Summary: 22nd Gentle Thinkers Debate (Asylum Seekers)

“How can we treat asylum seekers humanely?”

Note: This summary is based and interpreted from notes taken during the debate and may contain errors. If you wish to correct, be attributed to or contribute content, please contact me or post a comment.

More summaries can be found via the Summary Index.


  • Reading list and introductory essay by Thor May

  • Fear of asylum seekers may cause confusion amongst the populous. Low income earners are the ones who may see asylum seekers and immigrants as threats.

  • It’s disappointing for some that the problem involves money (e.g. money being spent in border control and money not being spent on asylum seekers).

  • Years spent processing asylum seekers are pointless for our government, society and for the asylum seekers. We could spend the money and time making better societies and people.

  • Poor people may be better for the economy as they have to spend all their money to survive whereas richer people might hoard their money. Arguably rich people may be good for the economy if they spend their money locally rather than overseas.

  • Some argue that it would be good for the economy to have more people to generate and spend money.

  • The population sustainability of Australia is questionable and will affect how many migrants, asylum seekers and citizens are in the country.

  • It would be cheaper and quicker to import a trained adult population than to breed our own.

  • While some of us are happy to share our resources, it’s unrealistic and unfeasible to put this into practise. For some percentage of people, once you have something good, it is hard to share, and being forced to share might seem threatening.

  • We might be breeching the law (local, national and global) by stopping the boats from reaching Australia.

  • We may need to classify people as refugees so we can process them properly and give them refuge.

  • There are many reasons to seek asylum and refugee status, in the experience of one member, poverty is not one of them. Poverty may be the reason for migrating to another country.

  • Most of the world is still trying to secure basic needs so it’s not unreasonable to have large numbers looking for a better life. Some of the luckier ones may still be trying to figure out how to make their own lives better.

  • Australia has reduced the limit of how many refugees we accept.

  • Off-shore processing is a scare tactic that increases political fear.

  • We may be more aware and susceptible of political fear when we are in unstable economic environment. When times start to get harder, people may be feeling less generous and more aggressive to the out-group.

  • Most people see asylum seekers as queue jumpers because they are bypassing the “legitimate” method. Australia only accepts refugees after they have been processed by the UNHCR (intercepted at overseas ports and flown into the country).

  • Countries who refuse refugees and asylum seekers have the right to say “no” because they have the best interest of their country and its citizens (sovereignty).

  • Countries can sign the UN convention but that doesn’t mean they will follow through with the policies. We may need unanimous decisions to get people to adhere to these.

  • Off-shore and overseas processing of asylum seekers makes them the responsibility of the “host” countries.

  • Countries have the right to find out if people are refugees. Once identified as such, we can treat them humanely.

  • Australia may not be able to treat asylum seekers humanely as we still have difficulty treating our own citizens well.

  • Australia’s current system of on-shore processing could be seen as humane compared to the situations previously experienced by asylum seekers.

  • It is difficult to determine if mental health problems in asylum seekers are the effects of being in detention or from their personal experience. These people may develop serious mental illness.

  • If a genuine refugee enters Australia, they are entitled to ten counselling sessions per year which would be insufficient for treatment of mental health problems. Asylum seekers might not get mental health care in detention or in the community.

  • Mistreatment afflicts people.

  • People recover by degrees. One may not be able to get rid of the past as it drags itself with you.

  • Being impoverished can be as debilitating as other traumas.

  • One of the worse precipitators of mental illness is hopelessness.

  • Human suffering is not political.

  • Our media outlets may be purposely misrepresenting events and policies due to politics. We need to get accurate facts so we can understand the problems and develop solutions.

  • The Australian media may be encouraging us (or the perception) that we are waging war on asylum seekers.

  • The Australian government and media may be seen as Orwellian by others and future generations.

  • The process of rejecting and detaining asylum seekers is arbitrary according to information gained from two ASIO officers.

  • For one member, the Tampa incident demonstrated the ugly side of Australia. Instead of sovereign protectors, we looked like dictators who sanctioned piracy.

  • Based on the cultural and political history of Australia, we are a xenophobic country. Our political and cultural environment may encourage this.

  • Each political leader is following the Australian psyche (who appears to be incredibly xenophobic among other things).

  • If that wasn’t a scary enough thought, consider Alan Jones as the leader and voice of the Australian psyche…

  • Mandatory detention may be required to deal with asylum seekers but these systems need major improvement. Some of us see these in a similar light to gulags.

  • Australia needs to treat people humanely so they become productive members of society and to improve our international reputation.

