Cruel, costly and ineffective: The failure of offshore processing
Australia’s multi-billion-dollar offshore processing system has demonstrably failed to stop boats, save lives or break the business model of people smugglers, according to the University of NSW's Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law.
Released at a pivotal moment when the policy is drawing political interest elsewhere as an ‘Australian model’, ‘Cruel, costly and ineffective: The failure of offshore processing in Australia’ marks nine years since Australia resumed its bipartisan policy of intercepting asylum seekers at sea and forcibly transferring them to the Pacific nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
Kaldor Centre researchers Madeline Gleeson and Natasha Yacoub break down the common perception of offshore processing as a single policy, explaining how instead it has unfolded in four distinct phases since August 2012.
Critically, they note that Australia has been caught up in the fourth and final phase – in which the government stopped transferring people offshore and has been trying to extricate itself from the arrangements – for more than seven years now.
Contrary to popular belief, offshore processing did not stop the boats. Relying on the government’s own data, the authors show that both boat arrivals and deaths at sea continued after the reintroduction of offshore processing in 2012, dropping only after Australia recognised the limitations of its own policy and pivoted away from it to pursue maritime interceptions exclusively from 2014 onwards.
Rather than save lives, offshore processing ruined them; the authors note cases of murder, suicide and sexual assault, as well as a devastating deterioration in physical and mental health, separated families and traumatised children. ‘Those who survived were exposed to significant harm, which some described as worse than death,’ the authors write.
As further evidence of the policy’s failure, the vast majority of the people still subject to it are now back in Australia, many having been urgently evacuated amid spiralling health crises.
The Policy Brief also debunks the claim that offshore processing ‘breaks the business model’ of people smugglers, and critiques the policy as a failure on the basis that it involves:
· enormous ongoing financial costs for Australian taxpayers;
· violations of fundamental rules of international law;
· legal challenges in Australian and international courts; and
· systemic cruelty.
These findings come as the United Kingdom is debating a similar offshore processing system and Denmark has just passed legislation enabling one.
‘The ‘Australian model’ of offshore processing should never be repeated by future Australian governments,’ the authors write, ‘nor should it be replicated by other countries.’
Do you think Australia should have a more humane response to the way it treats refugees? Is this issue important enough to sway your vote at the next election?