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Seeking Asylum
<p>AP PHOTO/MARK BAKER</p>

AP PHOTO/MARK BAKER

People-Smuggling: Faster, Cheaper and Safer Than the ‘Queue’?

Despite the tough rhetoric to the contrary, Australia is effectively encouraging some asylum seekers to come here by boat.


Australia’s policies aimed at deterring “irregular maritime arrivals” are not just failing but jeopardising the human rights of asylum seekers who arrive by boat.

This much was spelt out in a damning report from a parliamentary committee headed by Labor MP Harry Jenkins this week.

The boats are coming in record numbers – the report forecasts 25,000 asylum seekers arriving this way in 2012 to 2013 — and the “no advantage” policy has done nothing to stem the tide. Introduced last year, this “ill-defined” principle holds that new boat arrivals will be treated just as they would be if they had applied for protection while overseas. In other words, they will face the same indefinite processing delays. In practice, according to the parliamentary report, the government is actively creating disadvantage.

Also this week, the Prime Minister announced that she would travel to Jakarta early next month to push the government’s “regional solution”. That is, to encourage Indonesia to do more to stop the flow of asylum boats. But ironically her visit will coincide with new Australian immigration fees that could well have the opposite effect.

According to migration agent and refugee advocate Libby Hogarth, it is now both safer and cheaper for asylum seekers to come by boat than to apply through the government’s migration program.

“Why is Labor harping on about this propaganda of boat people drowning and trying to achieve disincentives when the main, huge incentive to come by boat is now that it is safer and cheaper?” she says.

Safer and cheaper? Paying a people smuggler for the right to risk your life on the treacherous sea journey to Australia? Really?

As things stand, the cost to a refugee of the partner visa required to bring their family to Australia is $2,680. But under the new pricing table from July 1 this figure will be merely the base fee for the main applicant — with an additional $1,340 fee payable for each additional family member over the age of 18 and $670 for every minor.

“Let me give you a scenario,” says Hogarth, who is a director with Adelaide-based consultancy company Australian Migration Options. “We’ve got a man who we’ve been advising for months and months to hurry up and give us his money so that he doesn’t get caught. He could have lodged an application for his whole family — he’s got six children and his wife — for $2,680, he’s now looking at a DIAC (Department of Immigration and Citizenship) fee of more than $8,000.”

Consider the case of a typical ethnic Hazara Afghan family in Quetta, Pakistan. Chances are you’ll have several children and Australian authorities will almost certainly require you to undergo DNA tests to prove the family relationship. For a family of six, this test will cost you about $2,000 and your family will have to run the gauntlet on the dangerous 1,000km journey to the Australian High Commission in Islamabad to do it. (The Global Mail has reported on how Hazaras are targeted in Quetta.)

A DIAC spokesman told The Global Mail that DNA testing is not general procedure in refugee cases and is only required where there is an issue of identity, but Hogarth insists that it is standard procedure for cases involving children in Afghan families.

“If you start adding all that up, say for this family with six, you’ve got another $2,000 for compulsory medicals, $2,000 for DNA, as well as the $8,710 immigration fee — they’re up over $12,000 and they haven’t even left Pakistan to get on a plane to Australia,” she says.

“Before they’d go up [to Islamabad] for the medical, then they’d come back and immigration would want them for something else — so they were travelling up and down two or three times. They have to do biometrics now too, which is the eye test and the photos of the iris and fingerprints.

“On top of that, and this is what really annoys me, is the real risk of the family being killed in Quetta.”

After 20 years working with asylum seekers, Hogarth says the highest people-smuggling fee she’s heard of — even for families — is $8,000. Others have reported fees in the realm of $10,000 to $15,000.

So yes, while the dangerous combination of rough seas and shoddy, overcrowded asylum boats is no secret, for many it is preferable to living in constant danger while waiting for the slow and expensive wheels of bureaucracy to turn. Immigration costs soaring by several hundred per cent are likely to only reinforce this attitude.

The DIAC spokesman says the imminent new fee structure — which was signed off on in 2011 — is designed to bring Australian pricing into line with other countries.

The Coalition has yet to provide substantive details on how it intends to deliver on its “stop the boats” slogan.

11 comments on this story
by Marilyn

But the right of family reunion under the convention is enshrined. WE are the ones behaving badly but IT IS NOTHING TO DO WITH PEOPLE SMUGGLING.

