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Rethinking the refugee issue

By Rod McGarvie - posted Thursday, 31 March 2016

With the recent Sudanese gang violence in Melbourne there is yet another clear indication that our immigration system needs a comprehensive review and resetting of priorities. There is an obligation to be proactively addressing the current challenges, cleaning up the unintended consequences of past decisions, while also building a robust future focused immigration system.

A serious rethink and a genuine national conversation regarding our approach to the refugee intake is long overdue. Putting aside our personal position on how many refugees Australia should accept in any given year, is it possible to look at the underlying principles that lead to success or failure?

Failure in any one part of our immigration policy has a negative knock on effect to the public's attitude to immigration more generally, as was seen very clearly when successive Labor governments failed to stop the boats.


Most would support the notion that if a refugee cannot return to their own country owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted, then there should be an opportunity to find a country where they could live in relative peace and security, able to carve out an alternative future.

However, the more alien the new location is, the more stressful and challenging that transition will be. The following country based factors would assist a refugee to settle more successfully:

  • The national language is the same or similar
  • Cultural values and social norms are similar
  • Easy access to food consistent with their dietary norms
  • Religious rituals and practises are similar
  • There is access to employment that is consistent with their education and skill set
  • Close to their homeland to facilitate visits to any property or extended family/clan when the security risk is low

With none of these factors in place the task to integrate is overwhelming. If the refugee vetting system is setting some groups of refugees up for likely failure, then that would be very misplaced compassion.

The Australian taxpayer should reasonably expect that a refugee choosing to resettle in Australia would whole heartedly commit to the following;

  • Learn written and spoken English to a high standard
  • Work diligently to integrate successfully into the Australian way of life
  • Do everything in their power to find work and be active within the community
  • Seek to understand the laws and traditions of the nation and fully uphold them
  • Totally reject the grievances and violence of the country they left
  • Treat women with the greatest respect, considering them as equals

Key performance indicators should be developed to ensure refugees have successfully achieved these public expectation targets before they are able to gain citizenship.

There have been flawed decisions around taking refugees in the past that have created ongoing security risks for the nation. Many of the Lebanese Muslim refugees of the 1970's and many of the Sudanese in the 2000's didn't have the qualities required for successful integration. There should be a better set of filters and criteria in place that helps determine individual risk factors when assessing a refugee's suitability for entry:

  • Those coming from a cultural context that is very resistant to change, is excessively ethnocentric, is hostile to the values of western civilization, or is religiously isolationist.
  • Those from a social context that treats the abuse of women and children as an acceptable norm
  • Those from a community that disregards the law and actively attempts to manipulate, or circumvent it.
  • Those that have little or no education and where the prospect of learning English and gaining a basic education is low, even if given additional support
  • Those that have no real prospect of gaining meaningful employment or successfully supporting a family
  • Those from Islamic sects and communities that have been associated with terrorism
  • Those from conflict zones where the likelihood of carrying on ethnic hostilities on Australian soil is high
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About the Author

Rod McGarvie was the Executive Director of SIL International (Uganda Tanzania Branch) for seven of his 12 years in East Africa. Rod is the lead federal senate candidate for the Family First Party QLD.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Rod McGarvie

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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