Australia could comfortably triple its humanitarian migration intake to 42,000 people a year, Oxfam has said in a statement, as the fallout from the Nauru files and the confirmed closure of the Manus Island detention centre brings renewed focus on Australia’s asylum policies.
The government has faced increasing pressure over its offshore processing regime and a chorus of calls for a national summit to reorient its asylum policies after 2,100 leaked incident reports in the Nauru files were published, including reports of assaults, sexual assaults and self-harm. More than half the incidents involved children, and many related to actual and alleged abuse.
With an unprecedented global demand for resettlement places, Oxfam has said Australia should triple its annual humanitarian intake within five years, including bringing all of those held on Manus and Nauru to Australia.
The Oxfam Australia chief executive, Dr Helen Szoke, said Australia was the 12th richest nation on earth but hosted a “shameful” 0.2% of the world’s refugees.
“Australia has the capacity to take in more refugees and as one of the world’s wealthy countries must do its share to address the global migration crisis,” Szoke said. “Based on Australia’s economy, population and the increasing wave of people seeking refuge across the globe, Australia can and must commit to increasing Australia’s humanitarian intake from 13,750 this year to 42,000 by 2020-21.”
Oxfam proposed increasing Australia’s humanitarian intake to 20,000 this year, with further increases each year to 25,000, 30,000, 36,000 and 42,000.
Australia’s humanitarian intake will rise to 18,750 by 2018-19. The government has also agreed to accept 12,000 extra refugees who have fled conflict in Syria and Iraq but has not specified over what time period.
Labor has proposed lifting the annual humanitarian intake to 27,000 by 2025. The Greens have proposed lifting the intake to 50,000.
The office of the UN high commissioner for refugees says the number of people forcibly displaced from their homes worldwide by violence and war, ethnic or religious persecution, natural disaster or famine, is higher than at any time since the second world war.
The latest UNHCR figures show more than 65.3 million people have been displaced from their homes across the globe, either in foreign countries or within their own national borders.
The vast majority of the world’s refugees – about 86% – are hosted by developing nations, usually ones close to the countries they have left. Turkey now hosts more than 2.5 million refugees. In Lebanon – which hosts 1.1 million – 20% of the population are refugees.
Australia sending asylum seekers and refugees to Nauru has made the tiny Pacific island the third-highest acceptor of refugees on a per capita basis.
Europe’s richest country, Germany, hosted more than 1 million refugees and asylum seekers last year, representing 1.3% of its population. If Australia accepted 42,000 people, it would represent 0.18% of the country’s population.
Australia’s total annual migrant intake is now about 190,000 a year.
In 2012, the Gillard government raised Australia’s humanitarian intake to 20,000. Malcolm Fraser’s Coalition government accepted 22,500 in 1980-1981, proportionally a much larger amount, because Australia’s population was then less than 15 million at the time.
The expert panel that advised the last Labor government on asylum policies recommended immediately increasing the country’s humanitarian intake to 20,000, with consideration that it be lifted further, to 27,000, within five years.
Szoke said Oxfam analysis found the world’s six wealthiest countries hosted less than 9% of the world’s refugees but produced almost two-thirds of global GDP. By contrast, six countries and territories hosting half the world’s refugees and asylum seekers – Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, and South Africa – produce just 1.9% of global GDP.
“Australian humanitarian funding to assist countries such as Jordan and Lebanon, which are hosting big refugee populations and are stretched beyond their limits, must also be boosted,” Szoke said.
“The worldwide humanitarian crisis is far too big for any one country to fix alone. The time has come for Australia to accept its share of responsibility and play a role in a global solution.”
Australia’s immigration minister, Peter Dutton, has argued that the success of Operation Sovereign Borders in forcibly preventing asylum seeker boats from reaching Australia has allowed the government to close onshore immigration detention centres, release children in Australia from detention, and accept more refugees through resettlement.
“The Coalition has restored security at the border, integrity to our immigration program – and with it the trust of the Australian people,” he said in a recent speech. “This government has closed 17 detention centres, removed all the children from detention and increased the humanitarian program from 13,750 to 18,750.”
Australia is the third-highest acceptor of resettled refugees under the UNHCR’s global resettlement program. But this represents less than 1% of the world’s displaced population.
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