I recently completed a philosophy course on Ethical perspectives. It was hard going. We were asked to look at an issue that is current and discuss the ethical perspective of the people involved. In other words… “What makes them think its OK to do what they do?”.
Below is the essay I submitted on the ethical perspectives on Asylum seekers. While the subject is not enjoyable, and may cause you to squirm in your seats, I do hope you will enjoy being enlightened and informed.
The Australian Government is not alone in their inhumane treatment of those seeking to become citizens of a more preferred country. I hope my international readers will take a look at your countries treatment of displaced persons and protest, even peacefully at the treatment of fellow human beings.
That the Australian Government use all means possible to stop unauthorized people entering Australian territorial waters (borders).
The purpose of this preface is to show a learning outcome of studying ethics, and in particular my writing of this paper on the ethics behind the topic. This preface is not to be considered as part of the essay but is purely one student’s reflection of the course studied.
That the Australian Government use all means possible to stop unauthorised people entering Australian territorial waters (borders).
This issue is alive. It is not an issue on which we can look back with hindsight and think “how could we have done it better”. It is an issue which is daily evolving as the problem of forced migration will remain with us as long as we have inhumane governments preying on vulnerable people.
I have been greatly impacted by all the information surrounding asylum seekers and the Australian Government policy concerning it. Until now, I have been unaware of all the issues surrounding asylum seekers and like others believed the rhetoric that the spin doctors spun.
Previously I had made assumptions that all that was told to me through the media and by politicians was true, call me naïve. Now I am aware that I don’t know the true motivations behind certain policies or what ethical perspective people are coming from. It causes me to research and ‘dig deeply’ to find the true motivation behind the rhetoric.
Researching the issues covered in this essay has opened my eyes not only to the motivations behind the policies but also to the concerns surrounding the people who are desperate enough to risk life and limb to get away from the dangers of remaining in their home country.
I have become passionate whereas prior to studying ethics, I was blissfully ignorant. If it didn’t affect me, then I wasn’t concerned. I guess studying ethics has awakened within me the ethics of care that was sleeping within. I now feel the need to research for myself topics before becoming a staunch advocate of one side or another purely on one newspaper report or one point of view.
This course has ruined me for life. I can no longer read a news article or watch the news and accept things at face value. I am no longer content in my ignorance, but must be informed before I make a decision on an issue.
My thanks go to the staff for their guidance in this topic and to my fellow students for their insight and opinions on such a variety of issues. Also I think that the Mission Australia sponsored learning partners are an invaluable resource which as a student I am greatly appreciative.
21 May 2014
That the Australian Government use all means possible to stop unauthorised people entering Australian territorial waters (borders).
I have compassion for the people that try to enter our borders, going to extreme lengths to ensure they arrive to Australia. I come from an ethics of care perspective. I believe the Australian Government should actually care for all people equally, showing no bias to current citizens over potential future citizens. Australia has responsibility to care for displaced persons under international treaties (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 1951) and as a global citizen.
The Australian Government espouses an ethics of care in its Sovereign Borders policy (Liberal National Coalition, 2013). If this were truly the case, then it is to be applauded, as it would be doing its duty as a global citizen and also what is morally right. If this were truly the case, then caring for the asylum seekers once they arrived within our sovereign borders would be the priority, not turning them back, detaining the people within detention centres or processing them offshore where their welfare is not best served. This essay will argue that it is not an ethics of care that the Australian Government is coming from; but rather a consequentialist ethic on so many levels.
In the Sovereign Borders policy, the Liberal Government states a key objective is to protect asylum seekers aboard the boats that come primarily from Indonesia (Liberal-National Coalition, 2013). Many have drowned or risked their lives by attempting to travel to Australia in unseaworthy boats provided or captained by people smugglers. I will endeavour to prove that the true outcome of such a consequentialist policy is that “it is not a question of stopping people dying at sea (the ends), it is just that this Australian Government just wants these people to die somewhere else” (pers.comm. Michael Foley quoting Phil Glendenning’s 2014 Palm Sunday speech, 26 March 2014 ). I will show that Kant’s categorical imperative should apply: at all times people should not be seen as a means to an end, but should be valued as individuals in themselves (Burgh and Freakly, 2000, p. 114).
