3 Jul 2013

Stop The Asylum Seeker Sloganeering

By Rose Iser

Bob Carr's latest spin line on asylum seekers is 'stop the economic migrants'. It ignores his own department's advice on why refugees from Iran and Pakistan seek asylum in Australia, writes Rose Iser

“Stop the economic migrants”, is Foreign Minister Bob Carr’s new slogan to deal with asylum seekers.

On Friday, Carr described asylum seekers from Iran and Pakistan as economic migrants, rather than genuine refugees fleeing persecution. Carr also met with the Sri Lankan External Affairs Minister recently with whom he discussed the prevention of “economic refugees”. Carr used this argument as a basis for toughening up tests for asylum seekers.

“My department is going to produce some hard-edged assessments of the situation in the countries from which asylum seekers come that can guide the bodies making determinations in Australia, the tribunals and the courts, about the real status of conditions in these countries,” he said.

Carr’s department has already produced assessments of these countries. His comments suggest he is either ignorant of their existence, or he believes they are unreliable.

The Country Guidance Note (pdf) on Iran provided by the Departments of Immigration and Foreign Affairs and Trade in June 2013 reports that Iran’s human rights record in its treatment of ethnic, religious, political and sexual minorities has been criticised by the UN, UK, USA and international NGOs.

“A May 2013 report by the Council on Foreign relations commented that most human rights abuses in Iran were political in nature and were closely linked with establishing the regime’s control over its population.”

According to the government's own guidance note:

  • Iran itself hosts close to one million refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq. There are many stateless refugees and children.
  • The US reports that minority racial groups are targeted for arbitrary arrest, detention and physical abuse. Human Rights Watch has reported the arrest of Arab protestors. Amnesty has reported that persecution of Baha’is has recently intensified.
  • High levels of property confiscation and government policies have led to poor housing and living conditions for Kurds.
  • The UK, Amnesty and Freedom House have reported restrictions on journalists, bloggers, internet use and political expression with crack-downs on protests.
  • Inflation is at 30 per cent and unemployment is at 14 per cent. The UNHCR has expressed concern about deteriorating living conditions of refugees in Iran due to increased costs of living and lack of access to welfare.

There is similar information already available to the Minister regarding Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Iraq – although these pre-date 2013.

A 2013 Amnesty report makes it clear that some people are still at risk in Sri Lanka:

“State repression has been directed at prominent politicians and journalists, activists, lawyers, influential businessmen and academics … university students, humanitarian workers, parents protesting the enforced disappearance of their children.”

Departmental information on Pakistan is absent, but the UNHCR documents cited in Destination Anywhere, a 2013 parliamentary research paper on factor affecting asylum seekers' choice of destination country, tell us that Pakistan has consistently hosted the most refugees worldwide (1.6 million) – mainly from neighbouring Afghanistan, which has produced the most refugees in recent years.

From October 2012, about 700,000 Pakistanis have become internally displaced due to localised security operations. Since December last year, there has been a surge in asylum seekers (pdf) to Australia from Pakistan.

So, rather embarrassingly for Carr, there is already available to him a wealth of information about asylum seekers from Iran and surrounding areas and the reasons they are seeking refuge in Australia. Much of it points to discriminatory treatment and persecution that leads to economic disadvantage.

It is easy to claim that refugees in dire poverty in Iran and other areas are seeking better economic conditions. Unregistered refugees in Iran are hard-hit by poor economic conditions as they are not protected by welfare measures. Registered refugees fare better with some rights to work and health care.

Being a refugee, particularly in Iran, carries with it economic disadvantage – it is a consequence of persecution.

The new slogan “stop the economic migrants” runs counter to the claim that deterrents such as off-shore processing and “no advantage” are effective: if asylum seekers were economic migrants, they would be the first to be put off by these measures.

The focus on Iranian asylum seekers is the result of a recent increase in boat arrivals (pdf) to Australia: 405 applications in the September 2012 quarter compared to close to 2000 in the March 2013 quarter. Asylum seekers from Sri Lanka have also increased in numbers.

