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PNG policy is harsh, but it's the right way forward

Danijel-malbasaDANIJEL MALBASA | The Canberra Times

AS A FORMER REFUGEE, I believe boat arrivals rob spots from others the UN is processing.

Seeing the government and the opposition grapple with the perennial and vexing issue of how to deal with the asylum seeker impasse has prompted me to reflect on my experiences as a former refugee and what it would have meant for my family had Australia not given us asylum, had it left us languishing in a refugee camp in eastern Europe and instead given our ''spot'' to those arriving via boat.

My family and I came to Australia as refugees in the bloody break-up of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. We were Orthodox-Christian Serbs living in a predominantly Catholic Croatia.

In 1994 the Croatian government decided to ''ethnically cleanse'' all Serbs from the country; our home was torched and bombed, our livestock incinerated, our possessions pillaged. If that was not tragic enough, my father was killed while fighting to keep us safe, and the lives of countless relatives, friends and neighbours were lost too.

We fled our home under live gunfire in the dead of night taking nothing with us but the clothes on our backs as we scurried onto a tractor about to make a perilous journey under bombardment to a collective centre on the outskirts of Kosovo in Serbia. The centre was a large sewing factory where sewing machines were removed and the cold, hard, concrete floors were lined with cardboard, rags and mattresses.

Along with more than 500 other refugees, we lived in this factory, sleeping next to one another like sardines, young and old, sick and healthy, men, women and children - we shared one bathroom, one toilet. We had limited to no right to employment, housing, education and other opportunities extended to locals. Suicide, hunger, disease, crime and rape spread throughout the camp like wildfire.

We were non-nation citizens, no country accepted us and we felt as if we did not exist. As days turned into months and months into years, we found ourselves living in this squalor for nearly five years, until the day our dire desperation led us to apply for refugee status under the UNHCR convention and seek the protection of any developed nation that could give us a new life.

After multiple failures and rejections and after a long period of languishing in the centre, we succeeded in getting a spot under the UNHCR's resettlement regime and Australia agreed to take us.

Today we are proud and productive Australian citizens. One of my family members runs his own business building Australia and employing young tradesmen. Another runs a car manufacturing plant. Another -who hardly speaks a word of English - cleans our public toilets and toils in the fields. Myself, I work in the union movement helping to improve and protect the conditions of Australian workers.

Since our arrival on Australian shores we have been contributing to Australian society hand over fist with our labour, our taxes, our dedication, our work ethic and our positive mentality of appreciation and gratitude.

But we waited a long time in deplorable conditions in the Balkans for a spot in the UNHCR's Australia resettlement program. Had Serbia been closer to Australia, out of sheer desperation we may well have paid a people smuggler and taken a chance on a leaky boat, but that was near impossible, so we waited.

While I am of the view that all genuine refugees deserve a degree of asylum and protection, - there is no such thing as one genuine refugee being more worthy of protection than another - I also vehemently reject the notion of ''queue jumping'' as coined by John Howard because this term gives the issue a semblance of order in what is anything but orderly.

However, I do believe in fair and equitable processing of asylum applications. The UNHCR estimates there are 40.1 million refugees languishing for decades in refugee camps in Africa, the Middle East, Europe and south-east Asia, many living in the same deplorable conditions I endured in Serbia.

But nonetheless, these people are following fair and due process waiting in transit for a spot to open up to come to countries such as Australia. It is unfair and unjust for these refugees to have their spots taken by those who risk their lives and the lives of their children by forcefully making their way onto Australian soil by boat.

It is likely I would have been in Australia much earlier and could have avoided the horrors I faced in the centre in Serbia if my spot hadn't been taken by a boat arrival. It is welcoming to see the government increase the UNHCR refugee intake from 13,000 to 20,000 per year with the view of increasing it to 27,000. This will go some way towards reducing waiting periods. Australia accepts a negligible number of refugees in comparison with other nations and there is definitely scope for an increase.

The PNG policy is undoubtedly a harsh policy as many genuine refugees will not get an opportunity to resettle in Australia and contribute to our society in a positive way. But in the interest of fairness, equality, equity and due process the PNG policy is the right policy.

