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Permanent asylum for unauthorised arrivals has reached its global use-by date

By Brendan O'Reilly - posted Friday, 1 April 2016


For some years Australia's detention policy for illegal arrivals and turn back policy for people-smuggling boats was regarded as singularly punitive and attracted regular criticism, especially from Northern European countries and from human rights lobbyists. Our Department of Immigration and Border Protection website currently declares that "the Government is committed to not granting Permanent Protection Visas to people who.... arrived in Australia illegally without a visa. If you arrived in Australia illegally, you are only eligible to apply for and be granted a Temporary Protection Visa or a Safe Haven Enterprise Visa".

We are no longer alone in abandoning the routine right to permanent asylum, even to genuine refugee arrivals, because our policy is seen to be the only one that works.

In recent days Greece has detained hundreds of migrants on its islands, as officials in Athens and the European Union concluded an agreement to send thousands of asylum-seekers back to Turkey.  Under the deal, no new migrant arrivals will be allowed to travel to the Greek mainland.  Anyone who does not apply for asylum will be sent back, as will anyone whose claim is rejected. For every Syrian migrant sent back to Turkey, one Syrian already in Turkey will be resettled in the EU.  Some previously open refugee camps on the islands of Lesbos and Chios are now being converted into detention centres.  The Greek and Turkish authorities are even attempting boat turn backs.

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Angela Merkel (in somewhat of an about face) warned asylum seekers, who reached Germany, that they are only there temporarily and cannot stay long-term.  In a significant change of tone, the German Chancellor in January said that even genuine refugees from Syria and Iraq would have to go home once the conflicts there had ended.

The Nordic countries, previously notable for welcoming refugees, are now also cracking down. 

Sweden is preparing to send back nearly half of all the asylum seekers that entered the country last year, and is ready to charter planes to take rejected applicants back home.  Up to 80,000 people could be involved in an operation the interior minister is calling a “very big challenge”.  In 2015 Sweden took in 163,000 people and currently 45 percent of asylum applications are rejected.  Sweden introduced checks on its border with Denmark at the start of the year in order to reduce the number of illegal arrivals.

Asylum seekers arriving in Denmark now face the risk of having cash and valuables worth more than $2,000 taken from them at the border under controversial new laws adopted by the country's parliament.  The reforms, aimed at dissuading refugees and migrants from seeking asylum, also include provisions to delay family reunifications by up to three years.  Opinion polls show that 70 per cent of Danes rank immigration as their top political concern.

Greece and Italy have been the main EU entry points for asylum seekers.  Both countries until recently have attempted to quickly transition these migrants through to their desired destination, commonly Germany or Sweden.  As destination countries crack down, many transit countries have become nervous and most have now closed their borders to new asylum seeker arrivals.  Greece now seems to be doing the same.  Effectively the game of "pass the refugee" seems to be coming to an end.

Across the Atlantic illegal immigration from Mexico and Latin America (generally accepted as largely economic migration) is shaping up as a major issue in the Presidential election campaign, with a clear split across party lines. With the number of illegal immigrants in the US generally put at around 11 million, this has developed into a major political issue with both Trump and Cruz (on the Republican side) advocating a major crackdown, which would result in a lot of distress for those facing deportation.  Hilary Clintonon the other hand wants to instead "create a pathway to citizenship, keep families together, and enable millions of workers to come out of the shadows".  Clinton's policy seems certain to result in further illegal arrivals, as amnesties and related policies in the past only served to encourage further illegal immigration.

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The problem most well-off countries have with granting permanent asylum/residence is the sheer numbers involved, and that an ever-growing number of economic migrants from third-world countries claim persecution as a pretext for admission.  There is also a strong fear that many asylum seekers are from racial or religious groups that are unlikely to integrate easily or may develop into a permanent underclass with associated social problems.  High rates of sexual assault and incidents of rioting by some asylum seeker groups have also generated apprehension in Northern Europe.  Eastern Europe, on the other hand, has a deep-seated historically-based fear of Islamic immigration, while recent terrorist incidents involving those from Islamic communities have spread such fears right through the EU.  In contrast, Hispanic immigration into the US (which is not associated with great religious differences or with terrorism) has not generated anything like this type of reaction. 

It is widely accepted that countries have a moral and humanitarian duty to help those displaced by war or persecution.  Up until the late 20th century the numbers seeking asylum in developed countries were sufficiently modest as to not be a major concern, and the availability of permanent asylum to genuine refugees was the norm.  The much increased size of more recent waves of asylum seekers has changed this, so that countries are now moving to a position of offering only temporary asylum.  Freedom to pass across the borders of many European Union nations has been enshrined in the Schengen Agreement.  That licence for unrestrained passage now also appears to be in its death throes.

Countries conventionally may lose their national identity through military defeat and subsequent occupation.  There is now a growing fear in some Western countries that their national identity, freedoms and prosperity can also be lost through the unrestricted mass immigration of asylum seekers from alien cultures, and this is now increasingly reflected in national politics and policies.

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About the Author

Brendan O’Reilly is a retired commonwealth public servant with a background in economics and accounting. He is currently pursuing private business interests.

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