The Australian Government has an ulterior motive. The Australian Government has adopted a policy with a utilitarian or consequentialism perspective towards asylum seekers coming by sea and justifies this as necessary in order to protect Australia’s ‘national interest’ and to preserve the relationship between the Government and the people it serves. This consequentialist approach is encapsulated by Minister Scott Morrison in his statement:
What the people smugglers and anyone trying to get on a boat need to understand is that this Australian Government will take the actions necessary to protect Australian sovereignty and stop the boats. (Morrison, 2014)
A Minister in the Howard Liberal-National Government expressed similar views:
The protection of our sovereignty, including Australia’s sovereign right to determine who shall enter Australia, is a matter for the Australian Government and this Parliament.
This means the Australian Government uses the definition of sovereignty as ‘the right to exclude’ (Gelber and McDonald, 2006). It will decide who is worthy of humanitarian aid and whose visa is granted on humanitarian grounds.
The policies and attitudes of the Australian Government create an ‘us and them’ mentality. Instead of embracing those coming from countries where safety and even life cannot be guaranteed, it forms in the mind of current citizens that, since these asylum seekers are perhaps different culturally from us, then they should not be permitted to cross our borders. It marginalises people who have fled these countries with little more than the clothes on their back, branding them as criminals and a potential threat to our safety without any evidence of this.
Department of Immigration and Citizenship statistics show that on average over 93% of asylum seekers asylum seekers are granted visas (after appeal) to remain in Australia in the period 2008 – 2013 (Cited by Refugee Council of Australia, 2014). These people have proved to be genuine refugees and enrich the lives of communities who choose to embrace them often opening restaurants and various retail outlets reflecting their culture. Such diversity can also be found in the different religions in communities settled by immigrants.
Three former asylum seekers serve as notable examples of this. Ahn Do, the famous comedian, was an asylum seeker who arrived by boat from Vietnam in 1981. He came with his mother and little brother Khoa Do who was named Young Australian of the year in 2005. Accepting his Young Australian of the Year award, Khoa Do said, ‘I hope it might just inspire young people from other backgrounds to find their own way in life and maybe make a difference.’ (Do, 2005). Tan Le was named Young Australian of the year in 1998. She arrived by boat with her family in 1982 when just 4 years old.
The asylum seekers are not permitted to work while on Temporary Protection Orders. It is not until they have obtained a permanent Protection Order (or granted asylum seeker status) that they are able to work, have access to medical assistance and social security. The asylum seekers are not going to take jobs that could have gone to Australian Citizens. Often asylum seekers will do work that no one else wants.
Under an ethics of care, which is an agent based approach; all people have an intrinsic value. Each life is valuable and one should not place greater importance of one life over another.
According to the 2014 Australian National Budget, the desired end of a consequentialist policy is to save money. It costs less to turn back boats, to process asylum seekers offshore, to return them to countries of origin than it does to house and care for people physically, mentally, socially and spiritually within our borders. Money continues to be spent on ‘managing the legacy’ of Labor’s border control failures (Australia’s 2014 National Budget cited in Lyon, Daily Telegraph, May 14, 2014).
Meeting the needs of a growing population absorbs and saps our political energy. It requires a lot of money – money for transport infrastructure, money for new electricity and energy infrastructure, money for water infrastructure like desalination plants. And building these things requires effort – effort from the private sector, effort from public servants, effort from politicians. There are decisions to be made, conflicts to be resolved. (Thomson, 2010)
The desired end for marginalising people who attempt to arrive by boat is to garner support from voters. To not provide aid to people is to save money, therefore no changes to taxes are needed. To embrace asylum seekers and provide assistance in the forms of housing, health, jobs etc. all costs money that the voters need to supply. This while not getting voter support from asylum seekers themselves; these people have no right to vote.
There was a substantial increase in people attempting to arrive in Australia by boat, known in the Department of Immigration and Border Protection as ‘unauthorised maritime arrivals or UMAs, over the last decade. Between 2003 and 2013 the number rose from 53 to 20,587. This may seem large on a national level but on a global level Australia absorbs a relatively small number of people seeking asylum. In 2012 10.5 million refugees were hosted by countries around the world. Australia ranked 49th in the world hosting just 30,083, or 0.29% of the world’s refugees (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) 2012). The need is certainly there. Each day brings more news of countries in strife and Australia, along with Canada, are desired destinations for those fleeing such countries.
