Refugees: Why we should let them stay

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(Image via abc.net.au)

Ross Jones finds only opportunities in Australia's refugee problem and lays out his eight stage solution to close down detention centres and accept the ever-increasing calls to "let them stay". 

THE REASON AUSTRALIA has such a problem with the refugee thing is that we have been looking at it from the wrong angle.

Instead of a threat it could be a golden opportunity to set Australia up for a fair dinkum magic future.

I confess a stake in this. I grew up in monotone Australia in the 1950s, a time when a slap-up Chinese meal was as far as exotica went. There were only two kinds of people: whites and abos ­— the latter presumed to be on the road to genetic oblivion. The difference between then and now is immigration. Me, I prefer today. Though Australia must have been pretty good when the Indigenous tribes ruled.

As at November 2015, there were 1852 people in Australian detention facilities excluding 585 in community detention. A further 1496 souls were stranded in the hellholes of Manus and Nauru. On top of these, another 29,008 people were living in the community on bridging visas (largely unpoliced). All up, that’s 32, 941 people — hardly enough for a decent footy crowd.

Pricey crowd though — Nauru and Manus by themselves cost $1.2 billion per annum, roughly the entire NRL budget including the cumulative costs all 16 clubs incur to get their teams on the park plus the odd unrecorded incentives. Bear with me then as I suggest an alternative: the Swiss Cheese Immigration Model. The name is a rip-off of an aviation term to ensure faults can’t permeate a system. It is about layered security.

Stage 1

Select an isolated part of Australia. Somewhere no one can just walk out of — preferably in the northwest near the refugee boat targets. A site such as that currently being exploited by Reinhart’s Roy Hill mine would do nicely. It is in the middle of shit creek, but miners are resourceful people and Roy Hill manages to feed and water a large workforce and has the energy left over to dig up and sell what belongs to all Australians.

Stage 2

Construct, at a cost of say $1.2 billion, accommodation for maybe 10,000 people. Not rubbish — I’m thinking around the standard of a mid-ranking Dubbo motel, plenty of shade, couple of swimming pools. The whole complex could run off a nice big solar array.

Stage 3

Staff the facility with Commonwealth employees. No Serco, no Transfield, just people who are both trained and accountable. Include qualified child-care practitioners, psychologists, empathetic medical staff, decent cooks and an ASIO/ASIS booth, which could be disguised as a Sunglass Hut.

Stage 4

Accept refugees: take them, as they come, no exceptions. They’d have to be bussed from their landing place because a train line would be too creepy. Refugees on a train are never good. They photograph badly.

Stage 5

Allow families to stay together. Give new arrivals a few weeks to chill out, eat, rehydrate, and laugh in safety. Allow contact with relatives back home to let them know they are safe. Allow visits from local relatives.

The next two stages act as wetlands, filtering upstream flows before depositing them in the main channel.

Stage 6

This stage takes about two years. A long time you might think, but consider: for the most part, these unfortunates are blown to our shores by the winds of horror and we simply cannot allow the importation of those so traumatised they can only cause harm. And there will be some.

During the two-year period, arrivals are taught at least, basic English, enough to get by in average social interactions such as the mall, public transport and cafes. Maybe a cryptic crossword class for the over-achievers.

They are also instructed in the Australian political and legal systems to a level where they are able to obey laws, have a rough understanding of what the media is saying and, hopefully, ultimately vote.

At the same time, the Commonwealth employees in the Sunglass Hut are doing their thing, crosschecking stories and testing motives. Preferably these Commonwealth employees will be of varied ethnic backgrounds — neutral.

Failures – any refugee with a track record of harmful religious zealotry or plain nastiness – are given the option of deportation or gaol. No third country crap.

For the rest, those who master the basics of the Australian system and lingo, there will be yet another year before total freedom. Allowances would be made for those most likely to fail, the aged and the very young.

Stage 7: The assimilation phase

A bit like the old teacher or doctor requirements, arrivals then spend a year in rural or regional Australia. By this, I mean not in a capital city. Where and into what circumstances will depend on their status — family or single. We have an established model for this process. It is called Ticket of Leave: free agents but with restrictions.

There will be objections from some communities and fair enough. History tells us this whole process is fraught with danger. But just look at the outcome Australia has achieved.

Drive through any Australian country town – away from the influence of the big burgs – and count the empty houses. Rural Australia is dying and this could be the shot in the arm it needs. Consider newbies, fresh from boot camp, arriving in communities with Commonwealth rent grants and employment subsidies. Most will work if they can — in agriculture, industry or the arts. We currently reject a lot of talent.

Stage 8

After three long years of exposure to Australian life, new entries are allowed the total freedom of any citizen with one proviso: any jury conviction for anything in the ensuing three years and it’s out.

After that, welcome to the Lucky Country.

But won’t the people smugglers just call their coke dealer and order up big?

Not if our navy personnel have more than half a brain — and I believe they do.

Intercepting boats is never a simple matter, but it is routinely done. When it is, refugees, scam artists and terrorists would be taken aboard, the crew arrested and the vessel towed ashore and humanely destroyed. The crew would then be processed with the innocent kids sent home, the other crewmembers sent to Supermax with Ivan Milat for a year or two. They will never do it again but at least they will return to their families — eventually.

Caught twice and they will not return home — at least not for a very long time.

Such a wetlands filtration system, with all its defences, would see Australia enriched by the diversity the world has to offer.

We can afford to do this – it is not like we are a hop from Libya or Syria or anywhere in the Middle East. There is no way 40,000 people can arrive in WA in a day as they do in Greece. Europe’s immigration problem is not ours, much as the Murdoch press would have us believe it is. We are different, we have our own neighbours and our descendants are going to have to live with them in the decades and centuries ahead.

Memories live on.

Political will could mean no more torture, no more pain and no more rapes in detention.

If I had a pipe I would dream it.

You can follow Ross on Twitter @RPZJones.

Editor's Note:

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday. There will be marches for refugees all around the nation. For further details see here.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

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