It is ironic that Australia, the most influential country in this region, continually struggles to find a policy, solution, resolution- anything, to address the refugee crisis. Europe, a continent with a plethora of countries and governments, upholds a much more cohesive system in place than Australia at this rate, will likely ever have.
In April, our ‘inspirational’ Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, commented that the Mediterranean Sea migrant shipwreck tragedies were “worsened by Europe’s refusal to learn from its own mistakes and from the efforts of others who have handled similar problems.
Prosecuting and locking up people-smugglers was the centre of gravity of our border control policies, and judicious boat turn-backs was the key.” I am not sure if the Prime Minister truly realises the political situation in Europe.
Turning back the boats is not the key
With thousands of people seeking refuge from the Libyan and North African crises every day, ‘turning back the boats’ is not ‘the key.’
As rightly stated by the German Government’s representative for migration, Aydan Ozoguz, the cessation of certain rescue operations due to costs and other political reasons was an illusion in the sense it would prevent people from attempting the dangerous journey.
Essentially, people are willing to take their chances in the Mediterranean Sea rather than remain in their homeland. Even statistics such as 3,072 migrants dying or disappearing in 2014 do not stop the flow of people.
Europe’s Approach: Collaborative Model
Thankfully, Europe has not taken the direct ‘turn back the boats’ Abbott’s approach. Rather, their approach to addressing the refugee process is a collaborative model.
Since the refugee crisis is an issue affecting multiple European countries, particularly Italy, Turkey and Greece, the European Union nations have collectively funded various operations over the years to deal with the flow of asylum seekers landing on their shores.
In 2013, after a tragic shipwreck resulting in 360 deaths, the Italian government established operation Mare Nostrum (Mediterranean Sea), with the intention to address the increased immigration to Europe.
The European Commission, operating as the executive body of the European Union, provided €1.8million from the External Borders Fund for the operation. This effort resulted in 150,000 migrants effectively arriving safely in Europe, under the supervision of Border Patrol Agents but due to excessive costs, this operation was ended in 2014.
Shortly after, Frontex- the European Union’s border security agency, established Operation Triton under Italian control. Unfortunately, this operation did not see the same levels of funding as operation Mare Nostrum. It was then that the tragic sequence of shipwrecks occurred, and according to the International Organisation for Migration, up to 3,072 migrants died or disappeared in 2014 whilst trying to migrate to Europe.
Shortly after, on 23 April, 2015, the EU governments voted to triple funding for all border patrol operations to minimise the tragedies in the Mediterranean sea. Demonstrably the key lesson to learn from these experiences, even though it is hard to tell how influential the extra funding has been because it is so recent, is that seeking refuge is not a choice- so neither can assisting asylum seekers be a choice. We have all seen the tragic consequences, both overseas and within our own country, of what happens when none, or not enough assistance is provided.
The chopping and changing of the official migration zone is indicative of Australia’s flippant and thoughtless approach to the refugee crisis
Australia has a lot to learn. We are still bogged down in the perception that asylum seekers must be processed offshore. This simple fact creates a ripple effect throughout the Australian society, a society that perceives the majority of asylum seekers as illegal migrants, or even terrorists and as such, we are under no obligations to assist them.
It is a vicious circle. Australia is under the critical eye of Human Rights groups, and righty so. In the processing centres at Manus Island and Nauru, asylum seekers are outside the scope of Australian law and hence cannot automatically apply for an Australian visa.
There is a plethora of issues that could be discussed here, and I acknowledge that I have not taken all of them into consideration. Ultimately, however, I think if there is one thing we can learn by comparing the European and Australian migration models, it is that Europe’s cohesive, co-operative and informed approach is a step in the right direction in response to the refugee crisis.
Bella Worner Butcher