THAT'S THE LAW: Australia acting badly in relation to asylum seekers

MY dear wife and I routinely enter into debate on a Friday evening about our respective television viewing habits. She is a fan of Ryan Gosling and Ryan Reynolds whereas I am more Ryan Hoffman and Beau Ryan.

I did however recently take the time to sit down and at least start watching a movie selected by my dearest. Unfortunately the content was all too much for a Friday evening at the end of a long week. The movie was about a man in the United States in the 1800s, a free black man, who was kidnapped and sold into slavery.

He spent 12 years of his life living in cruel and futile conditions. The very notion of slavery in an otherwise civilised society was and is abhorrent. 

The fact that one part of the United States was opposed to slavery and yet another part of the same country was violently in support of it is with the benefit of hindsight mind-boggling.

Watching this movie did make me think that history will not judge this country's present policy towards asylum seekers kindly.  I can foresee a situation in future years where the way we treat asylum seekers will be judged in the same way that people in the southern states of America treated black slaves.

It is important to understand the legal status of asylum seekers.

Commonwealth legislation prevents anyone arriving in Australia by boat from lodging an application for a visa without the personal permission of the Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison. 

The minister can only grant a protection visa if he deems it to be in the public interest.

People who arrived in Australia by boat after August 13, 2012 must now be taken to a regional processing country for assessment of their protection claims.  In place since  July 19, 2013 has been the regional resettlement arrangement between Australia and Papua New Guinea.

It is argued that both of these schemes are in breach of the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the status of refugees that prohibit a refugee from being penalised because of the way they have entered the country. 

Through various legislative measures the federal government virtually makes it impossible for any person arriving in Australia by boat to apply for any form of visa and they are effectively in a legal limbo.

A cynic would suggest that the sole intention of this system is to discourage people from attempting to come to Australia by boat.

 This however misses the obvious point that by definition people applying for asylum are desperate.  They are fleeing countries that are chaotic and dangerous.

The United Nations convention relating to the status of refugees, more commonly known as the refugee convention, is part of the law of Australia.

The convention defines a refugee as "any person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his/her nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear is unwilling to avail himself/herself of the protection of that country."

The convention prohibits a country from expelling a refugee who is lawfully in their territory except by reason of national security or public order concerns. The convention also states that a country must not forcibly expel or return a refugee to a situation where their life may be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.

It is a bit hard to see how Australia’s present policy towards asylum seekers in keeping with the refugee convention. Many experts argue that Australia’s policies are plainly and simply illegal.

The most ironic thing about this country's attitude to asylum seekers is that every single person in this country except for the original inhabitants, are refugees.

The first people of Anglo-Saxon heritage to be regarded as Australians came to this country by boat as did many others to follow. 

I think I will stick to watching the footy on a Friday night.

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