Australia’s strict immigration policy about refugees who arrive by boat has been subject of intense internal debate and scrutiny since Howard’s Tampa incident in 2001. Parliamentary elections have been won and lost due to this issue alone, and despite heavy rhetoric from all Australian leaders since 2001, the truth behind current policy continues to evade most media organisations.
With the recent election of Mr Trump as the president of the United States, the Australian immigration issue has once again become subject of intense international scrutiny and debate. This was not the first time since Tampa that Australia’s boat arrivals were subject of intense media scrutiny. Like many other incidents before Tampa, Australia has been subjected to waves of arrivals by boat ever since the continent was invaded and settled by European settlers.
Generally speaking, immigration law and policy, asylum seekers and intake of refugees are hotly debated political issues which have determined election outcomes in Australia in the past. As a general rule, when any controversial topic is highly politicised, the victim of the issue is always the truth. What makes the arrival of asylum seekers by boat so special in recent years and why are asylum seekers who arrive by boat so infamous?
Asylum seekers who arrive by boat are infamous simply because they arrive by boat. There is no other explanation for this. Boat arrivals are guilty of arriving by boat simply because they arrived by boat – and nothing else. There are two major reasons why the asylum seekers in Nauru and Manus continue to linger there and why no solution has been found to date.
The first reason is the misconception and misinformation with regards to laws and facts surrounding people seeking asylum in Australia, and the second, being the over-politicisation of immigration law and policy and in particular the issue of asylum seekers who arrive by boat to Australia. Despite contrary popular opinion, it is not illegal to seek asylum to Australia, and it is not illegal to arrive without a valid visa for the purposes of seeking asylum. Every year, many asylum seekers arrive in Australia by plane and seek asylum, yet the Australian government does not make an issue out of this and the matter is not up for public scrutiny.
According to Australia’s own laws based on the 1951 Refugee Convention which were ratified and incorporated into Australian legislation, it is legal to seek asylum in Australia on for those who fear harm from their country of former habitual residence to seek asylum on the basis of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. Australian legislation even goes beyond the Refugee Convention to further protect vulnerable individuals who do not fall under the definition of the Refugee Convention as a recognition of the need to expand the scope of the Convention. If it is legal to seek asylum to Australia, then where did the notion that ‘seeking asylum in Australia is illegal’ originate?