The current Liberal National Coalition Australian Government, along with the previous Labour government, is determined to enforce its sovereign borders by all means possible. This includes turning boats back or towing them back to Indonesia, detaining people seeking asylum in inhumane conditions; most in offshore detention centres, returning people to countries of origin despite the danger that these people will be persecuted or even killed and firing across the bow of boats to deter them from entering the Australian territorial waters.
Turning the boats back to Indonesia, towing them, or providing other safe passage back to Indonesia puts those people on board at risk of persecution, imprisonment and inhumane conditions. They are not welcome in Indonesia and are either imprisoned or sent back to their country of origin. Returning these people to Indonesia or sending them to other countries for processing creates an underclass of people not wanted and therefore persecuted and treated inhumanely until they can be returned to the countries of origin. They will not be granted citizenship or refugee status by Indonesia as Indonesia is not a signatory to the treating concerning displaced or stateless persons. While this is a utilitarian or ‘useful’ approach (consequentialist) it does not address ethical obligations that arise if an ethics of care (or even non-consequentialist approach) was used.
The Australian Government is currently working on having agreements in place with Papua New Guinea to resettle people from Manus Island detention centre and Cambodia to house refugees currently residing on Nauru. Australia is ‘fobbing off’ its responsibilities as a signatory of the convention concerning refugees and stateless persons to third world nations, sometimes without that capacity to assist. Failed compliance with international standards include placing people in arbitrary and compulsory detention, not providing fair or efficient procedures for asylum claims, not providing safe, humane conditions (UNHCR, 2013). This can be seen as unethical from an ‘ethic of care’ perspective.
Detaining people in refugee camps or detention centres either in Australia or in third party countries has proved to be detrimental to the mental and physical health of those detained. The Australian Government provides mental health workers to detention centres to minimise the effects, but this does not stop people detained from sewing their lips together or going on hunger strikes as a protest to the their treatment. It has come to light recently that although mental health nurses and psychologists are employed on Manus Island, there is not a fulltime psychiatrist.
In his film, ‘A Well Founded Fear’, Phil Glendenning and his team from the Edmund Rice Centre research the fate or demise of those rejected as refugees by Australia. This film and the associated report found that many people returned to their supposed country of origin were persecuted or killed as a result of returning to a hostile country.
Glendenning also learned that Australia has been deporting people to Syria on short-term visas who aren’t Syrian. When their Syrian visas run out they must go into hiding. Equally disturbing is evidence that Australia has been knowingly using false passports to deport people (cited in Film Finance Corporation Australia & November Films, 2008).
The use of force in the laws of the sea is acceptable in times of conflict. Are we at war with asylum seekers? Under the 1982 Convention on the Laws of the Sea (LOSC), of which Australia is a signatory, forcing a boat to halt or change course” must be avoided as far as possible. Where force is unavoidable, it must not go beyond what is ‘reasonable and necessary’. Turning back the boats therefore does not meet our obligations under this treaty and is therefore not in keeping with an ethics of care.
The Australian Government is coming from a consequential or utilitarian ethical perspective. The end justifies the means. The aim or end result sought is to have the borders protected and the means of entry into Australia by boat stopped. The Sovereign Borders policy seems to have been successful, in that fewer boat arrivals are reported in the media.
It has now been 95 days since the last successful people smuggling venture. For the same time period last year the number of IMAs that arrived was 3,116. The number of SIEVs during that same period was 55. (Operation Sovereign Borders Joint Agency Taskforce Spokesperson, 24 March 2014 cited in Leslie & Corcoran, 2014)
It is clear from the statistics that while the Labor Government was in power, the number of boat and asylum seekers increased dramatically. Something needed to be done in stemming the tide of people arriving by boat. The current government policy is that anyone arriving by boat will not be processed on Australian soil and will not be granted a visa to live in Australia, whatever the situation.
The percentage of asylum seekers who are successful in their bid is over 90% with very few people refused entry. The total immigration for 2012/2013 is over 200,000 people. The 200,000 places granted includes over 20,000 immigrants from England, New Zealand and India. That is 20,000 from each of these countries, not as a total. Yet we are concerned with the comparative few who arrive by boat.
