A real queue for processing and resettling asylum seekers could be created in Indonesia as part of a regional solution, argues Fr Frank Brennan SJ.
Boats carrying asylum seekers from Indonesia to Australia could legally be indicted by Australian authorities within our contiguous zone (24 nautical miles offshore from land, including Christmas Island). The passengers could be offloaded and taken to Christmas Island for a prompt assessment to ensure that none of them fit the profile of a person in direct flight from Indonesia fearing persecution by Indonesia. Pursuant to a regional arrangement or bilateral agreement between Australia and Indonesia, Indonesia could guarantee not to refoule any person back to the frontiers of a country where they would face persecution nor to remove any person to a country unwilling to provide that guarantee. Screened asylum seekers from Christmas Island could then be safely flown back to Indonesia for processing.
With adequate resourcing, a real queue could be created for processing and resettlement. Provided there had been an earlier, extensive advertising campaign, Indonesian authorities would then be justified in placing any returned boat people at the end of the queue. Assured safe return by air together with placement at the end of the queue would provide the deterrent to persons no longer in direct flight from persecution risking life and fortune boarding a boat for Australia. In cooperation with UNHCR and theInternational Organization for Migration (IOM), Australia could provide the financial wherewithal to enhance the security and processing arrangements in Indonesia. Both governments could negotiate with other countries in the region to arrange more equitable burden sharing in the offering of resettlement places for those proved to be refugees. Australian politicians would need to give the leadership to the community explaining why it would be necessary and decent for Australia then to receive more proven refugees from the region, including those who fled to our region fearing persecution in faraway places like Afghanistan.
Indonesia would need to enhance its own border protection regime making it more difficult for asylum seekers in Malaysia who are not in direct flight from persecution in Malaysia to enter Indonesia. The safeguards negotiated in Indonesia and any other country in the region to which unprocessed asylum seekers were to be sent would need to comply with the minimum safeguards set by the Houston Expert Panel when they reviewed the Gillard Government's proposed Malaysia Arrangement. These safeguards have not been met with the Gillard government's resurrected 'Pacific Solution'. Paris Aristotle told the ABC'sLateline program when discussing Manus Island in March 2013:
'But the panel was very clear. When we established the safeguards, we didn't say, "Here's a set of safeguards to mitigate against the risks. If you can do them great; if you can't, go and do it anyway.' We were explicit. We said, 'These safeguards need to be implemented as a part of any offshore processing arrangements."'
Designing a regional agreement in which Indonesia would need to play a pivotal role, all parties would need to have regard to the Houston Panel's observations about the inadequate Malaysia Arrangement:
'There are concerns that relate to the non-legally binding nature of the Arrangement, the scope of oversight and monitoring mechanisms, the adequacy of pre-transfer assessments, channels for appeal and access to independent legal advice, practical options for resettlement as well as issues of compliance with international law obligations and human rights standards (particularly in relation to non-refoulement, conditions in Malaysia, standards of treatment and unaccompanied minors).'
Amnesty International Video (YouTube)