Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Asylum Seekers: Turnbull wants a return of the Temporary Protection Visa system

In response to the recent influx of asylum seekers heading for Australia by boat, opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull is pushing hard for a return to one of the ugliest policies of the Howard era - the Temporary Protection Visa.

The previous government was characterised by its willingness to indulge in xenophobia and race-baiting in order to seem tough on border security and get re-elected. And arguably it was exactly this approach that led to John Howard's re-election in 2001 with the controversy surrounding the Tampa incident. TPVs were another measure put in place to discourage arrivals by boat, but which only succeeded in making life even more arduous for successful refugees once they arrived here.

Under this previous system, any asylum seekers making unauthorised arrivals would only be granted a TPV, which lasted 3 years. During this time they were not allowed to leave the country, as they would not be readmitted. They were not allowed to work, or access social security benefits, meaning they were completely reliant for survival on aid agencies and relatives if they had them. Once the visa had expired, asylum seekers were never able to obtain permanent residency, and had to continually prove their need for continuing protection, since circumstances may have changed in their country of origin. Meaning that the Australian government was trying to send people back to the hellhole that is Iraq, simply because Saddam Hussein was no longer in government and therefore the refugees had no more need of refuge.

In creating a second-class type of "unworthy" refugee, forced to live in limbo for the duration of their visa, the Howard government hit one of its lowest ebbs. So new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was completely right to depose of this legislation. But now Turnbull wants to return to the dark days of refugee policy. Incarcerate refugees without trial, then release them but don't allow them to have any income whatsoever. It's a recipe for encouraging criminal activity, and for traumatising children forced to grow up behind bars and then without proper food and welfare.

There is even evidence to show that rather than discouraging boat arrivals, the TPV system led to an increase in arrivals. The logic behind this is that because refugees on TPVs had no rights to sponsor family members to seek residence, family members felt forced to risk unauthorised entry instead.

Unauthorised boat arrivals are certainly not a good thing - for a country's territorial integrity but also for the extreme dangers for those attempting such a journey. So we need to discourage this practice. But the TPV system - effectively oppressing people who have been found to be legitimate refugees - is not the way, and Malcolm Turnbull should be ashamed for even suggesting it.

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