Federal Politics

COMMENT

No, Tony Abbott, we don't have the answer on refugees

​No, Prime Minister, the Australian experience does not offer anything remotely useful to countries dealing with the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War.

Tony Abbott believes countries facing a crisis on their doorsteps are looking at his success at stopping the boats and thinking they can learn from Australia's experience.

But, if they applied the Australian formula of deterrent, the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing Syria and northern Iraq would simply be forced to seek asylum elsewhere.

Even worse, the international protection network for refugees that has operated since the Second World War would collapse.

Yes, Operation Sovereign Borders has stopped the flow of boats to Australia and prevented deaths at sea between Indonesia and Christmas Island by turning boats back and subjecting those who arrived to a life in limbo in offshore detention.

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Whether the same results could be achieved by building a regional protection framework, as opposed to a deterrent network, is the challenge for future policy makers.

But the Australian approach cannot work when those fleeing have nowhere else to go, as was the case in the recent refugee crisis in south-east Asia involving Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar and impoverished Bangladeshis exploited by people traffickers.

After initially following the Australian example and turning back the boats carrying these people, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia agreed to provide temporary shelter for up to a year while a lasting solution was pursued.

As refugee lawyer David Manne has said, Australia has applied a domestic solution to a global problem that simply leaves that global problem for others to fix.

The challenge in Europe is for the international community to join with European states to ensure protection obligations are upheld while the persecutors who force families to flee their homes are challenged and hopefully defeated.

The challenge for Australia is to be at least as constructive and committed in addressing the first element as it is in tackling the second.

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