A responsibility to help

Recent talk of a “solution” to Australia’s asylum seeker “problem”, and members of parliament’s claims of “fixing” the issue, are “misguided”, according to a local refugee advocate.

Gippsland Migrant Resource Centre director Lisa Sinha told The Express a proposal to boost Australia’s humanitarian visa places from 13,750 to 20,000, with a goal of 27,000, was the only “strength” in the recommendations soon to be put to Federal Parliament, stemming from the ‘Houston Report’ released last Monday.

Welcoming the proposed intake increase, Ms Sinha said “both parties have spoken about this, and given there is no ‘queue’ and people are taking such desperate steps (to get to Australia), because they see no other solution, that was certainly something I had hoped for, since our refugee intake is so minor”.

Other recommendations to come from the Houston Report on asylum seekers, including the re-opening of processing centres at Nauru and Manus Islands, and the removal of family reunion rights from asylum seekers who arrive by boat, were more problematic, Ms Sinha said.

Referring to the latter recommendation, Ms Sinha said “I find this one confusing… this was part of why extensive numbers of kids were getting on boats during the Howard years, because it was the only way they could get here… normally anyone has the right to repatriate immediate family members”.

Ms Sinha said the new proposals, expected to be adopted by the Federal Government, would “be much more costly” for refugees wanting to sponsor their families to Australia.

“There is already enormous pressure on these people who are often sending money home to support other people in (refugee) camps,” she said.

“I struggle with this idea because I don’t know if anyone can answer how long people are going to be detained and what damage that will be doing to them.”

In response to suggestions the Houston proposals offered a “solution” to the stalemate which has blocked political action on asylum seekers for months, Ms Sinha said “there is a real problem in trying to oversimplify what is a really complex problem”.

“Talking of turning back boats and off-shore detention is misguided… Australia can’t come up with an answer on its own, there must be a regional and global response… people get on boats to escape conflicts,” she said.

Referring to the current influx of Afghan and Sri Lankan asylum seekers, Ms Sinha said “we have a responsibility to these minority groups”.

While the Latrobe Valley had successfully resettled refugees from both of those countries, Ms Sinha said local attitudes to refugees were sometimes still uncertain.

“It can be difficult because people are fed so many myths… you hear about (asylum seekers) deliberately getting rid of passports, and of some getting more money than others… there’s little wonder there is so much confusion,” she said.