Asylum seeker debate needs positive approach

It’s time for a new approach to dealing with asylum seekers who arrive here by boat.

 Current and past policies have failed to deter boat arrivals and are enormously costly socially, and financially – and to human rights.

Cruel treatment of those who arrive here leads to great suffering, mental illness and financial and social cost to society. 

Both the government and opposition cling to the fallacy that severe treatment of asylum seekers will deter more people from coming here, while using the issue to generate fear and hostility among voters to gain political advantage. 

This causes social division while not addressing the issue.

It is time to acknowledge that there is no easy way of solving this problem. Both major parties need to change their approach and the language used to debate the issue. 

Terms like “illegal” and “invasion” are deliberately used to mislead and inflame debate. Let us have debate based on facts, using moderate language. 

There are more than 40 million refugees in the world. Those who reach Australia are tiny in number and only a small proportion of the number of immigrants we welcome annually. What can be done?

Recognise the nature of the issue.

It is a worldwide and regional problem and cannot be solved by one nation acting unilaterally. Nations in a region must work together. 

Change the focus to policy so that the government and opposition work to address the issues rather than competing to be more punitive towards refugees and asylum seekers.

Adopting neutral language would be a start. 

Engage countries in our region in constructive discussion on mutually beneficial ways of processing asylum seekers.  Involve the United Nations, where possible. 

Attack the people smuggling trade at its sources, not the hapless young men who are inveigled into manning the boats. This may require providing support to countries including Indonesia and Malaysia for border surveillance and other operations. 

Speedily process and place in the community the genuine refugees who have arrived here.

The benefits of a more positive approach to dealing with asylum seekers would include a more humane and decent society and standard of public debate and the contribution made by new citizens strongly motivated to make a decent future for their families. 

Pat Horan,



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