In response to previous posts on asylum seekers, various commenters have suggested that there is no alternative to our current brutal policies, including the detention of children. A striking feature of these comments is that they treat the problem as if it is utterly new and unprecedented. In fact, we have lots of experience in dealing with people subject to judicial processes (such as criminal trials) and also with unauthorised residents such as visa overstayers.
Looking first at what should be done when someone arrives in Australia without authorisation, and claims political asylum, I’d suggest the obvious model is that of bail for people accused of criminal trials. That is, asylum seekers should be allowed to remain at liberty unless it can be shown, on the balance of probabilities, that they are likely to abscond or that they represent a danger to the community/
The comments seem to take the view that this is unacceptable because, inevitably, some people will abscond. But they don’t, I assume, take the same view in relation to criminal offences. At this moment, there are thousands of people at large in Australia who have outstanding warrants for offences ranging from speeding to crimes of violence. These people represent a much greater threat to the community than do illegal immigrants. But no-one suggests that everyone charged with an offence should be locked up until they have been tried.
And even within the category of illegal immigrants, there are tens of thousands who have jumped the queue the easy way, by overstaying a tourist or student visa. Most, though not all, of these turn up in the end, but quite a few manage to squeeze into one of the legal categories, for example by marriage.
If you read the discussion of this issue from supporters of the government, the general impression is that even the slightest breach in our immigration policy would be a national catastrophe, and that to avoid such a catastrophe we are justified in the kind of extreme measures we have seen, things that would normally be rejected outright in a democratic society. This is simply untrue, as should be obvious when you consider comparable issues like bail or proceeding by summons for (alleged) criminals.
This is only part of the issue, the other part being our general policy on refugees, which I will discuss in a later post.