Modern Australia was founded by immigrants, and developed by immigrants. Under the sway of capitalism – that the economy must grow for ever – governments tend to favour a rising rate of immigration. This policy is the preferred substitute for a long-term development plan, or even a population policy. Awaiting for God’s Will may explain this approach.
However, refugees and asylum seekers either cannot afford to wait, or chose not to wait, for God’s Will. Of course, there are genuine refugees and ‘wannabe’ refugees. The majority of the latter are most likely to be economic migrants who, in all probability, would not pass our normal selection process. – which has worked well.
Today, asylum seeking is probably the biggest entry racket, aided by some Aussies who seem to believe that the Australian taxpayer is required to benefit every claimant for refugee status. This is in contrast to tradition where the migrant is expected to benefit Australia. Even border control now awaits God’s Will, since neither side of politics has any policy worthy of note. In the meantime, what are the issues involved?
To begin with, national borders remain relevant, notwithstanding that national sovereignty has been substantially fractured by the role of the UN, its conventions, and coalitions of saviours (whether or not operating with UN approval) engaged in the War on Terror.
Migrant entry, normally through some form of screening, is intended to benefit the receiving nation. The post-second world war policy of seeking immigrants commenced with entrants from Britain. It was extended sequentially to Europe, the Levant, East Asia, then other Asia, and finally became truly global. Australia’s immigration program is now somewhat substantial. This sequence of geographical sources reflected the gradation of acceptance from white skin colour to all other colours, and thereby to all cultures, as enabled gradually by a growing public tolerance.
Family reunion, introduced only a few decades ago when sought by settlers from the Mediterranean, was intended to keep the sponsoring immigrant happy. Because of continental Europe’s rapid economic development, few family members in the Mediterranean region could be persuaded by family in Australia to use the new program. Instead, the early beneficiaries were the British; later the East Asians. Even if entry is restricted to nuclear family members, there may be little increase in the productive capacity of the nation. All immigration has cost-offsets; family reunion can represent a substantial cost.
Refugee entry is also selective. As with immigrants, refugees had to be seen to be able to fit into the national ethos. For instance, rural people were not wanted. Both categories represent front door entry.
The initial post-war batch of refugees (these were, in the main, real refugees) were Europeans displaced by the war. I studied and, later, worked with some. The first girl to befriend me in Australia had come out of a Nazi concentration camp. A year later, I went out for a while with a lass who had a number etched on her arm, and got to know her family. A country which had decided to collect immigrants had to take some of the displaced persons. Australia did very well by taking its share.
The ones I met were middle-class, educated, skilled. For a few years, in the 1960s, my wife and I entertained one of these, an elderly man. He had, he said, 2 doctorates, but worked as a clerk in my agency. I believe that he too was Jewish. My Holocaust-survivor friends and I never discussed their experiences; I felt very sorry for them. My life under the Japanese could not have compared with their plight. Yet, there was one exception. In 1948, a Polish ex-serviceman and I talked deep into the night on a few occasions about his experiences as a resistance fighter. I saw some of the false documents he had used. Later, I also got to meet a few Czech and Hungarian refugees who had fled the Soviet invasion of their countries in 1956 and 1968 respectively.
(Comment: My work with the then Department of Immigration & Ethnic Affairs for nearly a decade was on all aspects of migrant integration. But I had considerable personal contact with refugees and immigrants before that. We foreigners were attracted to one another. The Europeans had respect for Asian cultures, and were colour-blind (including the women).
Careful selection by officials ensured that all entrants were interested in, and capable of, successful settlement. The record shows the success of this policy; the second generation had reportedly done better in life than the offspring of the host people. I could believe that.
What I refer to as side door and back door entry policy subsequently changed that.)