Home? (Chapter 7)

Welcome to the blog for The Mess We’re In – Managing the Refugee Crisis which each week provides a section from the book. One Chapter a week. This week is from Chapter 7 which details the Durable Solutions for refugees, sizes the scale of the problem, outlines the differences between cultural assimilation and multiculturalism and provides an overview of the current day friction between Islam and western societies.

 Cultural Assimilation Vs Multiculturalism

Countries with high numbers of immigrants now have a growing diversity of ethnicities and cultures1. In many cases, settlers are from numerous source populations and cultures. The differences in culture can be broad and multi-faceted. Examples of differences include:

  • Type of society (e.g. agrarian-rural vs urban-industrial)
  • Traditions
  • Religions
  • Political institutions
  • Language
  • Cultural practises
  • Appearance (including dress)


One increasingly important question is how immigrants and their descendants can become incorporated into host nations. This question has become more important in the 21st century with a number of ‘home grown’ attacks committed by immigrants or descendants of immigrants. Examples include the 2005 London bombings, the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings and the 2015 Paris shootings. The approach options for the incorporation of migrants and migrant cultures into the host nation can be summarised along a spectrum running from Cultural Assimilation, through Integration and all the way to Multiculturalism.

Approach to accommodating migrant cultures


Cultural Assimilation

Cultural Assimilation describes the process where immigrant cultures come to resemble those of the host group. It is a one-sided process of adaptation that may be gradual or fast. Ultimately the new members of the society give up their distinctive language, culture and social characteristics to become indistinguishable from the host group. The metaphor of a melting pot is often used to describe Cultural Assimilation whereby different elements melt together to create a harmonious and common culture.



Integration describes a slower and gentler process of assimilation. Some aspects of the immigrant cultures remain and some formations of immigrant communities are accepted as part of the gradual process of assimilation. There may also be some degree of adjustment from the host society.



Multiculturalism describes the existence, acceptance or promotion of multiple cultural traditions within a single jurisdiction. These cultural traditions are usually associated with the cultures of ethnic groups. It is often described with the analogy of a salad bowl. Individual groups maintain their distinctive characteristics and together these many groups form a society much like the many ingredients that make up a salad. Multiculturalism can occur when jurisdictions amalgamate two or more different cultures (e.g. French and English Canada) or when immigration from different areas arrive at one jurisdiction (e.g. USA, Brazil or Australia).


This meaning describes the demographic fact that inhabitants come from many different ethnic backgrounds. A second meaning refers to policies around ethnic and cultural diversity. Australian historian John Hirst has described potential policies across a spectrum bookended by soft and hard multiculturalism2. Hard multiculturalism values immigrant cultures for their own sake, and so promotes affirmative action, quotas, ethnic separatism, and even separate laws. Soft multiculturalism approaches cultural assimilation as it promotes tolerance of cultural and ethnic diversity and makes newcomers welcome while easing the path to integration.


Those in favour of hard multicultural policies argue that they avoid the inequality that inadvertently comes when applying the law universally without regard to background circumstance including cultural differences. The argument proposes that equality oppresses minorities as it is based on individual rather than group rights and that only differentiated citizenship can remedy the injustice of individual equality3.


Supporters of soft multiculturalism or cultural assimilation argue that hard multiculturalism promotes groups and diversity at the expense of individual rights and social cohesion. This relates back to the concept of mutual regard. With the creation of separate and distinct groups within a society the level of solidarity and cooperation between peoples is potentially reduced.


It is argued that you cannot have equality and multiculturalism, for multiculturalism dictates that you put a group’s welfare and preservation of its culture above the rights of the individuals within the group4. The liberal state should be neutral on how best to live, and such matters should be left to citizens to decide for themselves. The state should be ‘difference blind’ and recognise individuals only in terms of their common citizenship5.


History of Assimilation vs Multiculturalism

The United States, Canada and Australia accepted a high proportion of immigrants up to and shortly after World War II. Their approach was to accommodate new migrants into society through assimilation. Effectively these countries were a melting pot that melded all to a homogeneous culture. Differing cultural habits were accepted as a partial phase on the way to full assimilation. This approach was often reinforced by the selection process. For example Australia had the White Australia policy, while Canada and the United States also had policies to keep out non-Europeans.


During the 1970s multicultural policies gathered momentum. They originated in Canada and were taken up elsewhere including in Australia, the Netherlands and Sweden. Governments moved away from cultural assimilation and towards granting minorities cultural and political rights. This continued in the main until the attacks on September 11, 2001. Since these and subsequent ‘home grown’ attacks, debates regarding whether multiculturalism actually works have increased. In 2010, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that multiculturalism had utterly failed and that the new arrivals to Germany had to do more to integrate. In 2013, a task force chaired by British Prime Minister David Cameron said the policy of treating different cultures as separate and distinct had been a mistake6. National security concerns held by Western governments have reduced their focus on celebrating and maintaining diversity and increased their insistence for integration based on ideas of social cohesion and national values7.


