University academics challenge asylum seeker policy

July 16, 2012

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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.

Comments (2 responses)

Murray Tennent-Brown July 18, 2012

The issue of immigration, asylum seekers, and refugees has been a political issue for a very long time in many countries. With such clear views about it in an Australian context perhaps Anne Pedersen should consider standing for election?

Furthermore in my view she has cast academics in a negative light by only collecting signatures from within academia, rather than a petition of the general population. I believe this approach encourages a perception of some academics as attempting to place themselves in a position above the general population in relation to political matters. Specific knowledge of a subject area may qualify one to comment on it, but in my view it is concerning when a distinction is not drawn between fact and opinion.

Australians and the others who live here, like Englishmen, are governed by the law and the law alone, and if the government acts in an illegal way the courts will deem it so. Anything else is politics. It is my view that if Anne Pedersen & her fellow signatories feel strongly enough that the government is violating human rights that they put their money where there mouth is and utilise the courts to mount a legal challenge. Failing that perhaps the ballot box is calling. In fact a political career may be a more appropriate location for Anne Pedersen to espouse political views and one in which she would not rely on the thinly veiled guise of academia to attain an audience.

A/Professor Anne Pedersen July 27, 2012

I gathered the signatures of academics on this letter because all the signatories have a great deal of experience and expertise in the asylum seeker field. In fact, 46 of them are professors. I felt this would have the greatest possible impact on the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers who will be making recommendations on future policy direction. It’s not that community opinion isn’t just as important – it is. However, the GetUp! Organisation does an excellent job on gathering and publicising community opinion so there was no need for me to do it as well. This issue is something I feel very strongly about; I am dedicated to continuing to work towards a fairer solution for asylum seekers both in my personal life and in academia.

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