The world faces a refugee crisis that is beyond the capacity of any single nation to resolve. 17 million people are outside their home country and in need of protection. Two thirds of this population are in “protracted” situations, which are defined as populations of 25,000 or more who have been without a solution for more than five years. The average length of time is a staggering 20 years.
These 17 million refugees are in need of durable solutions, of which there are three:
- voluntarily return home once it becomes safe for a refugee to do so;
- integration within a country in which a refugee is hosted;
- the opportunity to resettle in a third country.Although collective international action could provide these solutions, the international community is failing to provide them at sufficient scale. Put simply, the demand for durable solutions overwhelmingly outstrips the supply. This leaves refugees languishing in extraordinarily difficult circumstances and drives many to undertake dangerous journeys to seek asylum in countries across the world. Until policy addresses this gap between supply and demand there will be no resolution to the global refugee crisis.
Australia’s approach is twofold. On one hand, we meet some of the demand for durable solutions by resettling around 11,000 refugees per annum. On the other hand, Australia refuses to meet the demand for asylum by those who travel to our shores by boat. A range of punitive measures have been implemented to ensure asylum seekers are unlikely to cross our borders and that refuses to ever integrate those that do.
By restricting the supply of asylum Australia’s approach does nothing to dampen the demand for asylum. Although it is often asserted that stopping the boats has stopped deaths at sea, the reality is people are still seeking asylum and still taking dangerous journeys. All that has changed is the destination.
The long term policy challenge is for the international community to ensure supply of durable solutions matches the demand; the medium term challenge is to achieve this within our region; and the short term challenge is for Australia to meet the demand for resettlement in Australia and asylum in Australia through thoughtful increases in supply.
The political challenge is to achieve this in an environment in which the Australian population is favourably disposed toward resettling refugees but vehemently opposed to asylum seekers who seek unauthorised entry to Australia.
This paper explores the core challenges of the global refugee crisis, the strengths and weaknesses of Australia’s current policy settings, and suggests long term, medium term, and short term policy settings that will move Australia toward a position that is more compassionate, more just and more sustainable, while recognising the political realities within which policy must be framed.