Rethinking the refugee issue

With the recent Sudanese gang violence in Melbourne there is yet another clear indication that our immigration system needs a comprehensive review and resetting of priorities. There is an obligation to be proactively addressing the current challenges, cleaning up the unintended consequences of past decisions, while also building a robust future focused immigration system.

A serious rethink and a genuine national conversation regarding our approach to the refugee intake is long overdue. Putting aside our personal position on how many refugees Australia should accept in any given year, is it possible to look at the underlying principles that lead to success or failure?

Failure in any one part of our immigration policy has a negative knock on effect to the public’s attitude to immigration more generally, as was seen very clearly when successive Labor governments failed to stop the boats.

Most would support the notion that if a refugee cannot return to their own country owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted, then there should be an opportunity to find a country where they could live in relative peace and security, able to carve out an alternative future.

However, the more alien the new location is, the more stressful and challenging that transition will be.  The following country based factors would assist a refugee to settle more successfully;

  • The national language is the same or similar
  • Cultural values and social norms are similar
  • Easy access to food consistent with their dietary norms
  • Religious rituals and practises are similar
  • There is access to employment that is consistent with their education and skill set
  • Close to their homeland to facilitate visits to any property or extended family/clan when the security risk is low

With none of these factors in place the task to integrate is overwhelming. If the refugee vetting system is setting some groups of refugees up for likely failure, then that would be very misplaced compassion.

The Australian taxpayer should reasonably expect that a refugee choosing to resettle in Australia would whole heartedly commit to the following;

  • Learn written and spoken English to a high standard
  • Work diligently to integrate successfully into the Australian way of life
  • Do everything in their power to find work and be active within the community
  • Seek to understand the laws and traditions of the nation and fully uphold them
  • Totally reject the grievances and violence of the country they left
  • Treat women with the greatest respect, considering them as equals

Key performance indicators should be developed to ensure refugees have successfully achieved these public expectation targets before they are able to gain citizenship.

There have been flawed decisions around taking refugees in the past that have created ongoing security risks for the nation. Many of the Lebanese Muslim refugees of the 1970’s and many of the Sudanese in the 2000’s didn’t have the qualities required for successful integration. There should be a better set of filters and criteria in place that helps determine individual risk factors when assessing a refugee’s suitability for entry;

  • Those coming from a cultural context that is very resistant to change, is excessively ethnocentric, is hostile to the values of western civilization, or is religiously isolationist.
  • Those from a social context that treats the abuse of women and children as an acceptable norm
  • Those from a community that disregards the law and actively attempts to manipulate, or circumvent it.
  • Those that have little or no education and where the prospect of learning English and gaining a basic education is low, even if given additional support
  • Those that have no real prospect of gaining meaningful employment or successfully supporting a family
  • Those from Islamic sects and communities that have been associated with terrorism
  • Those from conflict zones where the likelihood of carrying on ethnic hostilities on Australian soil is high

The zero tolerance to violence within the community should be extended to gang affiliations. The insidious nature of gangs is that self-restraint and the personal responsibility of the individual is traded away for the reckless abandonment that comes from being part of a mob driven by emotion.

Anyone that carries out violent acts or is affiliated with a gang and is not a citizen of this nation is in breach of an implicit moral and social contract with the people of Australia and should be asked to leave.  Whether here on a work or student visa, or as a refugee matters not, they have abused the opportunity afforded to them and should go.

Having spent 12 years working in east Africa it became very evident that certain groups struggled with relationships and change more than others. Kenyans and Ugandans found the Sudanese and Somali’s particularly difficult to get along with due to an underlying lawlessness and domineering cultural attitudes. They appeared to lack a level of personal self-control, continually involved in violence.

There is no doubt that a number of Sudanese have worked hard and have transitioned well into Australian society, but unfortunately some haven’t and probably won’t. It was unwise to bring an ethnic group into the country that had so many high risk factors working against their ability to integrate effectively.

Sudanese have a range of options available within east Africa where they can be safe while there is insecurity. They have family and clan networks in Sudan and the region far more extensive than a typical Australian family, as that was traditionally their only social safety net.

Australia has many refugee success stories, but we have too many failures that are putting Australian lives at risk daily. For the vast majority of refugees globally, life in Australia is not the answer, it is not in their best long term interest, nor is it the solution for building their alternative future.

Our focus must be on those refugees that have a strong chance of integrating successfully, that their families will thrive in their new found home, and that they will become strong contributors to the broader community. Our compassion should be well informed, not just well intentioned. 

Article first published in Online Opinion