A Murdoch University academic is leading calls for the Federal Government and the opposition to rethink their proposals for asylum seeker policy and has raised her concerns in an open letter signed by more than 200 of her colleagues from universities across Australia and beyond.
Associate Professor Anne Pedersen from Murdoch’s School of Psychology said she was disappointed that the two main political parties advocated for a policy of offshore processing in Malaysia and Nauru.
Along with her colleague Dr Caroline Fleahy from Curtin University, Professor Pedersen has sent the letter to 30 key politicians across the divide as well as the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers set up by the Gillard Government to break the political deadlock on the issue. Submissions to the panel must be made by Thursday, July 19.
The letter advocates for a multi-dimensional approach including onshore processing and giving asylum seekers viable alternatives to jumping on boats when they are in Indonesia. It also calls for an increase in Australia’s humanitarian intake, the UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency) to be given more funding by the Australian government to process refugee applications more promptly, and an end to the mandatory detention policy.
“As a long standing asylum seeker and refugee advocate, I see first-hand what Australia’s past and present policies are doing to the people caught up in an already unjust system,” said Professor Pedersen.
“The Labor and Liberal offshore processing policies, either in Malaysia or Nauru, have been designed simply to ‘Stop the Boats’ but do not take into account the reasons why people flee persecution in their own countries. Neither do they help asylum seekers find a reasonable solution to their circumstances or offer them protection."
The latest political developments compelled the academics to challenge the policy on asylum seekers.
“The 200 or so people who have signed the letter represent a substantial proportion of Australia’s leading experts in refugee and asylum seeker research," added Professor Pedersen. "The strength of our concern is indicated by this unusual cross-disciplinary alliance and our wish to express our views.”
Professor Pedersen said the policies of the two main political parties undermined Australia’s obligation to implement its responsibilities under the United Nations Refugee Convention.
She urged the members of the Expert Panel to recommend a policy that preserved rather than compromised the human rights of asylum seekers, including their right to seek asylum.
“Australia is a relatively rich and stable country compared with the regions from which asylum seekers flee,” she added. “We can therefore afford to have a humanitarian policy that shares responsibility rather than shifts the burden.”
Refugee law experts from the University of New South Wales have also urged the Expert Panel to seek a multidimensional solution on asylum seekers.
To read the letter in full and see its signatories, click here.