DIAC figures (pdf) show that on average, 80-90 per cent of applications from Iranian asylum seekers arriving by boat have resulted in protection visas – lower than the overall average of 91 per cent. Rates for Pakistan are higher – over 92 per cent. Sri Lanka is lowest at 75 per cent.

Carr has criticised the refugee tribunals in Australia for too lenient. His comments may have been directed at decisions about Pakistan asylum seekers: about 85 per cent of appeals have resulted in asylum seekers being granted visas which represents a high rate of courts over-turning departmental decisions.

Yet, the overall over-turn rate of initial visa refusals has been steadily declining from 83 per cent in 2010 to 70 per cent currently. Iranian and Sri Lankan asylum seekers are least likely to have their refusals overturned.

Carr may well be testing the new slogan with the electorate, but the focus group needs more information. “Stop the economic migrants” is as misleading as “stop the boats”.

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Teresa McGlynn
Posted Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - 12:16

Bob Carr seems to make the common mistake that in order to be a refugee one must be poor.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. O. Puhleez
Posted Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - 12:46

According to the IRC, refugees do not have the right to choose their country of final destination. But the people smugglers know damn well that once you land on Australian-controlled teritory, you will most likely be given, sooner or later, some form of permanent redidency.

Every refugee, asylum seeker or econoic migrant who plays this dumb system for what it is displaces someone else in some god-forsaken refugee camp, and sends them further back in the queue.

It is possible to have humane refugee policies without being such an easy mark for the people smugglers and corrupt Indonesian officials in cahoots with them. It is far better for genuine refugees for Australia to be outside the International Refugee Convention than inside it.

Time we got out of it.

Posted Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - 17:36

Bob Carr is certainly engaging in "gutter politics." His comments must have deeply embarrassed those within DFAT who have already reported on the various countries, as quoted here and by website link, by Rose Iser. He has certainly revealed his ignorance. I am ashamed of Bob Carr in his role as Australia's Foreign Minister.

Posted Thursday, July 4, 2013 - 11:47

Excellent article. The "economic refugee" assertion by unelected Senator Bob Carr is false, highly offensive  and an extremely  low point for the new Rudd Labor Government .

In the 1930s and 1940s only about 0.8 million Jewish refugees found safe haven from Nazi persecution with the USSR (250,000), the US (240,000) , Palestine (90,000), the UK (71,000), Argentina (50,000), Shanghai (25,000), Brazil (25,000), Portugal (15,000), Chile (14,000), Sweden (12,000) being the major recipients. Australia took 9,000 but New Zealand took zero (0)  5-6 million Jews died in the WW2 Jewish Holocaust (see Martin Gilbert, Jewish History Atlas, p90). The racist Zionists collaborated with the Nazis and contributed to this tragedy by opposing safe haven for Jews anywhere except Palestine (and then went on to now ethncially cleansing 90% of the land of Palestine with Palestinian refugees totalig 7 million and Palestinian deaths from violence (0.1 million) or violently-imposed deprivation (1.9 million) totalling 2 million since 1936; see "Palestinian Genocide": https://sites.google.com/site/palestiniangenocide/  ) .

Most of the Jews escaping from Western Europe (e.g. France) and Central Europe (e.g. Germany, Austraia and Hungary) were middle class and could afford the money required to escape and travel to distant lands. Under Labor's offensive  "middle class economic refugee" view, most of these would have been rejected and ultimately horribly abused and/or murdered.

The obscene, child-killing sanctions imposed on peaceful, remote, non non-nuclear-weapons Iran by the war criminal,  nuclear terrorist governments  of the US Alliance (the US , the UK, France, Apartheid Israel) and their alies such as the war criminal, pro-war,  pro-Zionist, US lackey Rudd Labor Govenrment (Australia enthusiastically chairs the genocidal UN sanctions committee) are associated with 100,000 avoidable Iranian deaths from deprivation each year. The Iranian Government has sought to protect the poor people of Iran from starvation but the sanctions have also hit the urban Iranian middle class very hard.

Carr's attitude in 1939 would have seen my  father and uncle treated  as asserted "middle class economic refugees" and returned to likely death in Nazi Europe.

