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Refugee solution: double intake, cease processing onshore arrivals

By Mirko Bagaric - posted Friday, 24 December 2010

The only humanistic and legally viable solution to the refugee crisis is to adopt a clear two-pronged approach. The first limb is to considerably increase the number of off-shore refugees we absorb. The second part is to deny refugee eligibility to people who arrive in Australia without pre-existing refugee status.

This would end precarious voyages to our shores and mandatory detention. At the same time, it would result in enormous public revenue savings.

Our migration policy is based almost solely on what immigrants can do for us, not what we can do for them. Hence, we encourage students, tourists and business arrivals and in the main, reject those in need.


Our sympathy gland needs to swell. The lottery of birth places far too big a role in our migration decisions.

We should increase our intake of displaced people to say 10% of total migration numbers. This would mean that our total humanitarian intake would be approximately 30,000 per year – more than double the current quota of 13,750. If all these people are processed offshore it would still be a net financial gain to Australia. There would finally be an end to the revenue black spot caused by the cost of mandatory detention and processing applicants.

The additional cost of settling the larger number of refugees would be a fraction of the current cost of the misery that is the refugee industry.

Ideally, Australia should absorb even more than 30,000 refugees annually. Our abundant resources and infrastructure could accommodate a massive increase in humanitarian arrivals. Once the hysteria associated with the current refugee debate passes and we move on from the tone-lowering themes of mandatory detention and "passive invasions" a more enlightened community may broaden its mind and borders to the needs of the destitute.

But for any policy to work, it needs to be politically saleable. A doubling of current numbers refugee numbers would be politically controversial, but the community would support it given the immense benefits in the form of bringing to an end the current calamitous refugee picture.

The other part of the solution requires us to disentitle asylum seekers who come by boat from refugee eligibility. There are two imperatives driving this. The first is pragmatic. We should not encourage or reward uncontrollable risk. Paternalism is justified where the activity involves a grave risk to the individual.


This is especially the case where they are incapable of making an informed assessment of the danger. Asylum seekers have no control over the seaworthiness of their vessel and no remedy if things go wrong. There is no safe way to come to Australia by boat. These people, and their children, need to be saved from themselves.

The second reason is principled. Australian has a strict annual cap on humanitarian arrivals. Each boat arrival by an impatient, relatively well-off (by displaced person standards) asylum seeker reduces the opportunity for any of the other 15.2 million refugees patiently waiting off-shore to come to our opulent shores. While there is no queue in which these 15.2 million people are assembled, there are Australian migration places which they can potentially fill. Their prospects have been made virtually hopeless.

This year 6232 asylum seekers arrived by boat (and about half that number by plane), thrusting themselves into our sphere of moral concern. In the process they wantonly faded out from our radar the needs of often more desperate asylum seekers.

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This article was first published in The Australian on December 20, 2010

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About the Author

Mirko Bagaric, BA LLB(Hons) LLM PhD (Monash), is a Croatian born Australian based author and lawyer who writes on law and moral and political philosophy. He is dean of law at Swinburne University and author of Australian Human Rights Law.

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