There are two kinds of refugees in the world: those fleeing from tyrants and murderers and those looking for a better socio-economic life. The latter are called "economic refugees". Whilst their aspirations and ambitions are understandable they give the former kind of refugee a bad name.
Economic refugees all too often attempt to game the system by masquerading as genuine refugees. Australia, for the last five years, has deliberately refused to distinguish between genuine refugees and economic refugees. As a consequence it is now regarded as a soft-destination for economic refugees. The boats keep coming. Paul Sheeha, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald exposes the defalcation of the Australian government on this matter. Any government which loses control of its borders has ceded sovereignty. Worse, it has meant the government is complicit in self-deceit and in lying to the people. Paul Sheehan believes it is a key reason the Gillard Government is despised by the electorate.
The truth on refugees is worse than fictionPaul Sheehan
Published: July 30, 2012It is a lie that will not die. It has been sent to tens of thousands of Australians in an email that has been circulating for years. The latest variation compares the amount paid to Australian aged pensioners with the benefits available to refugees. It claims the weekly allowance for pensioners is $253 while the weekly allowance for refugees is $472.50, plus a weekly hardship payment of $145, meaning refugees are eligible for more than twice as much government support as pensioners. It's a concoction. The problem for the federal government is that the truth is in some ways worse than the lie.
As long ago as 2009 the Department of Immigration felt compelled to issue this press release: ''Figures quoted in these emails bear no resemblance to income-support payments to asylum seekers and refugees settling in Australia … Asylum seekers in Australia who have not yet had their protection claims decided have no access to Centrelink benefits. ''Irregular maritime arrivals are subject to thorough security and identity checks and must satisfy the character test before a decision is made about protection … In Australia, refugees granted permanent visas have access to benefits on the same basis and at the same rates as other Australian permanent residents.''
Things have loosened up since then. Some asylum seekers now do qualify for welfare before their claims have been decided. The system of ''thorough security and identity checks'' has been compromised. This has damaged the federal Labor government, damaged the reputation of the Prime Minister, and damaged the traditional links between blue collar workers and the Labor Party. It has inflicted as much political damage on Labor as the carbon tax about-face.
In trying to understand the persistently dreadful opinion polls for the Gillard government, I keep coming back to this issue, a policy debacle for which Kevin Rudd, not Julia Gillard, bears primary responsibility, though on her watch it has gone from embarrassing to potentially terminal.
What follows are half a dozen elements that are already of concern to the Australian Federal Police, but about which the AFP must remain mute:
The police have not seen as large a gap in quality control in the flow of unskilled and welfare-dependent arrivals since the refugee flow from Lebanon in the 1970s. About 90 per cent of those who arrive via illegal boat entries have been granted permanent residence, yet the overwhelming majority have entered Malaysia or Indonesia by legal means, then destroyed their identity papers with the intent of making it difficult for Australia to check their bona fides.
The amount of workplace participation among refugees and asylum-seekers remains low for some time. After four years, only about 25 per cent are engaged in full-time work. (The issue is examined in a Department of Immigration report, Settlement Outcomes for New Arrivals, published in April last year.)
Under intense political pressure, the federal government is emptying the detention centres by issuing bridging visas which allow detainees to enter the community, work, and receive welfare benefits before their final status has been determined. This has slashed the average time spent in detention from nine months to three months but the quicker turnover has compressed the scrutiny process.
Some of the high take-up of welfare payments among asylum seekers and refugees is being recycled into bringing relatives to Australia, including via people smugglers. The Royal Australian Navy is being used as a pick-up service by people smugglers who call navy vessels to advise them of their need for assistance.
Little wonder that numbers are exploding. In the three years before the election of the Rudd government, 71 people arrived on 10 illegal boats. It took a year for the impact of Labor's dismantling of the previous border security regime to kick in. Over the past three years 341 illegal boats have brought 20,248 asylum-seekers. Another 363 have drowned. Uncounted others have perished or turned back.
All these problems are personified by ''Captain Emad'', who fled Australia in June even though he had been under investigation by police. The man, Abu Khalid, was a people smuggler who came to Australia by passing himself off as an asylum seeker. He brought his wife, three children and a grandchild. All received refugee status, settled in Canberra and were provided with public housing despite using different identities to those they used to enter Indonesia from Iraq. Yet even after Khalid's activities were exposed by the ABC's Four Corners program, he was allowed to leave.
Systemic deceit has been rewarded by systemic support. Even some asylum seekers who have avoided immigration control, destroyed their identity documents and not yet had their claims decided are eligible for support under the Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme.
Among the benefits that can be made available to those granted protection visas, and those granted refugee status, is a one-off household formation package of up to $9850. Families can be eligible for education assistance of up to $9220. People granted refugee status become eligible for welfare payments immediately without having to wait the two-year period set for immigrants. Single applicants are eligible for a Newstart Allowance. Parents are eligible for Centrelink's parenting payment. Refugees, and some on bridging visas, also receive Medicare assistance for medical, hospital, dental, medicine and optical costs. Mobile phones are provided to those who arrive as unaccompanied minors.
This is the honeypot that has combined with civil strife to cause entire villages to empty in Sri Lanka and thousands of young men to travel from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan to get on illegal boats to Australia.
The viral email about Australia's generosity to refugees may be wrong in its details, but the truth is a story of government gullibility without end.