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Knock, knock, who's there? Hopeful souls at every door

By Tanveer Ahmed - posted Monday, 23 November 2009


On a trip to Pakistan earlier this year, I was amazed at how sophisticated the knowledge of Western migration rules was among the locals. One postgraduate student regaled me with the minute details of the Canadian points system, which he felt was more relaxed than Australia's.

A taxi driver lamented the growing barriers to entering Britain, which was once seen as a relatively easy option. A considerable number asked about gaining entry by claiming political asylum. Australia was universally seen as highly desirable but difficult to enter. New Zealand was often seen as the gateway country.

It is a pattern that is likely to be repeated throughout Asia and an indication of how desperate many people are to reach the developed world. It's also an indication that as soon as there is a perception of a weak spot in the migration rules, you can bet knowledge of it spreads like wildfire.

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The two biggest news stories relating to immigration this year relate to international students and asylum seekers.

The first appeared to be a story about education, but was in fact about migration. The education sector had become a back door to permanent residency. It wasn't the dream of becoming pastry chef or hairdresser that drove armies of students to fork out thousands of dollars to gleefully accepting private colleges, but the subtleties of our migration rules.

Many of those same colleges are now collapsing, leaving many students in the lurch. The passionate protests from disgruntled students in Sydney and Melbourne will place significant pressure on the government to intervene.

As the Indian student fiasco demonstrated, overseas students were the new refugees, living on the edges of Australian society under the weight of visa difficulties, imminent deportation and reduced access to social services.

They inhabited that ill-defined landscape of unbelonging.

The Oceanic Viking saga illustrates the cognitive dissonance stirred by asylum seekers. Most of us see ourselves as open and welcoming to migrants but the prospect of having porous borders stirs deep discomfort, like allowing strangers into our homes unchecked.

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While the Sri Lankan refugees may be genuine, there can be little doubt the path of asylum is attractive to those without the appropriate skills or financial resources to obtain migration. It is naïve to think otherwise.

A migration agent working in the inner-west of Sydney and very experienced with Asian migrants, David Coote, says he recently stopped undertaking protection claims because they were impossible to verify. Furthermore, many of his clients based in Asia often inquired about asylum as a viable option despite them not being in any position of persecution. He says a growing number of his colleagues are avoiding any work to do with protection visas.

The legal net for the acceptance of refugees remains open to much creative lobbying. A couple from Bangladesh set a global precedent in 2003 by winning an appeal to stay in Australia. The couple were gay, and deemed a persecuted social group or class.

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First published in the Sydney Morning Herald on November 14, 2009.



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About the Author

Dr Tanveer Ahmed is a psychiatrist, author and local councillor. His first book is a migration memoir called The Exotic Rissole. He is a former SBS journalist, Fairfax columnist and writes for a wide range of local and international publications.
He was elected to Canada Bay Council in 2012. He practises in western Sydney and rural NSW.

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