Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants Australians to believe that global concern for refugees is contained in us but it’s the opposite. The Turnbull government is keen for European countries to ignore and forget Australia’s leadership role in moving people from Pakistan to Indonesia. In July, Australia had 39,422 “displaced persons”, or TPVs, as refugees in UNHCR camps in Indonesia, a little over half of all refugees who arrived in Australia in October 2015, according to Australian federal government figures. These TPVs are majority Muslim and disproportionately from the Balinese people, who mainly come from a small number of countries in the semi-autonomous Malay peninsula. The latest figures show that 12,698 TPVs were on the run from Australia, travelling in caravanaville shelters or provided another refuge. Australia’s refugee record is patchy. We officially admitted 91,576 TPVs in 2014-15, at a cost of $520 million. Our Refugee Review Tribunal reviewed the 2010-11 and 2015-16 TPVs after receiving complaints from refugees and asylum seekers of maltreatment by authorities. We “disqualified” 94.5 per cent of TPVs from resettlement in Australia and set aside an additional 10,000 TPVs in the next four years to be removed altogether. There was a net exclusion of 119,762 TPVs for indefinite stay in Australia during 2016-17, up from 8,430 in 2015-16, but on the whole we remained “world leaders” in TPVs under the 2010-11 Turnbull government. The removal of TPVs would not breach Australia’s obligations under the Refugee Convention, as the Abbott government tried to hide the need for TPVs.
But if the TPVs had been removed, Australia would have a much broader maritime refugee deal with Indonesia, which ignored government expert advice and even cited TPVs as evidence of maritime refugee discrimination. Yet there’s no evidence of maritime or severe offshore refugee discrimination. The UNHCR definition of “humanitarian crisis” (MCH) of countries of origin and host countries states that “two or more refugees can be placed on one boat as a proportion of arrivals to that country”. A UNHCR asylum seeker camp in Djibouti. The TPVs who stay in Indonesia have no legal recourse to Australian proceedings against them, regardless of where they land, while Australia has an effective embassy in Jakarta and few political obstacles to filing lawsuits or suing asylum seekers. A TPV fleeing Pakistan should have their asylum claims thoroughly examined but the case is weak because Australians’ behaviour is greater than this: our boat connections are monitored at all times (this is reflected in the supervision of TPVs across Australia, a situation many TPVs describe). In 2014, the government updated legislation to bar asylum seekers from being assessed as refugees in a living community facility or from leaving, returning or reuniting with family members, even if their claims are successful.
The Abbott government’s policy of TPVs abandoning boats, and the travel banning law (known as the Gold Coast Detentions Act) also provides greater protection for TPVs crossing Australia. We are due to file a last-ditch judicial review against the cancellations of parliamentary business related to TPVs on October 8. In a national survey in July, for instance, almost half of Australian respondents rejected the notion that TPVs should be treated as refugees. That support compares with around 40 per cent in 2014. However, Australians remain deeply worried about TPVs’ safety and security – a truth perhaps shared by leaders who argue for leaving TPVs out of the human rights agenda. Most poll respondents rejected placing TPVs under immigration laws, unless they have credible fears for their lives and freedoms or if they have been subjected to abuse and torture. Maybe if Abbott wanted to keep TPVs from the human rights perspective, he’d at least make sure those TPVs were not interviewed about TPVs. Loading Keep Australia safe and safe from TPVs.But the best response would be for the federal government to maintain, as Prime Minister Morrison did in the wake of the Australia Day ferry tragedy, its principled and vital refugee advocacy. It should give the right to TPVs two choices. They can be put on the run; asylum seekers could be safe and provided assistance in the meantime. Or the right could be taken away. Jessica Hibberd is a senior lecturer in public policy and public administration at the University of New South Wales