are the pillars of the world's refugee protection today. By itself, the definition for refugee is very broad and, no mistake, just look at Assange and Snowden, any country which has a government -- even Australia and United States -- can produce refugees. However, the oppressive military states, such as Burma (before 2015) and North Korea, are more likely to produce larger number of refugees. We should all thank to the advancements in communication in this world, many more people now have the awareness about the UN Refugee Convention, in comparison to, say, even 10 years ago.
This global increase in awareness of refugee protection also has direct impact upon people seeking to migrate for a better life, security and jobs. Remember the famous clause of the Convention: ".. the well founded fear of persecution... because of... ethnic group, political opinion ... owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; ..". I, in fact, lived and grown up in the oppressive military state of Burma and every single citizen has had a good brush with authorities. In such oppressive atmosphere, "fear of authorities" can be subjective and "unwilling to avail protection" can be a choice. On the one hand, not all forms of state's oppression can be easily defined. What I am emphasizing is that being a refugee or non-refugee is not always clear as black and white. The resulting consequence is the mixed movement of asylum-seekers and labour migrants [#1]. Governments have the difficult task of separating genuine refugees from labour migrants. For those seeking of genuine refuge, the core principles of international protection must have to be met.
Contracting States' Responsibilities
The Convention itself doesn't say much about the contracting states' responsibilities, other than not to 'refoule' refugees. In a nut shell, a refugee must not be handed directly back to his/her oppressors. Once enjoying internationally protected refugee status, the permanent resettlement options is up to the UNHCR, not going to be the choice of the refugee individual. At its core, the Convention is providing just a life-saving device for those who were compelled to leave their homeland and nothing else is guaranteed. That appears to be the major shift in the thinking of Australia's asylum policy makers.
Towards a viable refugee policy, a notable contribution made by Gillard government was that of Huston's Expert Panel Report 2012 [#2]. Whilst the recommendations made were harsh, reflecting the situation of that time, its overall policy settings seems to strike balance between Australia's protection responsibility and dealing with mixed movement of migrants and refugees.
In addition to offshore processing and boat turnbacks, one of the policy shift reflected in the report is:
"3.50 Irrespective of whether IMAs stay in Nauru for the period of their status determination or are moved to Australia, the same principle would apply to all. Their position in relation to refugee status and settlement would not be advantaged over what it would have been had they availed themselves of assessment by UNHCR within the regional processing arrangement."
This policy seems to be directly affecting the 28,000 asylum-seekers currently languishing in the community. Most of them will not be, for example, have family reunion rights for sometimes and, for some, even gaining a proper status (see Recommendation 12). In respect of humanitarian considerations, the "no disadvantage" policy is so much worse than TPV.
Tony Abbott and LNP political posturing
When having looked at these measures, I just couldn't understand why Tony Abbott would want to reintroduce TPV [#4] ? Had LNP totally shelved the Huston Report of 2012 as just "The Labour Thing" ? Or political point scoring is all that important to LNP, they discarded a real policy and just played cockroach politics to have subscribed from spin-masters? And what about Malaysian asylum-swap deal ? Tony Abbott said it that Malaysia is a "bad country" which cane "criminals" [#3]. If so, how good has Australia becomes, having made more than thousand asylum-seekers who apparently committed no crime been imprisoned offshore for three long years ?
It may just have been the fate of those asylum seekers who now in detention in Nauru and PNG. If Rudd had won election in 2013, he would have done something about Malaysian asylum-swap deal. Nothing would guarantee though, about them being able to come to Australia. But Malaysia would have been much, much better than this three year detention in the remote jungles of Pacific Islands.
Keep up your rage folks. Better things are to come.
In Solidarity, U Ne Oo, Sydney.