A former human rights commissioner has warned that hundreds – if not thousands – of asylum seekers will almost certainly drown on their way to Australia unless something is done to stop people- boats.
In a submission to the Federal Government’s expert panel on asylum seekers, Dr Sev Ozdowski says Labor’s decision to wind back the Howard government’s so-called Pacific solution and temporary protection visas created an undeniable pull factor for people trying to flee Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Iraq.
“If the current trend continues, boat arrivals for 2012 will be well over 10,000,” he wrote in his submission.
“The increased boat people arrivals will almost certainly result in hundreds or thousands of people drowning on the way to Australia.
“This statement is not alarmist – it will happen.”
But he says a return to the Pacific solution is unlikely to stop the boats because it is “common knowledge” the vast majority of people who were detained at Nauru and Manus Island ended up in Australia.
Instead, Dr Ozdowski has suggested setting up a regional processing centre in Indonesia, and in return Australia should consider accepting tens of thousands of refugees to clear the bottleneck.
“A regional cooperation framework, if skilfully established and implemented, would help prevent most of the boats departing Indonesia for Australia by establishing a queue for the orderly processing of refugees in the region.”
“Following the creation of a regional framework for refugees, there should be consequences for people who choose not to join the queue in Indonesia.
“Any asylum seekers who arrive on boat without proper travel documents should not be given a right to permanent residency but instead be offered temporary protection visas if they are found to be genuine refugees.”
Dr Ozdowski’s submission is among a large number of contributions received by the expert panel which has been set up to reassess Australia’s border protection policies.
The panel, led by former Defence Force chief Angus Houston, is now working through the submissions and liaising with a parliamentary reference group with the aim of reporting back to the Government before Parliament resumes next month.
Despite Labor and the Coalition both advocating offshore processing of refugee claims, the current political stalemate means most asylum seekers are being processed through the detention centre at Christmas Island.
On Wednesday, the Greens released their plan to stop asylum seeker boats.
It involves processing refugee claims onshore if asylum seekers make their way to Australia.
But it argues for a significantly larger humanitarian intake from countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia at the same time as working towards a regional plan that would allow asylum seekers to have their refugee claims assessed where they are.