The Courier-Mail

World must lift its game if we are to end refugee tragedies


HU­MAN des­per­a­tion had a face this week.

It was that of a small child ly­ing limp and dead in the sand. The boy, Ay­lan Kurdi, washed up on a Turk­ish beach af­ter the boat his fam­ily were on sank in an at­tempt to cross to Greece, flee­ing the rav­ages of civil war in Syria.

Ay­lan though was just one of an es­ti­mated 50 mil­lion peo­ple the UNHCR now clas­si­fies as refugees, asy­lum­seek­ers, or in­ter­nally dis­placed. More than 2.5 mil­lion of those refugees have es­caped fight­ing in Syria. The sad truth is Ay­lan’s story is re­peated around the globe ev­ery day.

If pho­tog­ra­phers had been in the right places in re­cent years they would have cap­tured sim­i­larly heartwrenc­h­ing im­ages of young chil­dren, whole fam­i­lies, drown­ing in the In­dian Ocean while try­ing to make the per­ilous jour­ney to Aus­tralia. More than 1000 peo­ple per­ished be­tween 2008 and 2013.

That ugly trade has thank­fully stopped. So­cial democrats may not like the Ab­bott Gov­ern­ment’s hard­line ap­proach to end­ing peo­ple traf­fick­ing – and we could do more when it comes to im­prov­ing con­di­tions in our de­ten­tion cen­tres – but there is no deny­ing the ef­fec­tive­ness of the pol­icy.

The Aus­tralian model of tough love though is not a tem­plate that can be sim­ply over­laid on a com­plex Euro­pean cri­sis.

Peo­ple have a right to seek sanc­tu­ary from per­se­cu­tion and war, and clos­ing all borders would only ex­ac­er­bate the mis­ery.

Tur­key alone is now home to more than two mil­lion refugees, most of them Syr­ian, and all of them des­per­ate. Tur­key can­not and should not be ex­pected to ac­com­mo­date all of this di­as­pora on a per­ma­nent ba­sis.

As long as the likes of ISIS are al­lowed to fes­ter, the prob­lem will not go away, and a co-or­di­nated and mul­ti­pronged re­sponse is needed.

In an ideal world, repa­tri­at­ing refugees safely to their home­lands is the op­ti­mal so­lu­tion, but in the case of Syria this will re­quire first de­stroy­ing the can­cer that is ISIS. Sadly, only force of arms, not rea­son, will achieve this and here Aus­tralia is play­ing its part.

Se­condly, to truly smash the peo­ple smug­glers’ trade a clear path for in­ter­na­tional re­set­tle­ment must be es­tab­lished.

If the mil­lions of dis­placed know there ex­ists, via proper chan­nels, op­tions for a new life, they are far less likely to risk their lives on the high seas, and will be more pre­pared to wait in prop­erly re­sourced tem­po­rary shel­ter.

That re­quires in­ter­na­tional and re­gional co-op­er­a­tion, and not in­con­sid­er­able fund­ing, some­thing Aus­tralia is at­tempt­ing in our re­gion, and an equa­tion the Euro­peans are now wrestling with.

This is a global prob­lem, and one that won’t sim­ply dis­ap­pear if we turn our backs. We all have a re­spon­si­bil­ity for the Ay­lans of the world.

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