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Mass Migration, Asylum — Signs Of The Times …

  • September 23rd, 2010
  • Posted by EUEditor

COMMENTARY: It’s a phenomenon of our times; people arriving by boat, sometimes in big numbers, looking for asylum or just a better chance in life.



Australia and the EU, both being destination regions for refugees, are in the front line when it comes to how the world must deal with the question of the “boat people”; as Stephanie Lim, reporting from Brussels, observes.


migration-eu-boatpeople.JPGIn late June of this year, European Union member countries Belgium and Ireland were taken to the European Court of Justice by the executive Commission, for failure to completely implement EU rules in regards to asylum procedures.

They had been found to be in breach of the Asylum Procedures Directive, which aims for all EU member states’ asylum procedures to fulfill the one set of minimum standards.

The matter was long-running; the European Commission announced it had given both countries until 1.12.07 December to implement the law, a Directive on that process – and both countries have yet to comply.

The Asylum Procedures Directive was put in place to ensure that persons asking asylum in  any of the 27 EU member states were guaranteed the opportunity for personal interviews as well as comprehensive information regarding asylum procedures and applications.


Australia, although having similar asylum seeker procedures, has not always seemed as conscientious in upholding asylum seeker rights; commencing with the position shared by both major political parties, that unannounced arrivals must be detained, until their cases are individually settled.

Over the past 15 years debates have flared over practices criticised as a breach of rights.

In particular, children were held in detention centres for long periods, and refugee support groups have documented mental crises among adults, especially where for reasons such as rejection of a claim to entry, they were detained for an indefinite time.


While some 37% of Australians have migrated to the country, or have a parent in that category, coming in leaky boats – in whatever state of desperation – is not accepted.

In polling, 80% give an adverse response to an open-door approach, only 20% in support – though the figures are almost reversed for welcoming refugees who follow the “legal” path through transitional countries, obtaining prior approval and flying in.

Political leaders sometimes look to be seeking to out-do one another, in developing ways to curb the flow of asylum seekers, at least those with no visas; an issue heated up because it is connected with fears about the country’s border security.

In one year, like this year, a few thousand who have made their way to Indonesia, will resort to making a deal with criminals, to get onto a fishing boat and crowded together with several others, head off towards the North-west Australian coast, or directly to the Christmas Island reception centre in the mid-Indian Ocean.

It is directly redolent of the departure of thousands setting out from North African ports to reach the European Mediterranean coast, or the Canary Islands, with the same kind of dangers, or even more because of the vast distances.


In one of her first initiatives after becoming Prime Minister in Australia, last June, Julia Gillard acknowledged the pressure coming from the movement of asylum seekers, and opted for an off-shore screening system to stem the flow.

Talks were started with East Timor (Timor Leste) as a possible location for processing, as a signatory to Unites Nations protocols on refugees.

“It would be to ensure that arriving by boat does not give anybody an advantage in the likelihood that they would end up settling in Australia or other countries in the region,” the Prime Minister said.

Under pressure from numbers building up in holding centre, the government in the past week has announced it will stat using accommodation at remote air bases.

The conservative Liberal Party in opposition demanded more strident action, during the recent Australian elections campaign, promising to “stop the boats!”

The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, spoke of turning the boats around, though insisting no actions would be ordered without advice from the armed forces, which today operate extensive air and sea patrols over the North-west approaches.
“If we hadn’t been able to dramatically arrest the rate of boat arrivals within three months I would be very, very disappointed,” Mr Abott said.

The lead from political leaders anxious about controlling the numbers is taken up by many, like Scott Holmes in Brisbane: “We’re losing our culture and they’re making us accommodate to them”, he says. Jess Espinoza, a registered nurse, is on  the other side, also one among a large number, declaring: “They need our help; we should help them.”

Statistics in Australia would not seem to warrant a general panic.

The European Union received 300,000 requests for asylum in the year 2006 alone, and granted  protection to over 78, 800 asylum seekers in 2009.

Australia, with admittedly a much smaller host population, adopts 2% of the world refugee population, taking in something over 8,400 asylum seekers in both in 2001 and 2002, the numbers falling since then to approximately 3,200 a year. Total applications have actually dropped by large numbers since the early 1990s.


Australian Government: Department of Immigration and Citizenship. Visas, Immigration, and Refugees.,(24.8.10).

Europa, EC, Brussels, Media Releases., (24.8.10).