The Pacific Solution – Australia’s strategic policy to deal with the increasing hordes of asylum seekers arriving by boat on its shores first thought up at the turn of the century – continues to be a major headache for the country almost a decade and a half later. It continues to fester like a sore that won’t heal and the efforts of successive Australian Governments to make course corrections in the policy has only resulted in more anguish for all parties concerned. Thousands of people continually turning up on your shores from distant countries in rickety boats risking everything to seek refuge in your country is no easy situation to deal with at any rate. Coming up with a solution that balances multiple contentious aspects of the reality of refugee migration – humanitarian, political, legal, sovereign, law and order and socio economic among several others – is a mountain of a task to say the least.
It can never be perfect and never ever hope to get all parties to support it. Australia’s broad game plan has been to exclude thousands of uninhabited islands from Australian territory so people or refugees landing on these islands after successfully avoiding Australia’s vigilant defence forces are not automatically landing on Australian territory. Refugees in boats that are intercepted are sent to offshore detention centres while awaiting assessment about whether they qualify as genuine refugees.
Detention centres have been built and expanded in Pacific Island nations like Nauru and Papua New Guinea, while unsuccessful attempts have been made to open another one in Timor Leste. Running a detention centre has been manna from heaven for Nauru’s moribund economy after it so gullibly mismanaged its incredible riches from guano – phosphate deposits – making the transition from being one of the wealthiest nations on a per capita basis to the bottom of the pile in the matter of a mere decade. So much has Nauru come to depend on income from managing the detention centre that when there was a brief hiatus in the programme in 2007, it raised great concern for its economic well being.
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