Why Australia Is Cutting Its Intake Of Refugees
As part of the latest budget, the federal government has slashed Australia’s intake of refugees and other humanitarian entrants, and advocacy groups are furious.
The number of people allowed into the country for humanitarian reasons has been cut by more than a quarter and researchers are saying it’s a missed opportunity to help rebuild Australia’s economy.
So, What Do We Need To Know About The Changes To The Humanitarian Program?
And Are There Good Reasons To Be Critical Of The Government’s Decisions?
The government announced a new cap on people settling in Australia on refugee or humanitarian visas. Last year it was 18,750 places and this budget has cut that down to 13,750.
The financial support for people who are here seeking asylum has also been slashed, cutting off cash to people who are already struggling.
We spoke to Sarah Dale about this. She’s the centre director at the Refugee Advice and Casework Service and she told me she’s already receiving heaps of calls from people terrified about what the new announcements mean for them.
Sarah Dale: “They’re in extreme destitution having to decide whether to buy groceries or pay their rent – we’re talking very significant poverty that’s affecting this group and unfortunately the Australian government decided to continue to leave them behind.
We’ve heard time and time again that we’re all in this together and what we’ve discovered is that all is a very defined caveat group of people that happen to be Australian citizens.”
Beyond the immediate human impact, the new cuts are also being called a basic missed opportunity.
Australia’s economy has been clearly slammed by the pandemic, but some researchers are pointing out that we’d actually benefit from increasing the humanitarian program.
One 2019 study found that if the program was increased over five years to 44,000 places a year, it could sustain an extra 35,000 full time jobs for the Australian economy.
Sarah also pointed out that if we’re talking from a purely economic point of view, there’s an obvious hypocrisy in the government’s new policy.
SD: “If this is a financial decision why are we spending 1.1 billion dollars on offshore processing? That is an easy billion dollar solution, add that money to the economy and bring people to Australia.”
The Government did announce that it’s committing an extra 12 million dollars over the next couple of years to programs like language support to help refugees integrate and improve social wellbeing.
But Sarah said that while she supports that decision, it’s a kind of pointless promise for people who are currently stuck here alone because they would benefit more socially from being surrounded by their families.
SD: “I think that we could have all the social cohesion programs in the world but asking people to be separated from their families, there’s no course or program that’s going to overcome that.”
These changes to the humanitarian program, in combination with the controversial new English language test for partner visas are being condemned as different parts of the same movement by the Government to stop vulnerable people entering Australia.
SD: “Since 2014 when the coalition did come into power there was a very clear policy for deterrence … I would say that we’ve now gone beyond deterrence and we’re really on the platform of punishing people.”
Sarah told me that she only hopes the pandemic has broadened Australians’ ability to talk about our treatment of refugees.
With our own individual liberties being curtailed, and – being held in lockdown away from family and friends – Sarah thinks that now is the time to develop our empathy for those who have been held by the Australian government for years.
The cuts to Australia’s humanitarian program are devastating for the people seeking asylum and they don’t seem to make a huge amount of sense, even economically speaking.
Advocates and researchers believe that now is the time for us to open our eyes to the way we’re treating these vulnerable groups. Because the problems that are driving them to Australia are still raging around the world, even while the pandemic continues here.