  • Asylum seekers need to learn English and be able to work. Some prominent Australians (Julian Burnside QC and John Ingram [ABC article]) have suggested that they could be relocated to rural places to boost the population and integrate into society.

  • An asylum seeker may be eligible for the 510 hours of free English tuition from the government’s Adult Migrant English Program [Website] but it is very unlikely that they will have access to this.

  • Treating asylum seekers humanely may take a long and slow evolution of cultural mindsets.

  • While we enjoy all the benefits of multiculturalism, we may be blind to all the negatives that have developed.

  • There is a number of Australians who want to see harsher policies enforced in regards to the asylum seeker “problem”. Currently we use strict processes and criteria for assessing asylum seekers.

  • Despite the efforts of our government, we can’t prevent the boats from coming.

  • We may not be able to treat asylum seekers humanely due to the huge numbers of people who are claiming asylum. If there were smaller numbers, the quality of care would be better.

  • The health care system is the first place to get overloaded because it is trying to help people indiscriminately. Hospitals are already underfunded and understaffed to help the people who need help. A sudden spike in the population (e.g. due to accepting large numbers of asylum seekers) could result in a period of crippled healthcare until the infrastructure and education of doctors is able to catch up with the new population level.

  • With overloaded systems, we have to find ways of balancing what resources we have and what actions we can take.

  • Australia’s problems with asylum seekers are minor in comparison to countries like Greece or Italy.

  • Some countries will take refugees who can bribe their way in but that country may not take responsibility for their care.

  • Politics is the art of the possible.

  • There is a problem with the people who administer the systems that deal with asylum seekers. As illustrated here [comic]

  • Certain kinds of people might be attracted to certain jobs. Serco who runs our detention centres also runs prisons.

  • We need leadership for these services but this will have to come from the top (government) whose attitude will affect everything below them.

  • The best contribution we may be able to give, is to educate our fellow humans about the true nature of the situations surrounding the asylum seeker issue.

  • A humanitarian argument may not work but an economic one might. E.g. why waste money on detention when we need functioning people in our societies?  Why send money overseas to offshore detention centres when we could be recirculating that money in our own economy?

Interesting questions posed by the group:

  • How do and can we define “humanely”?

  • Would it be pandemonium if we let in one million refugees? Would these be skilled workers or would we be harbouring slackers?

  • How do we assess who is a genuine refugee? Do we class them based on misconceptions and misinformation about ethnic groups?

  • Who decides who is allowed into our country?

  • Why are economically and politically stressed countries appearing to be more welcoming towards asylum seekers?

  • Is part of the problem, one of distribution (of resources)?

  • Can we be humane towards asylum seekers in our current political and cultural environment?

  • Are there ways for asylum seekers to get in by manipulating loopholes? E.g. entering a country as a tourist and declaring asylum once they reach the airport.

  • Is the orange lifeboat [ABC article] illegal?

Additional content covered by the debate:

Inequality for All [Website] [Trailer]

4-5-7 visas

G4S and Serco

Abbott and Indonesia

Visa regulations and rules

Vietnamese boat people

Gold Rush

White Australia policy and the Immigration Restriction Act 1901(especially the “dictation” test) [Wikipedia]


More summaries can be found via the Summary Index.

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4 thoughts on “Summary: 22nd Gentle Thinkers Debate (Asylum Seekers)

  1. Thanks for the long summary Yena. You do need to proof read. Some of the English above is a bit strange. Here are some, but not all, of the oddities: ‘Human’ is different from humane. ‘Humanly’ is different from humanely. ‘Consoling’ is different from counselling. If the subject of a sentence is ‘one’, the pronoun ‘their’ cannot refer to it. ‘The Australian psyche’ does not take ‘who’ as a relative pronoun. It is not ‘510 free English lessons’, it is 510 hours (imposed in 1995 and hopelessly inadequate. Previously it was unlimited). ‘While we’ cannot be followed by ‘but’.

    • The number of hours isn’t the problem. Asylum seekers may never get the chance to enroll in the program for various reasons like not having the “right” kind of visa or being told that they can learn English by this program.

    • Maybe 510 hours is enough. The problem isn’t the classes, but getting access to them. The point that the person was making (unless I have misinterpreted) is that technically it is written down somewhere in our laws that they are entitled to these hundreds of hours of language tutoring, but it is a meaningless law because in practice there are too few teachers and newly settled people haven’t the means to get to them. It is like having a law that gives you the freedom to grow an extra arm – the purpose of the law is defeated by constraints in reality that are entirely unrelated to the law itself. It renders the number of hours a moot point.

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