The smuggling protocols specifically exempt those seeking asylum under the convention, when are lazy Australian journos. going to change this stupid language.

Everytime you whinge about smugglers you forget that it is the right to seek asylum that is the point and how that is done is utterly irrelevant.

All we are doing is calling it smuggling so we can pretend the refugees are criminals.

June 21, 2013 @ 4:43pm
by Iain Kelly

And not a word about asylum seekers (yes, I used the "A" word) who arrive by air? THe numbers of air arrivals dwarf sea arrivals- official (DIAC) figures.

June 23, 2013 @ 8:19am
by Glenn Kerswell

Refugees are costing too much, Rather than supporting refugees with no chance for work there is a solution , That is the same solution they had in the eighteen hundreds where immigrants from these same countries landed on our shores , They helped to build a nation , There is a huge number of Australians who support the development of the northern half of our country and in my opinion , This should be the only option for illegal arrivals and also one option for regular arrivals. I don't believe that refugees come here expecting a free ride so why provide them with one and turn them into less than who they are ,They should start out in work camps , I live in a work camp , It's called Brisbane. There is work for tens of thousands of men and women in the north right now.

June 24, 2013 @ 8:35am
by Marilyn

There is no such thing in Australia as an illegal arrival, they are people seeking asylum which is quite legal.

Why do people prattle when they can't be bothered with facts.

June 25, 2013 @ 6:08pm
by Barnie

For more than 10 years, politicians and the community have been looking for the magic bullet on this issue, the latest is Tony Abbott's "turn back the boats". A magic bullet does not exist. Until we can bipartisan policy from all political parties, and we hand responsibility for managing these issues to the bureaucrats (and not the journalist and shock jocks), nothing will change. Even then, it will take years to be able to put in places measures that will reduce or end this trade (including the resolution of a fee wars around the place).

June 28, 2013 @ 1:32pm
by AJ

"Why do people prattle when they can't be bothered with facts."

Because if they were REALLY persecuted refugees they'd go to a haven country signed onto the UNCHR MUCH closer to home like Turkey, Tajikistan or Azerbaijan rather than travelling 8,000 km by boat.

July 5, 2013 @ 5:37pm
by Mark

AJ: because Turkey and Azerbaijan are such vacation spots, or even places where they can be out of danger. Logic Fail.

July 7, 2013 @ 5:48pm
by pamela

I know that I should not be shocked when DIAC lie but I am.
It is not true to say that DNA testing is not routine-
ALL AFGHAN FAMILIES ARE REQUIRED TO TRAVEL THE 900 KILOMETREs FROM QUETTA TO ISLAMABAD to undergo the DNA testing in front of an Australians immigration officer.
This is a fact- no one is exempt.
This is to stop a non- biological child getting a visa. Why you ask.
Well with the high death rates in Quetta it is not unusual for children who are orphaned to be adopted into the family of uncles and aunties and treated as their own children.
Australian government demands that these children not be allowed to join the rest of the family in Australia becasue they are not the biological children of the sponsor.

July 9, 2013 @ 9:44pm
Show previous 8 comments
by Paul Smith

The smuggling of people to Australia from Indonesia is an Indonesian scam run by criminals in Indonesia.
Indonesia is a bad neighbor to Malaysia and Singapore because of the smoke pollution and a bad neighbor to Australia because of the people smuggling business.

Australia must take firm action against Indonesia.
We could start with stopping all Australian tourists visiting Indonesia and progress to sanctions etc.

It's time Indonesia stopped being a bad neighbor !!!!!

July 12, 2013 @ 2:57pm
by angela

So significant that I have never heard this on the ABC or print media. Thatks for new information!

July 15, 2013 @ 3:23pm
by Sarah Leighton

I am thinking about what we as individuals can do - there are many of us who are confused by the intricate politics of this unhappy world - it's hard to sift the reality, but its clear that the system is not perfect.
We as Australians are happy to sponsor children in their own community via various organisations such as OXFAM, CARE, Smith Family, etc.
Who could set up an accountable organisation where we could help to sponsor (e.g.) a Hazara family in their bid to seek asylum via acceptable process. Clearly the government needs to step up with regard to the DNA testing - if my local busdriver has a kit, why on earth can't an official with a cotton bud oversee this in Quetta?
And surely all children should be accepted regardless.
In this way, at least those seeking asylum would have a (albeit small) ray of hope and maybe feel supported by the community here whilst they await due process.

July 21, 2013 @ 10:51am
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