The no advantage test is an idea from the Report of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers back in August 2012. It was not really explained in the report and at most it was in the context of asylum seekers being sent to Nauru and PNG. The idea might sound good but it is a myth and is fundamentally flawed.
The report stated that “their position in relation to refugee status and resettlement would not be advantaged over what would have been had they availed themselves of assessment by UNHCR within the regional processing arrangement” (3.50).
This seemed to imply there was some refugee assessment queue, a concept that UNHCR and everyone working in the field will quickly tell you does not exist. Cases are not assessed in order by UNHCR and whether someone is offered resettlement or not depends on a variety of factors, which can change over time. In some cases, different processing locations, such as Indonesia or Jordan or Turkey, may well take differing times for similar cases. However the ‘No Advantage’ slogan was adopted by the Government and can be found on the DIAC website.
A problem is that no one can explain what it means. In recent hearings of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, DIAC officers struggled to explain it. At best they could tell the Senators what it was not. A more appropriate name for the policy may be the “no idea policy”.
According to DIAC, it is not punishment, although being sent to an island where health and other basic services are inadequate for locals, let alone visitors, and everything has to be imported, for an indeterminate period of time does sound like punishment to me.
Also, no one who has arrived by boat since 13 August 2012 has had their claims assessed, maybe apart from a small group on Nauru. However we are told that lack of any processing of cases for the vast majority is also not part of the policy, despite the fact this is what is happening. When it comes to how long someone will wait for his or her case to be assessed, no one can tell you.
This uncertainty creates further stress and anxiety for people who are already very anxious. Interviewing people and then telling them that if they are accepted as meeting the refugee criteria then there is no idea how long it will take for resettlement will only add to their stress levels and possibly invite protests and demonstrations.
A problem is that neither the Government nor the Opposition are interested in addressing the flow of asylum seekers in a rational manner that treats people with dignity and respect. Accepting that increased irregular movement of peoples around the world is becoming more commonplace would be a rational start. Simplistic three word slogans like “stop the boats”, “turn them back”, or the reintroduction of temporary protection visas (TPVs) are unlikely to have any real effect on the decision of people to take a risk on a boat.
Only a few boats were turned back in 2001/2002 and that was with the co-operation of Indonesia. Now we learn that such co-operation is unlikely again. Also, the likelihood of boat scuttling raises the risk of people dying at sea and placing Australian personnel at risk.
The TPV was introduced in 1999 and had no effect on reducing the numbers of people coming, and in fact the numbers increased after its introduction. It was a cruel policy that caused no good and much harm. I remember speaking with asylum seekers about the policy and they all told me it made no difference to then in their decision to come. Waiting on a TPV was better than living with fear and danger.
What is an implied disincentive to coming by boat is the indefinite wait in Nauru or PNG or in Australia. This has already caused problems with asylum seekers asking quite rightly what is going on, only to be given “Yes, Minister” style answers that tell them nothing at all. This will only cause more mental harm, as it has done before, and people will be more damaged by this process than when they arrived by boat.
Rather than just trying to stop the boats, we should be working more regionally to promote fair and transparent refugee status determination processes, not simply subcontracting our responsibilities to poor Pacific states. This will take much longer and probably not address the populist sloganeering and thirty second media grabs.
Describing this as a border security issue fails to recognise it is part of a global phenomenon. It needs more focus on the human rights issues involved. Sometimes you cannot force a solution for a problem or crisis, but you need to treat people with dignity and work towards a solution with the people involved.
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