Like most of his  Labopr colleagues in being pro-war, pro-Zionist, pro-Apartheid Israel, and US subservient,  FM Carr has made too many mistakes e.g. supine inaction over the Apartheid Israeli torturing to death of Zionist Australian traitor and spy Ben Zygier; craven Australian abstention  from the overwhelming UN vote to recognize Palestinian statehood; collaboration with the war criminall , genocidal Sri Lankan Government whose Tamil Genocide has prompted the Canadians (and possibly the Queen)  to boycott CHOGM; return of Tamil reufgees to maltreatment and/or death at the hands of the genocidal Sri Lankan Government; complicity in the Sanctions linked to the deaths of 100,000 Iranians each year;   and now this highly offensive labelling of desperate refugees as "middle class economic refugees" .

Unelected Senator Carr should be immediately dismissed as FM and not endorsed at the next  election.


K Brown
Posted Thursday, July 4, 2013 - 12:09

Only the wilfully blind would fail to see that there has been a sea change in the nature of Irregular Maritime Arrivals in the last year.  There has been a massive increase in arrivals from Iran and Sri Lanka and if they are allowed the easy ride to refugee status that Australia has afforded past asylum seekers then we face an exponential increase in future IMAs as they encourage others to follow their example.

The reason for this increase is not a sudden increase in repression or threats to their safety.  It is the development of the people smuggling industry.  These IMA's arrive with carefully rehearsed concocted claims that DIAC find difficult to disprove.  We have few means of checking the veracity of asylum claims in the asylum seekers country of origin.  That is why they are given the benefit of the doubt and are granted refugee status.  This was not a major problem when we had 3,000 arrivals a year.  Now the annual number of IMA's exceeds our humanitarian immigration quota which is undermining its integrity and public support. 

Something must be done to more carefully screen out and deter economic migrants.  A more robust assessment of asylum claims must be instituted.  We owe it to all those genuine refugees in UNHCR camps around the World who are in urgent need of resettlement and whose place on our humanitarian immigration program is being threatened by these IMAs.

- See more at: http://newmatilda.com/2013/07/02/tony-burke-inherits-labors-refugee-mess#comment-48613


This user is a New Matilda supporter. O. Puhleez
Posted Thursday, July 4, 2013 - 12:32

 K Brown:

I could not agree more. But I would add that Australia's continued membership of the IRC is frustrating development of a genuinely humanitarian refugee policy. It also costs us a fortune.


This user is a New Matilda supporter. O. Puhleez
Posted Thursday, July 4, 2013 - 12:41

The following site has an estmated cost of around $120,000 per asylum seeker per year under the present chaotic system.


Posted Thursday, July 4, 2013 - 15:47

There's no doubt the movement of asylum seekers is enabled by some form of financing for profiteering and has created a black market. And as such it has become a big, dirty business, only available to those asylum seekers who can afford the treacherous journey to a possible future life in Australia. 

Since 2009 some asylum seekers have even been sent back to Sri Lanka, because arriving here they did not fulfill the requirements of the Refugee Convention. So how many more have given false documentation, details or even identities to authorities?

And considering the strong pull factor of Australia, we have to be ever vigilant as millions (global population 7 billion) could arrive here claiming refugee status, just because they can't get a job in their own country!

We have to take a certain number of asylum seekers/refugees (20, 000 - 30,000 pa) and then refuse to accept the rest, even sending them back to their homeland, a possible deterrent for others to make the hazardous journey. How many more victims of 'spin' have to die before this dangerous people smuggling is stopped!

Perhaps Rudd will find a humane solution, a policy determined by his working in partnership with the Indonesian government and authorities to destroy the trade altogether, maybe by taking in a monthly minimum of 2 - 3,000 refugees from their detention camps.

And perhaps Indonesia should not accept so many travel visas from so many asylum seekers who as down and out as they claim they are, still have the financial capacity to fly in to Indonesia and wait around indefinitely and then pay to take a dangerous boat trip to Australia as a refugee. Indonesia and Indonesians alone are gaining from this illegal people trade.

And that is why it must and can only be stopped by Indonesia.

And if they won't do it, then we'll have to do it for them with a blockade and consider economic sanctions etc.  

