Asylum seekers – Israel and Australia

Watching Israel’s asylum seeker protests from Australia is seriously surreal. Just two days ago, the Australian media reported that the country’s navy had intercepted a boat carrying asylum seekers en route to the northern city of Darwin. After assuring the passengers that they would be taken to Australia’s Christmas Island, it reportedly led them back into Indonesian waters, drained their fuel, and left Indonesia to deal with them. Of course, there has been little response by asylum seekers in Australia because most are locked up and definitely unable to protest by say, going on strike for three days.

In recent years there has been much debate about asylum seeker policy in Australia like Israel. From 2008 onwards, Australia’s left leaning government sought to relax laws, but this ultimately led to far greater arrivals, many deaths en route, and greater prevalence of the issue which in turn forced the government to take stronger actions(something the organizers of the current Israeli protest might do well to consider).

Over the last few days, many have referred to Australia’s asylum seeker laws in talkback on this site.

Here by way of comparison to Israel are three of the key elements of Australia’s asylum seeker policy.

1. Mandatory Detention

Asylum seekers generally reach Australia by boat. On arrival they are mandatorily detained in custom built immigration detention centres while their visa claims are assessed. Although they are eventually released if they are found to be genuine refugees (something apparently disturbingly lacking in Israel) and to pose no security risk to Australia, as at March 2011 the average period of continuous detention was 214 days. Between 1 July 1999 and 30 June 2003 2184 children were detained in the same facilities as adults, approximately 14% unaccompanied by an adult.

The Australian High Court has also ruled that it is legal to detain a “stateless person” (that is a Palestinian) found not to be a genuine refugee for an indefinite period until the state of Palestine is created.

In Australia, Asylum seekers cannot work or be part of the community in anyway while they wait hoping for refugee status, and can only protest by means of civil disobedience within detention centers, which in turn harms their prospects of being allowed to remain in Australia as refugees.

2. Temporary Protection Visas

Temporary protection visas are set to be reintroduced by Australia’s new government. Under a temporary protection visa, a person found to be a genuine refugee will be unable to remain in Australia permanently. Rather, the person will be able to remain as long as he or she is unable to return safely to his or her country of origin. In essence, this means that even genuine refugees could be deported years or even decades after arrival. Of course those found not to be genuine refugees are deported immediately.

3. Preventing asylum seekers from reaching and being processed in Australia

Another policy set to be reintroduced, rather than having their claims processed in Australia with access to its court system, the Pacific Solution sees asylum seeker boats intercepted and passengers sent to developing pacific nations rather than Australia.

Israel is not perfect, and as a Jew I am torn by the infiltrator/refugee issue. In particular, the fact that Israel is apparently not processing the refugee claims to determine who is and is not a refugee is problematic. Yet those protesting would do well not to accuse the state of such things as treating them like animals, given how asylum seekers are treated elsewhere in the region, and even (arguably justifiably) in other parts of the developed world.

About the Author
Joshua Koonin is an Australian lawyer, former political advisor and Jewish community activist seeking to bring politically minded people to Israel to gain a better understanding of the political issues that Israel faces. In 2013 he founded International Political Seminars to do this, and now runs political based leadership programs.