Daily Archives: May 13, 2009

Solving the “boat people” issue

Well, maybe…

I agree with an argument put by Andrew Bartlett in Fobbing off refugees onto Indonesia.

…Asylum seekers told the ABC they have had to wait over three years to have a refugee assessment done by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) before they can even start to hope for permanent resettlement.  Those who had their refugee status verified have also still had to wait years and years.

Given those circumstances, it would be absurd to expect that every refugee would be prepared to sit and wait, rather than try other options.

Australia is funding some of the operations of the UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Indonesia.  As I’ve previously said, it is sensible to provide assessment, support and resettlement options for refugees and asylum seekers in Indonesia so they do not feel the need to take dangerous boat voyages to Australia, and it makes sense for Australia to fund this…

My “mad idea” is a kind of reverse boat people scenario. We provide the boat.

Fit out a ship – call it MV (or SS) Funnel Web Spider if you want to discourage applicants – and send it off to Indonesia as a floating Immigration Office. Park it near places where potential boat people are gathered, and invite applications for asylum. Do the preliminary processing on the spot. Depending on the size of the ship, those who pass the checks could then be taken to Christmas Island, or any other place the Australian government chooses. Perhaps they could even reopen the Hyde Park Convict Barracks; that would have a nice symmetry as many earlier boat people (including my great-great-great grandfather Jacob) spent time there.

Because the applications have begun they could even be released straight into the community on temporary visas. You could even recoup some of the expense by charging (as happens now) a non-refundable application fee, considerably less than the dosh handed out to people smugglers – a bargain, therefore, from the applicant’s viewpoint.

I am sure it would end up costing us less than what we do now. Of course it would have to be cleared with UNHCR and the Indonesian Government, but since it would be solving several problems I don’t see that as a great difficulty.

I read somewhere that around 3,000 are sitting in Indonesia. At around 30 a boat at the moment that is a lot of boats to intercept, and a lot of money to spend (over $30,000 per seeker?) in accommodating and processing them on Christmas Island.

What do you think?

South Steyne

SS Funnel Web Spider?


See also Thousands of asylum seekers eyeing Australia: Debus and Australia’s $18m bid to keep asylum seekers in Indonesia.