A Flinders law academic is calling on the Federal Government to adopt an alternative strategy towards asylum seekers that would see some legitimate refugees come to Australia on working visas rather than as “boat people”.
Dr Hossein Esmaeili was speaking yesterday at a two-day Flinders University workshop that brings together international and national experts on migration as well as local practitioners and politicians. The Irregular Migration Workshop is financially supported by the Academy of Social Sciences Australia and the Ian Potter Foundation.
Dr Esmaeili said that it would be far more effective and humane to address the issue of boat-borne refugees at its source. A high proportion of boat people are from Afghanistan and Iraq.
Dr Esmaeili is advocating the introduction of visa categories and some other forms of incentives, such as scholarships, that would allow some young Afghanis and Iraqis to gain functional skills in English and an educational qualification before coming to Australia through official channels.
Dr Esmaeili said that the current reactive policies such as offshore processing and temporary protection visas that seek to “turn back the boats” do little good, particularly as around 90 per cent of boat people have been granted refugee status in any case. They also represent a very small fraction of Australia’s migrant intake and, at present, constitute around half of Australia’s annual intake of about 12,000 refugees per year.
“These are young people who have fled conflict or oppression – all we are doing is subjecting them to years of psychological damage in detention, and then making them Australian citizens.”
Dr Esmaeili said that a work and holiday visa category for young Iranian citizens created by then Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock a decade ago had significantly helped to reduce the uncontrolled flow of refugees from Iran.
“Instead of trying to get into boats, they tried to improve their English and get a diploma. After coming to Australia and working, some went away, others applied to stay as skilled migrants,” he said.
“During the time the visa was in force, no Iranians would come here by boat.”
Dr Esmaeili said that creating a visa entry mechanism for refugees also has the advantage that identity and character tests could be met, whereas boat people seldom had documents.
While Dr Esmaeili does not believe that a system such as the one he proposes is a complete strategy, he says it moves towards a more balanced and effective solution.
“We have to pay attention to the source – our Foreign Minister and Immigration Minister travel to Indonesia and Malaysia, but they need to go Afghanistan and Iraq, and to Iran too.”