Approach to immigration: Europe vs Australia (and the US)

It is probably impossible to compare the roots of the problem, but it seems that in Australia and also in Europe we have quite heated debate on immigration. Would you say there is anything Europe can learn from Australia in terms of how to deal with migrants, I mean if there is some positive Australian example Europe could follow, but also if there is something negative what Europe should probably avoid? Read few comments.

Gerhard Hoffstaedter, Anthropologist, University of Queensland

I am currently researching the refugee issues in Malaysia. In terms of your question, I think it would be wrong to look at Australia as a ‘good example’ of how to deal with boat arrivals or irregular migrants, but a good example overall in terms of dealing with migration. Australia maintains a comprehensive and generally well planned migration program of about 200.000 places a year mostly focused on national economic needs and family reunification.

This is a highly effective program and maintains Australia’s image as a welcoming multicultural immigrant country. Europe could learn from the generally well accepted migration program in Australian society and the way migrants are integrated into society. Of course it helps Australia to be an island which allows it to control immigration quite well. The only exception is boat arrivals and here is where Europe should not learn from Australia. Australia’s response to irregular boat arrivals has been punitive and discriminatory (compared to plane arrivals) and its legality continues to be challenged. People detained in the operation ‘sovereign border’ are transferred to detention in Nauru and Manus island where conditions are bad. The new Cambodia deal moves them further way from Australia and access to Australian laws, but creates a dangerous precedent for refugee people swap deals or a refugee market model where they can be ‘traded’ for money/aid. Europe should learn from its own history and the fact that migration is a human endeavour no border, fence or wall can stop. As long as inequality is so rampant and better lives can be sought across the seas people will try. Managing these flows is a challenge; stopping them should not be the answer as this in the Australian case this resulted in a costly transfer of human(ity) and divided society there. Costly in terms of the human cost to the people transferred as well as to the Australian tax payer.

Kerry Murphy, Lecturer, Migration Law Program at Australian National University

I think there are things Europe can learn from Australia and also that Australia can learn from Europe.  Australia has one of the most successful multicultural settlement programs in the world, with people from all over the world coming to live here especially since the end of the white Australia policy in the 1970s.  There are many settlement services for people from different countries, and on the whole inter-ethnic conflict is rare.  Communities that cannot live as neighbours in their home countries, are neighbours in Australia.

Europeans do have a strong background in human rights and this is lacking in Australia.  We do not have the human rights protections in our law that Europeans have and that is why Australia is effectively able to ignore key human rights treaties in its treatment of asylum seekers.

I am not as familiar with the debate in Europe, but in Australia, the politics of fear of the other or foreigner tends to drive the debate.  That means we avoid properly dealing with such complex issues because politicians are unwilling, or unable, to explain the complexities and admit some issues are not solvable, or will take many years to be resolved.

This article, whilst on citizenship, has links to previous articles of mine about lack of human rights protection for asylum seekers in Australia.

Savitri Taylor, Associate Professor, Law School, La Trobe University

Australia has long considered itself a country of immigration and has a regular migration program which includes a refugee and humanitarian component. The program levels for 2015-16 are specified here  (though I do not agree with the spin which the Minister puts on the figures).

Historically, Australia has also been remarkably successful in integrating migrants into its society and is worth emulating in that respect.
However, Australia’s treatment of irregular migrants (including asylum seekers) is appalling and should not to be emulated. The recent statement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is worth quoting on this. My thoughts on the matter are set out in this article.

Would you say there is anything Europe can learn from the US in terms of how to deal with migrants, I mean if there is some positive American example Europe could follow, but also if there is something negative what Europe should probably avoid?

Néstor Rodríguez, Department of Sociology, University of Texas at Austin

ON the positive side, give priority to the needs of the children of the immigrants. I would say to give much consideration to the needs of the children of the immigrants, such as regarding their public education and health care. In the United States under different government decisions undocumented/unauthorized children can attend public schools all the way to high school and in many cases even attend universities (but at their own expense). Immigration policy can take a long time to materialize, but the children should not be made to wait for an education, and they need health care. In the United States the Supreme Court ruled in the early 1980s that undocumented children can attend public schools (but did not extend this ruling to universities). The children need and education because they will eventually grow up and need to be ready to be productive members of society, whether they get to stay in Europe or return to their home countries. The world is better off when there is one more educated person than when there is one less educated person.

ON the negative, what Europe can learn from American problems is not to delay in making immigration policy. In the United States it will soon be 20 years since we last had a major policy to deal with immigration issues. What happens during this time is that the undocumented population has grown to over 11 million; these are people with few rights who often have to live clandestinely in fear of deportations. The failure to create effective immigration policy, as has occurred in the United States, can create huge social costs for immigrants, and even their children who may be citizens or legal residents of the country they are living.


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