Many asylum seekers are even prepared to be detained in processing centres for the privilege to be able to settle in Australia after fleeing a country where persecution, war, torture and murder are the norm.
Concluding, the aim of the sovereign borders policy is to stop boats containing asylum seekers from entering Australian waters; thereby protecting the lives and lifestyle of people already citizens of Australia. In that sense, being a utilitarian ethical perspective, it has been a successful operation as the flow of boats has seemingly slowed or even ceased by information released to the media and passed onto us, the citizens.
It is my belief that if the government was coming from an ethics of care, it would increase the immigration places allocated to humanitarian causes, granting quick visas to those who are desperate enough to come by leaky boats and decreasing the immigration to others who are not under any threat of harm in their country of origin. The Australian government could further show an ethic of care by quickly processing those already in detention centres and thereby reducing the need for such centres. Those people arriving under desperate conditions should be housed and cared for in the community and processed quickly, so they are able to gain employment, access health care and everything else a citizen enjoys in Australia.
Many articles under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1958), The United Nations on the Law of the Sea (1982) and Convention and Protocol relating to the status of refugees (2010) are being totally ignored or flagrantly broken by Australia. Coming from an ethics of care perspective, the question needs to be asked is; “Why does Australia remain a signatory of these agreements if it has no intention of upholding these treaties?”
Burgh, G and Freakly,M (2000) Engaging in Ethics. Ethical perspectives. Katoomba NSW: Social Science Press, 95-140
Do, Khoa (2005) Acceptance speech for Young Australian of the Year Award. Retrieved from http://www.australianoftheyear.org.au/honour- roll/?view=fullView&recipientID=148
Gelber,K. and McDonald, M (2006) Ethics and exclusion: representations of sovereignty in Australia’s approach to asylum seekers. Review of International Studies, 32, 269-289. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0260210506007029
Glendenning, Phillip (2008) In Film Finance Corporation Australia & November Films (2008) Press Kit for the film ‘A well-founded fear’. Retrieved from http://www.novemberfilms.com.au/assets/inline/AWFF_Press_k it_FINAL.pdfGlendenning, P. Speech given to Palm Sunday Rally and March ‘Declare Peace on Refugees’, Hyde Park, Sydney on 13 March 2014. Pers.comm., Foley, Michael, Australian Catholic University, 26 March 2014.
Leslie, T. and Corcoran, M. (2014) Operation Sovereign Borders. The first six months. Australian Broadcasting Commission. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/news/interactives/operation-sovereign-borders-the-first-6-months/
Liberal National Party Coalition (2013) The Coalition’s Operation Sovereign Borders Policy. Retrieved from
Lyon, Patrick (2014) The Daily Telegraph May 13, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/money-continues-to-be-spent-on-managing-the-legacy-of-labors-border-control-failures/story-fni0cx12-1226916649570
Morrison, Scott, Australian Minister for Immigration, Media interview. , January 17, 2014. Retrieved from
\http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-01-17/australia-breached- indonesian-territorial-sovereignty-morrison/52047462014 Refugee Council of Australia (2014) Statistics on asylum seekers arriving in Australia. Retrieved from http://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/r/stat-as.php
Ruddock, Phillip (2001) Member of Australian Parliament, House of Representatives Hansard, 18 September 2001, 30869-72.
Thomson, Kelvin (2010), MP for Wills, Population growth and the democratic deficit. Address to the Australian Capital Territory Branch of Sustainable Population Australia, Wednesday 10 February 2010. Retrieved from file:///C:/Users/Sue/Downloads/100210%20population%20and %20democratic.pdf
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (2010) Convention and Protocol relating to the status of refugees. Geneva: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Retrieved from http://www.unhcr.org/protect/PROTECTION/3b66c2aa10.pdf United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (2012) Statistical Yearbook 2012, 12th edition sourced from http://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/r/stat-int.php obtained 20th May 2014.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (2013) UNHCR monitoring visit to Manus Island, Papua New Guinea 23 to 25 October 2013. Retrieved from http://unhcr.org.au/unhcr/images/2013-11- 26%20Report%20of%20UNHCR%20Visit%20to%20Manus%2 0Island%20PNG%2023-25%20October%202013.pdf