Posted Friday, July 5, 2013 - 11:21

Indonesia and Malaysia had the good sense to refrain from signing away control of their borders by ratifying the UN Convention on Refugees. It is completely unreasonable to expect them to protect Australia from refugees. If we don't want people coming here to claim asylum, we should be honest about it and opt out of the UN Refugee Convention.

Since 1954, the world's population has doubled and in this overpopulated world, Australia and many other developed countries have reduced their breeding to fewer than two children per woman. It is not an accident that the refugees are coming from places in the world that still have high birth rates.

What does Rose Iser think causes "persecution"? What does she think happens when there are  far more people than there are jobs, and all the arable land is occupied? What choices are there apart from leaving, or forcing others to leave? What happens when the survival of one group depends on preventing other groups from accessing resources?

How many refugees does Rose Iser want to settle in Australia and who does she want to pay for their support? And what are her ideas for preventing 35 million genuine refugees from multiplying into 50 million?

Posted Friday, July 5, 2013 - 12:49

FM Carr relies on a sharp suit to set perceptions of his IQ. Because sure as eggs his mouth isnt hard wired to his brain and has only tenuous connections to his constituents.

Although you wouldnt know it by the refugee debate we have two options, either;

Unsign the refugee convention and develop our own (probably) Racist policy.


Stop wingeing and whining about what the convention says and just do it.

Kevin on a recent rave, pointed out Maritime Law is for Sailors and Land Lubber's Laws are for Land Lubbers. Directing a Captain at sea from Canberra is like dining with the Devil. We'll probably get three courses but none of them will necessarily come with cutlery.

Tony Abbott like Howard (Tampa) before him is willing to override Maritime Law for political expediency. But this act will inform responsible nations that we are essentially Rednecks whose Security Organisations rule us despite that Maritime Law probably predates Parliament and certainly those Security Organisations.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. O. Puhleez
Posted Saturday, July 6, 2013 - 07:51


guywire: why should withdrawing from the IRC result in a racist refugee accomodation policy?

I grant you that it would result in a policy of our own in place of the present UN come-one-come-all dog's breakfast, but I would have a courteous and law-abiding refugee from say, Somalia, in place of a whingeing Pom any day.

Note: I did say a whingeing one.




Posted Saturday, July 6, 2013 - 22:51

Imagine the scenario; we withdraw from the convention. The Greens would scream and yell the Labor Party would whimper and the Liberals would prepare for Office and at the same time work up a policy on refugees which would attempt to tow the boat people back to Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and other Middle Eastern nations inside which we choose a push factor, by bombing the hell out of them and turning their lives into crap. We did it with Vietnam, Iraq and presently Afghanistan (none of them Christian countries). Instead of figuring this out and protesting we just press buttons and assume the 'democracy' we admire will save every day. Howard proved that many of us are racist and Abbott seems to be trying to prove that he is more racist than Howard - the perfect position to win office. Pity about Rudd eh?

Denise seems eg ;to be saying that we can fiddle with the Convention this is essentially flouting the Convention and I am saying that if we unsign the Convention we can legally fiddle with it, but of course, at every change of government that fiddling would be policy difference changeable by the Cabinet. That Dog's Breakfast you talk of is at least virtually in stone even if the edges have been cropped as it arrived here.

Granted the past migrants come out of a White Australia Policy but this place is populated by Indigenous Terra Nullians, Migrants and Refugees and by any standard is empty. This poor world should develop a population limiter . We in OZ have a comparatively wide personal space to treasure or sell to the highest bidder. But that should not be at the expense of an ethical stand.

"We have to take a certain number of asylum seekers/refugees (20, 000 - 30,000 pa) and then refuse to accept the rest, even sending them back to their homeland, a possible deterrent for others to make the hazardous journey. How many more victims of 'spin' have to die before this dangerous people smuggling is stopped!"

I dont know about y'all but I think that the hazardous journey is nothing compared to indefinite detention, jailing for objecting, getting on a leaky Jumbo without papers, or talking to the odd Psychiatrist.

Man has not devised a deterrent for people in fear of their life and this is the beginning and end of it, Convention or no Convention.