Thursday, 25 December 2008

Let's think laterally about refugee policy

I have a suggestion. It's not created out of any very deep thought, or even halfway decent consideration. It's just an idea, considered briefly, and thrown into the world to see what happens to it.

These are fairly indisputed facts:

  • There is a massive refugee problem worldwide, and particularly in Australia, which has become something of a destination of choice and has a large and ugly legacy of (concentration) camps scattered around Aus and the neighbouring region to highlight this.
  • This population of the displaced contains both political asylum seekers fleeing death or torture, and the ambitious opportunistic, looking for a better life in a more affluent society with plumbing and clean water, and everyone in between.
  • Australia spends quite a large amount of money each year, I believe over and above UN requests, in international aid programs.

Can you see where I'm going with this?

My suggestion for debate is this: whenever Australia accepts an asylum seeker, we take the cost of doing so out of our aid to that country. You chase your own people away, you can pay us to look after them.

Quite obviously, there are a huge number of arguments around carrot-versus-stick approaches to encouraging behaviour change, and I don't believe that punishment has any legitimacy as a useful tool. However, if we can link aid moneys to human rights performance indicators, can we get it past the moral philosophers, and should we?

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