Why can’t Australia accept more refugees?

This week I watched an ABC documentary that looked at how a group of refugees from the Congo settled in Shepparton, Victoria, and revitalised the local Lutheran community. Given the obvious success of this resettlement project, and the valid moral reasons for helping victims of war and persecution, why can’t Australia offer a home to more of the world’s 21 million refugees? Globally just 110,000 were resettled in 2015.

Australia, with its low population density, accepts around 13,750 people per year through its refugee and humanitarian program. Refugees who make their own way to Australia are subjected to indefinite mandatory detention, although it is not illegal to arrive without documentation for the purposes of claiming asylum. One of the reasons given for this policy is to stop the practice of people smuggling, which involves vulnerable people paying high fees for the privilege of crossing dangerous waters in inadequate boats. Unsurprisingly many die.

According to Amnesty International 56% of the world’s 21 million refugees are housed in ten countries, Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Chad. These are all countries close to war zones and often the conditions for refugees remain perilous.

Given the low odds on being resettled through the official channels it is unsurprising that those with means turn to criminals. Perhaps they would not take this risk if Australia had a more generous resettlement program.

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