Complicated opinion on refugees

The latest Lowy Poll finds the usual hard-to-interpret results on refugees.

The idea of a queue clearly resonates, as 88% of Lowy’s respondents agreed with the proposition that “unauthorised asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat are jumping the queue and getting in ahead of other asylum seekers wanting to come to Australia”. On the other hand, 43% agreed that “unauthorised asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat are often fleeing war and conflict and Australia should give them a chance to set up a new life in a safe country”.

Lawyers have been prominent in the pro-refugee cause, and the way they look at the world may not always have helped politically. How many times have we heard the argument that Australia’s treatment of refugees breaches our “international obligations”? Only 32% of Lowy’s respondents agreed that “ïnternational treaty obligations mean Australia has to accept refugees regardless of how they arrive here”.

By far the most powerful pro-refugee material I have seen was the SBS series Go Back to Where You Came From, which screened last week. Politically, stories are far more powerful than treaties.

(click on picture for more refugee polls)

9 Responses to “Complicated opinion on refugees

  • 1
    June 27th, 2011 18:32

    On the other hand, 43% agreed that “unauthorised asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat are often fleeing war and conflict and Australia should give them a chance to set up a new life in a safe country”.
    I think this one shows just how ignorant and uniformed the average Australian is given the countries asylum seekers here are “often” coming from (and indeed, where Australians troops currently fight and get killed).

  • 2
    Shem Bennett
    June 27th, 2011 19:17

    Go Back to Where You Came From was great, but despite the overall pro-refugee tone I can understand where Darren was coming from. He was the pro-refugee, anti-boat participant who held that position right through to the end.

    Malaysia- despite the treatment of illegal refugees is still “safe” compared to the camps, etc. Australia can’t take every refugee in the world, if we look at things in terms of a “queue” as the SBS website says it’d take 200 years for everyone in the “queue” to be processed. We’re probably better off to continue trying to place refugees out of the camps, rather than place ones that are trying to get economic advantage by coming to Australia, rather than by living in Malaysia.

    Of course, with a proper immigration tariff and proper restrictions on welfare for immigrants we’d likely be able to settle a lot more refugees than we already do.

    As Roderick said towards the end, though, the real solution isn’t about placing refugees but ending the major conflicts. Not that we have a whole deal of control over that. But it’s likely that open and free trade would help the development of democracy in some of these source countries… Until then taking refugees is just another form of “foreign aid” and while it provides a big impact to individuals I’m not sure it’s the most useful type of aid to larger communities. Rather than totally change the lives of a few individuals I wonder if the money would be better spend changing the lives in a smaller way for entire camps of refugees.

    It is complex, though.

  • 3
    Andrew Norton
    June 27th, 2011 19:35

    Shem – I agree, it is a very complex issue, and taking refugees is not the only constructive thing we can do. I think however that I am slightly more in favor of the Malaysia swap though. Those Burmese kids were so enthusiastic about learning that I think we would end up with some great assets for Australia if we took more of them.

  • 4
    Shem Bennett
    June 27th, 2011 20:57

    Yet if we’re sending back enterprising “boat people” that were capable of independently sourcing and funding a trip to Australia…

    I’m not sure we can really know which refugees will prove to be the biggest success stories in Australia.

    As I commented tongue-in-cheek on my facebook, I think most refugees would prove more enterprising and hard-working than dole-bludgers like Raquel who’ve been born with the silver spoon of welfare in their mouths. I just remember the look on the face of the guy in the refugee camp in Kenya when she said she did nothing for work and didn’t really have any skills… He was like “WTF.. How can you not work? Does not compute.”

    Given that it can cost between $10,000-$20,000 to get a boat to Australia from Malaysia I still think offering different kinds of immigration tariffs would work wonders. Perhaps some kind of “temporary protection tariff” while your claim is being assessed from the safety of Australia, with the option of moving onto a work visa or something like that….

  • 5
    Andrew Norton
    June 28th, 2011 05:38

    Shem – There is some research on refugee outcomes, which I wrote about here. Though commenters weren’t happy with the limits on my data, it looked to me to be pretty much impossible that the boat people have better outcomes than refugees that come from groups that mainly arrive after selection. The Burmese had mid-range outcomes – not as good as some of the Africans, but much better than the Afghans or Iraqis.

  • 6
    June 28th, 2011 12:03

    I didn’t watch the show because of the way it was promoted. I noticed that a number of the participants expressed extreme views and thought that they’d simply go from one extreme to the other, rather than some realistic middle ground. Maybe I was wrong, I’m not sure, but I like to read about the subject and possibly would not have learned anything new from the show anyway.

    Perhaps the research shows how inadequate labels like “pro-refugee” and “anti-refugee” or even “refugee advocate” are. Even the previous federal government, for all its flaws, ‘advocated’ the interests of the thousands of refugees they took in from camps all over the world and resettled here. Arguably, also, some so called “refugee advocates” ended up advocating the interests of non-refugees (the Bakhtiaris for example), even though doing so would have simply displaced actual refugees suffering in foreign camps. Perhaps another oversimplification by me, but maybe no one’s capable of objectivity on this issue.

  • 7
    Darren Hassan
    July 1st, 2011 23:04

    Nice to know that someone else got what I was saying or trying to explain before being screamed at by leftist hypocrites. The editors would have done better to include my pro refugee statements at the beginning of the show rather than at the end. Shem seems to be another rational person who can discuss this civilly much unlike those who attacked not only myself but my wife and children from the cowardly position behind their keyboards. If nothing else, this hasn’t just shown attitudes towards asylum seekers etc, but has given an unappealing snapshot of Australian attitudes towards each other simply because we have differing opinions. As surely as my words and actions are immortalized, so are those hateful people’s. Regardless, I hope that the show highlighted how complex the issue is and that emotion alone will not solve it. We need to think practically as well as politicaly if we. Are going to forge ahead.

  • 8
    Debt Consolidation Nation
    July 6th, 2011 10:06

    I wish we could get off refugees. I mean a boat makes a great image on the TV news, especially if there’s woman and children all thread bare. It however is NOT refugees that are putting pressure on resources in capital cities. It’s people who come here legally. However somehow refugees have been linked to traffic jams in western sydney??? Let’s stop the refugee bashing and have an actually debate about population and immigration

  • 9
    July 18th, 2011 15:54

    I saw the SBS show and I thought it humanised both sides in the debate.