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Blaming refugees for people smugglers' tricks not the solution

Senator Sarah Hanson-Young. Photo: Lion & Blue Studio

An ABC report last night revealed six people smugglers arrived in Australia, claimed refugee status and set up people smuggling operations from within Australian borders. One, Captain Emad – known as ‘the Head of the Snake’ – had allegedly sent his family to Australia beforehand and joined them in a publicly-funded house in Canberra after being granted refugee status within three months. Critics say the investigation was proof asylum seekers were ‘gaming’ the system. But there’s more to the story, writes Senator Sarah Hanson-Young:

After watching Four Corners last night, I knew it wouldn’t be long before the old parties would again try being the toughest on asylum seekers. They don’t want to discuss the options which would mitigate people using smugglers in the first place.

The allegations raised by the ABC warrant an urgent investigation and I welcome the Immigration Minister’s moves to examine them.

We mustn’t forget the people who pay to use smugglers are not taking their decision lightly. No one wants to flee their home, their family, their social networks, and run for their lives. But that’s the reality for nine in 10 asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat and are found to be in genuine need of protection. War or religious or political turmoil are some of the reasons they have been forced to drop everything, sell their possessions or borrow money and flee. For example, Hazaras flee from Afghanistan for Pakistan, but learn they are still at risk of being killed merely for being Hazara, so they keep moving. They might reach Malaysia or Indonesia but are then forced to wait because Australia offers only 60 resettlement places a year, on average, from both countries which do not guarantee their protection. So they canvass their options and willingly risk their lives on a leaky boat chartered by a people smuggler.

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Australia is a land of the fair go, and we have offered people sanctuary from all over the world. We Greens think Australia must not stop its generosity toward asylum seekers and refugees, and should offer more places.

Despite what many media outlets claim, Australia’s humanitarian intake is among the lowest in the world. The UNHCR reported in March that Australia accepted 3 percent of the world’s asylum seekers, fewer people as a percentage than Switzerland does.

The Greens have always supported the prosecution by Australia of people smugglers and their syndicate leaders. Unfortunately, over the past few years we have seen Indonesian boys and fishermen – some of whom have been duped into becoming asylum seeker boat crew themselves – face courts and be jailed. These are not the people we should be punishing, because they are merely the pawns of the smuggling syndicates, not those who are running the rackets.

The old parties are using the allegations made by Four Corners to blame each other for their inability to expel asylum seekers to Nauru or Malaysia. We Greens will keep insisting that Australia honours its international obligations to offer protection under the Refugee Convention. We will ensure Australia remains the land of the fair go, which assesses people’s claims for protection here on the mainland, and not offshore. We’ll continue standing up against those who would demonise asylum seekers and refugees, because they deserve our help, not hardened hearts.

Sarah Hanson-Young is a Federal Greens Senator and mother. You can follow her on Twitter here.

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