People-Smuggling: Faster, Cheaper and Safer Than the ‘Queue’?
By Nick OlleJune 21, 2013
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.