Asylum seekers are drawn to Australia because it has been seen as one of the few countries in the region which respects international law and human rights, treats people humanely and protects refugees and asylum seekers from being returned to situations of danger or persecution. These are not “soft” policies but responses built on basic standards of human decency. Australians should be proud that Australia has enjoyed an international reputation for respecting human rights . Attempting to change this reputation by treating asylum seekers inhumanely would make us little better than the countries from which they are fleeing.
In any case, the “push” factors that compel refugees to flee their homes will always be more compelling than the “pull” factors in countries like Australia. Refugee flows are primarily affected by war, unrest, violence and human rights violations. Most people do not wish to leave their homes, families, friends and everything they know and hold dear. They do so as a last resort, to escape persecution and find safety and security for themselves and their families. For many refugees, this search for safety does not end once they have escaped their country of origin. Many countries fail or refuse to provide effective protection to refugees and conditions are often very difficult; sometimes, conditions are little better than those from which refugees originally fled. These conditions drive many people to seek protection elsewhere in the hopes of finding genuine safety and effective protection – including through enlisting people smugglers and undertaking risky journeys at sea.
So long as refugees aren’t getting the protection to which they are entitled, people smugglers will have a product to sell. To put the smugglers out of business, we need to ensure that people who need protection actually get it by working with other countries to improve conditions for refugees and asylum seekers.