Danijel Malbasa is an industrial lawyer and a former refugee


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Paul Yabob

Danijel Malbasa, Isn't it a bit hypocritical that you were processed in Australia and these people are transported all over the Pacific?

Have you read the UN Refugee Convention?

Have you visited Manus refugee prison and seen how oppressive a place and the set up is?

Have you read the contents of the bilateral agreements between Australia and PNG?

Have you read the PNG constitution and what it says about such arrangements like Manus?

What sort of law did you study and from what university, and how did they admit you as a lawyer, if you can comment on subjects you obviously know so little about?

Or you just brown-nosing to the Federal government and Rudd? Yeah, good way of getting some business for a refugee boy, but not very smart on the overall stakes.

I invite you to come to PNG and go to Manus and see for yourself. There are two highly critical UN reports that presently describe the arrangements as illegal.

Perhaps you may even wish to contradict the UN experts?

Martina Apps (Tomutu)

I totally agree with Tony Abbott. Tony has got plans in placed to stop the boats, gambling with people's lives at sea!

I am not racist but, a lot of these people are not genuine and don’t appear to be ‘bone riddle, sick, hunger stricken desperate people (from war torn countries’)…a lot of them are just taking advantage of the situation.

A lot of the “people smugglers” are very well organised terrorists organisations and Indonesia shouldn’t be turning a blind on the border issues as they should policed their shores where the boats departs. Indonesia is not doing enough, passing the bark to Australia… and people still continue risking their lives at sea, hoping to take refuge in Australia.

The boat people asylum seeker issues has been a long time problem for Australia. Manus Island Detention Centre is there because of the influx and over crowded never ending boat arrivals on Christmas Island and Australian shores. PNG & Australian government diplomatic agreement to have the Manus Centre opened is paramount for Australian asylum seeker crisis.

I am proud of PNG for taking this step in giving a hand to Australia wherever it can and where its due.

Why not, PNG should help Australia with their internal problems such as, setting up the Manus Detention Centre. They stay there until the Australian government sort out their future where they go from there.

The former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard had done nothing to solve the “boat people” problem and I believe Kevin Rudd is doing it only to secure his prime ministerial position and the Labour Party and not very genuine about solving this boat people issues.

I totally understand Tony Abbott massage and his firm stand.. Trying to solve the Australian internal issues which was and is brought about by foreigners.

As an Australian tax payer I have the rights to express my views on this critical, sensitive political matters, where the Australian government is spending millions of our tax payers hard earn money to this illegal boat people and the political problem they cause in the Country.

Leonard Roka

Good story. It kind of giving me a lot about things to worry about when looking at my Solomon Island of Bougainville if my leaders and people cannot think out now an exit from PNG sooner.

PNG has no hope to reject the Manus saga, for we are functioning as a state because of Australian tax payers, business operations and investment.

And dependency is a problem PNG is stuck to and hard to walk out form Aussie rules.

But it seems a family helping family affair.

Noken koros.

Tingting tasol.

Peter Kranz

There are no quotas or 'spots' anyone is robbing. This is a myth spread by those who wish to make a political issue out of 'boat people'.

There is no 'queue jumping'. The UN convention on refugees is clear, as is the UN declaration on human rights.

Australia is in breach of both. And appears to be discriminating against certain racial or religious groups.

As much I appreciate the desperate conditions you and you family faced Danijel, there are many, many in similar conditions.

Wouldn't you try anything to get your family away from the dangers of death or torture?

Tim Ashton

So let us take the pressure off Indonesia plus all the other nations (Jordan has over one million Syrian refugees) and the UN by substantially increasing our intake of refugees relative to our annual number of immigrants.

It is a world wide problem and we either stand up and take our share or show the world our redneck colours and withdraw from the the Geneva convention on asylum

Just as an aside to the author, "If you were a Tamil in Sri Lanka where you and your people are subject to racial cleansing, where is the nearest signatory nation for you to flee to?"

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