REFUGEE CRISIS EXACERBATED BY RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION

REFUGEE CRISIS EXACERBATED BY RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION

Religious persecution plays a “central role” in the global displacement crisis according to Open Doors 2017 World Watch List. The charity noted that more than half of the world’s 65.3m refugee population come from Somalia, Afghanistan and Syria, all countries in which it has become extremely dangerous to identify as a Christian. In its supplementary report, The Persecution of Christians and Global Displacement, Open Doors said that religious persecution was a “dangerously underestimated” factor behind some people’s decision to flee their homes. The charity estimated that around half of Syria’s 1.7m Christians have left their country due to conflict and persecution. It also said that around 2.1m Nigerians have fled because of various factors, including attacks on Christians by Boko Haram jihadists.

In Asia and Mexico, Christians were driven from their villages for practising a faith differed from that of the majority. Pastor Aminu Sule from Nigeria said his congregation had shrunk from 400 to 20 as Christians fled from attacks by Boko Haram. He said: “I can’t count the number of people I have buried.” Once displaced, Pastor Sule said that Christians are often denied access to aid distributed by the local government. “They are dying of hunger and I cannot help them,” he said. Daniel, a church leader in Iraq, described how he fled from Baghdad after receiving a death threat from Al-Qaeda. His church has helped look after some of the 120,000 Christians chased out by Islamic State, but he added that many had since chosen to be resettled in “countries that respect their human rights”.

The report found some migrants were attacked after leaving their countries, and cited a Nigerian Christian who was abducted and repeatedly assaulted by a gang who had seen a Bible in his pocket. The charity urged the British government to support the right to freedom of religion and belief and to “target” nations where there is violent persecution of religious minorities. It noted that the UK Home Office claims that Pakistani Christians were not at “real risk of persecution.” The report also called on the Home Office to “increase the religious literacy of its staff” so that those who processed asylum applications could recognise instances of religious persecution. It urged the Home Office not to restrict visas for religious leaders invited to the UK to share of the suffering in their own countries.

The UK Home Office faced criticism last month after it denied three archbishops from Iraq and Syria visas to attend the consecration of a Syriac Orthodox cathedral in west London, on the grounds that they lacked sufficient funds to support themselves and they might not leave the UK. Open Doors UK and Ireland urged the British Foreign Office to prioritise freedom of religion and recognise championing that right as a way to combat terrorism and poverty, arguing that unchecked political oppression of a minority “creates a breeding ground for violent and radical groups”.  In India, it said, since the landslide election of Hindu nationalist President Narendra Modi in 2014, there has been “a deterioration in freedom in all aspects of Indian society, and Hindu radicals have virtual impunity from the Government”.

Source: World Watch Monitor

An alternative to offshore detention

An alternative to offshore detention

by Julian Burnside | Nov 4, 2015 | Asylum Seekers, Human Rights

The  present system of dealing with asylum seekers who arrive by boat is cruel (intentionally) and hideously expensive.  There is a rational alternative to the  intentional cruelty of the present system. That system reflects the attempts of both major parties at the last election to outdo each other in their promises to mistreat a particular group of human beings.

And it’s expensive.  The current system costs between $4 billion and $5 billion a year.  That’s a big number: think of it as one million Geelong chopper rides each year!

Australia’s treatment of boat people needs a radical re-think.  It is shameful that we are now trying to treat asylum seekers so harshly that they will be deterred from seeking our help at all.  It is shameful that this deliberate mistreatment of asylum seekers has been “justified” by describing them falsely as “illegal”, when in fact they commit no offence by coming here and asking for protection.  It is shameful that the deliberate Coalition lies about asylum seekers have not been roundly condemned by the Labor party.  It is shameful that, out of an alleged concern about asylum seekers drowning in their attempt to reach safety, we punish them if they don’t drown.

There are better ways of responding to asylum seekers.  If I could re-design the system, I would choose between two possible models.

A Regional solution

Boat-arrivals would be detained initially, but for a maximum of one month, to allow preliminary health and security checks.  That detention would be subject to extension, but only if a court was persuaded that a particular individual should be detained longer.

After that period of initial detention, boat arrivals would be released into the community on an interim visa with a number of conditions that would apply until the person’s refugee status was decided:

  •  they would be required to report regularly to a Centrelink office or a post office,  to make sure they remained available for the balance of the process;
  •  they would be allowed to work;
  •  they would be entitled to Centrelink and Medicare benefits;
  •  they would be required to live in a specified rural town or regional city.

A system like this would have a number of benefits. First, it would avoid the harm presently inflicted on refugees held in detention.  Prolonged detention with an unknown release date is highly toxic: experience over the past 15 years provides plenty of evidence of this.

Second, any government benefits paid to refugees would be spent on accommodation, food and clothing in country towns.  There are plenty of towns in country areas which would welcome an increase in their population and a boost to their local economy.  According to the National Farmers Federation, there are more than 90,000 unfilled jobs in rural areas.  It is likely that adult male asylum seekers would look for work, and would find it.

However, even if every boat person stayed on full Centrelink benefits for the whole time it took to decide their refugee status, it would cost the Government only about $500,000 a year, all of which would go into the economy of country towns.  By contrast, the current system costs between $4 billion and $5 billion a year.  We would save billions of dollars a year, and we would be doing good rather than harm.

A variant of this would be to require asylum seekers to live in Tasmania instead of regional towns.  As a sweetener, and to overcome any lingering resistance, the Federal Government would pay one billion dollars a year to the Tasmanian government to help with the necessary social adjustments. It would be a great and needed boost for the Tasmanian economy, and Australia would still be billions of dollars better off.

Genuine regional processing  

Another possibility is to process protection claims while people are in Indonesia.  Those who are assessed as refugees would be resettled, in Australia or elsewhere, in the order in which they have been accepted as refugees.  On assessment, people would be told that they will be resettled safely within (say) two or three months.  Provided the process was demonstrably fair, the incentive to get on a boat would disappear instantly.

At present, people assessed by the UNHCR in Indonesia face a wait of 10 or 20 years before they have a prospect of being resettled.  During that time, they are not allowed to work, and can’t send their kids to school. No wonder they chance their luck by getting on a boat.

Genuine offshore processing, with a guarantee of swift resettlement, was the means by which the Fraser government managed to bring about 80,000 Vietnamese boat people to Australia in the late 1970s.  It worked, but it was crucially different from the manner of offshore processing presently supported by both major parties.  In addition, other countries also resettled some of the refugees processed in this way.  It is likely that Australians would be more receptive to this approach if they thought other countries were contributing to the effort.

A solution along these lines would face some practical problems.  At present, the end-point for refugees who reach Australia via Indonesia is a dangerous boat trip.  You have to be fairly desperate to risk the voyage, which probably explains why such a high percentage of boat people are ultimately assessed as genuine refugees: over the past 15 years, about 90% of boat people have been assessed, by Australia, as refugees lawfully entitled to our protection.  If the end-point is less dangerous, it is obvious that a number of people will set out who are not genuine refugees.  That would cause a problem for Indonesia, and Australia would have to help Indonesia deal with that problem.  But since our current system is costing about $5 billion a year, we can probably work out some arrangement with Indonesia which suits them and us.

There is another problem.  Because we have been indelicate in our relations with Indonesia in recent years, the Indonesian government may not be receptive to an approach like this.  Their reluctance may be softened if Malaysia was also recruited for a similar role.

Both of these solutions have these features in common: they are effective, humane, and far less expensive than our present approach.  But more than that: they reflect the essential decency of Australians – something which has been tarnished and degraded by our behaviour over the past 13 years.