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I was a Stranger
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The Basis for an Alternative Asylum Seeker Policy

A commonly heard response to criticism of the present system of treating asylum seekers and refugees is "come up with a workable alternative". Many groups and individuals who work with refugees and asylum seekers in this country and those who view the present system as unjust are working on alternative approaches to this issue. The Australian Conference of Leaders of Religious Institutes, in collaboration with others, is working to produce an alternative model, a humanitarian one. It is yet to be published, but hopefully, it will attract wide attention. It may even be a stimulus for bringing about some changes to the present system.

A humanitarian program needs to balance protection of our borders with a dignified way of treating those who seek refuge in this country. Some of the key ingredients of a humanitarian program would include:

  • all those arriving on Australian territory be given a chance to claim asylum in this country;
  • having reception centres to which all those seeking refuge are taken on arrival;
  • these reception centres are in major cities and not in isolated parts of the country;
  • while awaiting immigration clearance, asylum seekers are provided with health services;
  • there will be a limited time for immigration clearance;
  • those who are believed to be a risk to the security of the Australian community will be placed in detention centres;
  • this decision to detain shall be open to review regularly;
  • a person can only be detained for a given length of time;
  • once immigration is cleared, asylum seekers shall be free to live in the community with access to services such as education and health;
  • those found to be refugees be given permanent residency in Australia with access to all services available to any Australian citizen;
  • those found not to be eligible to remain in Australia be offered assistance in finding asylum in another country if they cannot return to their country of origin.

There is no doubt that justice and compassion can be balanced with a legitimate national interest.

 

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