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Why Do People Migrate? Part 1: Facts

Chapters 5 › Unit 5: SCROLL DOWN FOR INSTRUCTIONS View instructions Hide instructions

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Read this article and share your views with colleagues. Is the Australian "Pacific solution" against human rights? What do you think of Nauru and the other "prison islands"?

As always, you can share your view by writing in your own journal, but also commenting on what others have written.

The not-so-Pacific solution

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The Pacific solution was formally abandoned in 2008, yet its core provisions are still implemented, amidst heated denunciations of human rights violations.

But what is the Pacific solution?

Let's take a step back. In August 2001, 433 asylum seekers en route to Australia were rescued by a Norwegian freighter, the Tampa: the freighter tried to reach the mainland despite having been refused permission by Australian authorities, but once in the Australian territorial waters it was stopped by the SAS, the asylum seekers being transferred to the Island of Nauru.

One month after the incident, the Australian Parliament approved two acts that in time came to be known as the "Pacific solution". It designed a system aimed at preventing migrants traveling via maritime route to reach Australia. Some areas of the national territory - a few islands on the north of the country, that first that a migrant would reach, coming from Indonesia - were excised, detention centers built on them, so that migrants traveling that route would be stopped before they reached Australia, detained and had their application processed offshore. Not only that: the asylum claims laid by those who were detained in one of these islands were not processed according to Australian law, which no longer applied: meaning that applicants had no legal access and could not have the decision examined by a judicial body.

Despite being harshly criticized by human rights groups, the Pacific solution was implemented for 7 years, during which people - including families with children - were detained, sometimes for years-long periods.

Finally, in early 2008, the Rudd government seemed to have changed its policies: detention for irregular migrants was declared to be "the last resort", and the Pacific solution was officially abandoned. Technically, migrants were to be detained just for the time required by health, identity and security checks: yet long-term detention continued under the very Rudd government, as well as under the Gillard government.

Critics of this policy point out its contrariety to international law, the costs connected to its implementation and the psychological damages it causes to refugees.
Limiting our focus to the first point - though it is strictly connected to the third - it has to be noted that Australia is part to both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention on the Right of the Children (CRC). It therefore has an international obligation to guarantee and protect certain rights. And it is not doing so by favoring long-term detention over more human solutions to deal with migration.

Detaining migrants is indeed always problematic, even more so when these migrants are children. Concerning the detention of children, the CRC (that applies to all children within the jurisdiction of a State party) mandates that "The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time".

Though it is somewhat understandable why national authorities resolve to do so, it does not detract from the fact that a migrant is not a criminal. Therefore, detention for a prolonged stretch of time (and in the case of Australia people are known to have spent more than 3 years in the so-called "prison islands"!) violates some of their basic rights, such as their freedom of movement. Confining people who oftentimes have moved because of the very difficult situation they faced in their home countries, because of war, persecution, poverty, and so on, who faced perilous journeys to reach Australia and who are probably already emotionally strained, further constitutes a violation of their human rights.

Unlike other countries (such as the European ones) Australia is favored by its geographical position. A migrant pending the examination of his/her claim cannot move from the mainland, unless he/she is willing to be smuggled illegally out of the country, which is highly unlikely. The population is less than half of those of much smaller countries such as Italy. The risk of "loosing track" of migrants, and therefore not being able to deport those who are not granted asylum, is therefore pretty low, and further demonstrates why there is no reason - not even practical ones - to continue with the policy of "prison islands".

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