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We can save lives from today

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GreensMPs 20 Jul 2013

We need to take action immediately to save the lives of desperate people coming to us for protection. Our eight point action plan would give people seeking asylum across the region less reason to board dangerous boats and can be adopted immediately.

Please share this page with your friends and family, and talk to people about what we're proposing. We can save lives starting today if we make that our priority. Then, we can craft a long-term, fair, legal and genuine regional solution - one that has the wellbeing of people at its core.  

What are the Greens doing today?

The Greens have a plan that is legal, respects refugees' rights and dignity, and would make a difference to people today. We took our proposals to the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers, moved for it in the Parliament, and are working hard to build the political will to implement it.

What are the other parties doing?

Kevin Rudd's radical right-wing response to refugees is shameful. He should have joined the Greens to commit to a genuine regional solution; instead, Australia will now be a wealthy country paying off one of the most impoverished countries on the planet to resettle desperate refugees.

No wonder Tony Abbott has welcomed Rudd's plan.

What's in the Greens' plan?

First, we need to provide safe pathways to a secure life to people waiting in our region right now. That will reduce the pressure for them to board dangerous boats.

Then, we need a regional response that is legal, effective and compassionate. Experts have argued for it. History has proven it. This policy will work.

To provide safe pathways to people waiting in our region, we can immediately:

  • Urgently resettle many more assessed refugees from Indonesia and Malaysia, and increase Australia's humanitarian intake, so that persecuted people can see ways to safely get out of camps and start a new life;
  • Increase funding to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Malaysia and Indonesia, so that they can assess asylum claims faster and end the despair for people waiting;
  • Open up more family reunion places in Australia's humanitarian program;
  • Review the ban on people from some countries seeking protection by air, which can stop people seeking asylum;
  • De-link the onshore and offshore quotas for humanitarian visas;
  • Codify Australia's sea rescue policies and increase Indonesia's capacity so people are rescued in time; and
  • Establish an Australian Ambassador for Refugee Protection to work full-time in the region.

From this base, we can move to create a New Regional Plan of Action - an update of our response to the Vietnam War, when we assessed refugees in the region before resettling them to Australia and other safe countries. In the 1970s and 80s, we helped thousands of refugees through a genuine regional system. We can do it again.

Who supports an approach like the Greens' plan?

Many organisations that work directly with people seeking asylum, or advocate for them, have supported immediate actions to save lives and a genuine, regional assessment solution.

These peak bodies and experts have called for the same legal and compassionate policies to save asylum seekers as the Greens:

And you can find more here.

Why will the Greens' proposals work?

The best way to prevent the terrible loss of life of people seeking asylum at sea is to stop people getting on boats in the first place. That means addressing the root causes of their plight, where they are now.

History shows us that punishing people for seeking our protection does not work - but genuine regional solutions, founded on humanitarian action from countries like Australia, work for everyone involved.

Where does this plan come from?

What the Greens have proposed during this debate has been developed with refugee and humanitarian experts in the region. The Greens have worked on these issues for years, standing up for the human rights of people seeking asylum from dangers at home, and holding true to Australia's international legal and moral obligations.

Similar approaches have been supported by former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, the Refugee Council of Australia, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, GetUp, ChilOut, Amnesty International and Labor for Refugees, along with hundreds of academic and legal experts.

What's happening in Indonesia and Malaysia right now?

There are thousands of people waiting to have their asylum applications assessed in Indonesian refugee camps, and more in Malaysia. But with only a handful of UN officers assessing their claims, the 'queue' to find a safer home from Malaysia or Indonesia is decades long.

Refugees have no legal status in Indonesia or Malaysia. That means they have no healthcare, no education, no way to earn a living for their families, and no prospects of a safe life.

These desperate people know the risks of taking a boat to Australia but they see no other route that gives them any chance of safety and certainty for their family.

How would the Greens' plan help people waiting for protection in our region?

The annual budget for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Indonesia is far too low to deal with their needs, and has been cut in the past. An immediate increase in UNHCR funding from Australia would massively increase their capacity to assess the claims of asylum seekers where they are now, and find safe homes for them around the region.

Over the last decade Australia has only accepted 60 people, on average, from Indonesia and Malaysia each year. The Houston panel recommended that Australia quickly resettle 3,800 refugees waiting in Indonesia right now to reduce the pressure there, but Labor has done nothing to make this happen.

If Australia announced today that we would take several thousand people from Indonesia and Malaysia, and gave a clear commitment that we will give them a safer pathway to a better life, there would immediately be far less pressure to get onto boats and risk their lives.

Together with an increase to our humanitarian intake, these and other steps would give people languishing in camps or without legal protection a safer pathway to come to Australia.

What would the proposals from other parties mean?

Punishing asylum seekers by turning boats around - or sending people to Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, Nauru, anywhere but here - will not deter desperate people from making dangerous journeys by boat. It never has and it never will.

We don't have to choose between the shameful options of expelling vulnerable people to Papua New Guinea, Malaysia or Nauru. These inhumane policies of 'deterrence' won't work because desperate people will still seek our protection unless Australia becomes as cruel and threatening as the persecutors they are fleeing, like the Taliban.

Plans from Kevin Rudd to ban refugees who come by boat from ever resettling in Australia are shameful. They won't save lives, but they will damage the lives of thousands of adults and children sent to the awful camp on Manus Island, then to live in PNG.

Rudd's plan will undermine any progress towards a genuine regional response. How will the Australian Government be able to ask other countries to sign on to the human rights protections of the UN Refugee Convention when it is ignoring the Convention itself?

No wonder Tony Abbott has welcomed Rudd's latest plans. Abbott's proposals to turn boats around on the high seas are extreme and dangerous.

The Greens are offering a third option, which all the refugee and human rights experts agree on - and which will actually save lives.

We need to give asylum seekers safe legal pathways to secure homes from where they are now - before they board a boat to Australia.

Some independents and the Labor Government supported a Bill in the House of Representatives last June. What would it have done?

That Bill would have allowed any Government of the day to choose to deport people to any country signed up to the Bali Process, and would have stripped all human rights protections from our current Migration Act to allow policies like the Malaysia expulsions. Bali Process countries include Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

That Bill was a fix for politicians - not a genuine solution for people seeking asylum. It was a radical, hardline response to a complex humanitarian problem.

We've seen in the past that regional solutions do work, whereas casting people off-shore into further danger so they are forced to keep running does not.

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