Australia must not deviate from a refugee policy that is humanitarian, compassionate, and pays respect to international law.
The ACTU said that this year’s federal election must not be allowed to revisit the dark days of the Howard Government by becoming a race to the bottom over refugees and asylum seekers.
While Australia has a right to protect its borders and manage an orderly immigration program, asylum seekers should not become a political football, said ACTU President Ged Kearney.
Ms Kearney said unions welcomed the lifting of the suspension on the processing of Sri Lankan refugee claims.
Unions note that the Government is in talks with other countries about hosting regional processing centres. Unions are yet to be convinced this is appropriate or necessary. Care must be taken to ensure Australia’s international obligations are not breached.
“Unions strongly reject any attempt to demonise asylum seekers for political gain,” she said. “Migration – including the humanitarian and refugee program – has played a great role in Australia’s growth and prosperity and will continue to do so.
“Australia has long been seen as a safe haven from troublespots, war zones and persecution around the world, and Australians are regarded as compassionate and generous people willing to provide shelter to vulnerable people seeking protection. This is something of which we should be proud.
“We cannot allow our nation to be driven down a path of division and conflict in which asylum seekers become the victims.”
ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence said unions have long supported a rational and informed public debate about immigration, population and asylum seekers based on facts.
“Politicians have a responsibility not to inflame division or misrepresent the facts, and to show leadership to counter views that would demonise asylum seekers or abrogate Australia’s international obligations,” he said.
“The facts are that Australia’s current refugee intake of about 13,750 a year is small by international standards and forms less than 10% of our total permanent migration intake. Boat arrivals deemed to be refugees make up an even smaller proportion of that – less than 2% of all migrants to Australia.
“The security situations in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan are constantly changing, and the Government must release all the information available.
“Australia has a responsibility under the international Refugee Convention to assess the claims of any asylum seekers who arrive on our shores.
“If their claims are unsuccessful or their country of origin is deemed safe, Australia has a right to seek their return. But genuine refugees should be accepted and entitled to the same rights as other Australian residents.”