Why not Indonesia?

Andrew L. Urban

New Zealand? Why is Australia attempting to resettle asylum seekers from Nauru (and Manus, too) to another Judeo Christian country with little cultural comfort to offer those Muslims, like New Zealand? Why not return them to where they came from: Indonesia? At least the Government should make the case – possibly despite the machinations of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

After getting to Indonesia, on their way to Australia in illegal boats, these asylum seekers, all from the Muslim majority Middle East, crossed a Muslim majority country where they could have settled safely and integrated easily but declined to seek refuge. Now they should be given another chance. After all, Indonesia is where their fellow asylum seekers were returned to in the boats that have been turned back in the past few years of our well protected borders. And to where they also would have been returned.

As for Indonesia, Australia’s request to our neighbour would seem apt and reasonable; for one thing, Australia has bent over backwards to place the asylum seekers in other countries.

New Zealand’s Muslim population is around 50,000; Indonesia’s is 225,000 million. Religious, cultural and social welcome possibilities are immensely better in Indonesia, not to mention the Muslim-friendly legal framework, as important to daily life as culture.

The Government wants New Zealand to promise to keep the resettled asylum seekers from entering Australia. That’s hard when Australia doesn’t require New Zealanders to apply for a visa to enter Australia. Never mind the practical challenges (do they wear tracking bracelets?), there are other consequential issues.

What about their children? Their grand children? Their extended families? (We can ignore NZ Deputy PM Winston Peters’ silly pomposity in suggesting that this would create two classes of New Zealanders. No, Mr Peters, it would just mean a different residency & international travel category, not a different class of person. It’s not exactly apartheid, Mr Peters.) And of course this travel restriction problem would also be solved by the Indonesian solution, since unlike New Zealanders, Indonesians are required to apply for a visa to enter Australia, so it would be Australia in control of who comes here from there.

But the most persuasive argument in favour of Indonesian resettlement remains the double-decker point of religious and cultural fit, with the secondary point that Indonesia was their last port of departure for Australia. Thirdly, it is practical.

Furthermore, Indonesia has an immigration rate of minus 1.1 per 1000 of population; an intake of less than 1300 (the approximate number of asylum seekers still on Manus and Nauru) would have no negative impact on that stat.

For children and adults equally, the culture clash inherent in relocating to a Western society – and not just the day to day religious environment – is high risk. Imagine the shock for an 8 year old going about in a non-Muslim world…. Semi naked women, walking alone in many cases, without a male guardian … and for the adults, the lack of supremacy of Muslim practices, such as female genital mutilation (FGM), so abhorred in Judeo Christian societies like New Zealand, where it is illegal.

Australia has the lived experience of these challenges, as our Muslim population has increased in numbers: the larger the numbers, the larger the number of illegal FGM activities, the larger the number of radicalised youth, the larger the number of security threats.

And then there is perhaps the most difficult issue of all: those in the asylum group who have been found to be a security risk would arguably represent a lesser risk to a Muslim majority population than a Judeo Christian population.

Sad to say, the Indonesian solution seems a tad like common sense, which probably rules it ineligible, given the pathology of asylum seeker policy debate in Australian politics to date.

The New Zealand solution for asylum seekers is currently debated in an emotionally charged setting.

Take the heated, extended exchange on Paul Murray Live on Sunday October 27, 2018, between Liberal MP Craig Kelly and Labour MP Steve Georganas. Both maintained that it was the other party that was holding back the legislation that would ease the way to relocate the asylum seekers to New Zealand. Each vehemently claimed the other was wrong. It was kinda ‘you are’ ‘no, you are’ ‘no, it’s you’, ‘no, it’s you’.

But neither man was lying, really. More likely, one or other was simply mischaracterising the nature of the blockage. It is a practice rampant in our politics, and the asylum seeker issue is such a hot button issue, it falls prey to the outpouring of more heat than light in all public discussions – and in political debates within the Parliament itself.

As Kelly pointed out during that Paul Murray Live segment, the agitators who want to ‘get the children off Nauru’, paint an inaccurate, emotionally charged picture. The children on Nauru, Kelly spelled out, are not held in detention behind barbed wire. They are free to move around the island as is any other child in Nauru. Should all children be removed from Nauru? Is Nauru no place for children? It’s a valid question, but it doesn’t help the debate, since those who call themselves ‘refugee advocates’, while acting with good hearted intentions, are focused on demonising those who bring reason to the argument. Good hearted intentions must – surely, surely – be subject to rational solutions.

It should be obvious from Europe’s recent, raw example that accepting asylum seekers – especially from vastly different cultures – as a matter of course, is not necessarily a humanitarian act, not for them, not for the host country. The total well being of asylum seekers does not rely solely on offering them safety, health care, welfare and political freedom. One can say they already have all those things on Nauru and Manus. Integration in a new society, jobs and self esteem are the ultimate markers of successful escape from oppression or poverty. Check back five years later and see how they are doing.

Andrew L. Urban was an 11 year old refugee from communist controlled Hungary when he escaped to Austria.

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1 Response to Why not Indonesia?

  1. Liz says:

    It’s always puzzled me why Muslim refugees would not prefer to settle in a Muslim country which would be far more congenial to them than a country like Australia. Obviously nothing to do with our generous benefits.

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