One-way Multiculturalism

While multiculturalism thrived in the West, it was not adopted universally. One way Multiculturalism describes the existence of tolerant, multicultural societies in the high immigrant Developed World, while the high-emigrant Developing World maintains intolerant (and ethnically less diverse) societies.


In countries new to immigration, such as the oil-rich gulf states, Japan and South Korea, immigrants are seen as temporary visitors who should not be integrated at all8. Parts of the Muslim world like Iran and Saudi Arabia are increasingly intolerant of other cultures. For example, the practice of non-Muslim religions is prohibited in Saudi Arabia9. Commentators like the late Christopher Hitchens have demanded the West insist on reciprocity at all times. As an example, he suggested banning any Saudi-sponsored propaganda within the US until Saudi Arabia also permits Jewish, Christian and secular practises10.


Because of this one-way multiculturalism one of the common criticisms made of multiculturalism is that with the large numbers of immigrants, the liberal democracies of the West are erroneously expecting people arriving from intolerant and singular cultures to easily assimilate with a secular environment.


Key Values in Western Culture

Multicultural policies usually include expectations to conform with certain key values11. These include the rule of law, secularism, freedom of speech and religion, equality of sexes, and minority rights. Although these expectations may be established, the implementation and enforcement of them is not guaranteed.


End Notes:

  1. Stephen Castles, Hein De Haas and Mark J. Miller, The Age of Migration, Fifth Edition, (London: The Guilford Press, 2014), 3.
  2. Katherine Betts, “Population and Multiculturalism: Immigration, integration and crime,” on The Greens: Policies, Reality and Consequence, A. McIntyre (Ballan, Connor Court, 2011), 110. 
  3. Katharine Betts, “Multicultural muddles,” review of Transforming a ‘White Australia’: Issues of Racism and Immigration by L. Jayasuriya, Australian Universities’ Review vol.54, no. 2, 2012.
  4. Bruce Bawer, The New Quislings (New York: HarperCollins, 2012), 73 of 81, EPUB.
  5. Geoffrey Brahm Levy, “Nothing ‘hard’ about Australian multiculturalism,” abc.net.au February 24, 2014, accessed July 23, 2016 <www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2014/02/24/3950661.htm>
  6. James Slack, “Mistake of multiculturalism aided extremists says PM,” Daily Mail Australia, December 5, 2013.
  7. Stephen Castles, Hein De Haas and Mark J. Miller, The Age of Migration, Fifth Edition, (London: The Guilford Press, 2014), 270.
  8. Ibid 265.
  9. “International Religious Freedom Report 2008: Saudi Arabia,” U.S. Department of State, accessed July 23, 2016 <m.state.gov/md108492.htm>
  10. Christopher Hitchens, ”Facing the Islamist Menace,” review of America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It, by Mark Steyn. City Journal, Winter 2007.
  11. Stephen Castles, Hein De Haas and Mark J. Miller, The Age of Migration, Fifth Edition, (London: The Guilford Press, 2014), 270.

This was taken from the 2017 book, The Mess We’re In – Managing the Refugee Crisis. It can be purchased at any book store in Australia and online, including via this link.

 Solution (Chapter 6)

Welcome to the blog for The Mess We’re In – Managing the Refugee Crisis which each week provides a section from the book. One Chapter a week. This week is from Chapter 6 which details the permanent solutions for refugees and discusses the costs and benefits of migration in general.

Migration Issues

Migration Amounts

United Nations data shows that migrants made up over 28% of Australia’s population in 2015. This is quite high in the developed world. Migrant percentages in 2015 for other OECD countries include: 22% in Canada, 15% in the USA and Germany, 13% in the UK and 12% in France. In general, the developing world has much less immigrant populations: less than 1% in Mexico, Nigeria and 0.1% in Indonesia. Other relatively low migrant populations exist in Russia (8%), Iran (3%) and Japan (2%). Many of the rich oil states including the United Arab Emirates (88%), Kuwait (74%) and Saudi Arabia (32%) have large migrant worker populations.

Demographic Ignorance

As is the case in many countries, the size of Australia’s migration program is not widely known by the general public. This has been supported by a number of studies over the past fifty years1. One cause of the ignorance may be that demography is not widely taught in Australia, another is that the figures are not easily accessible, or understood once accessed. Gary Freeman, an American scholar, suggests this is because most liberal democracies run immigration rates higher than the electorate prefers2.

The argument continues that immigration produces concentrated benefits and diffused costs, resulting in vested interest groups lobbying for higher immigration rates. The concentrated benefits are in the forms of new customers for housing developers, more customers for retailers, and cheaper labour for employers. The diffused costs include increased housing costs, increased congestion, lower wages and less environmental amenity.

Life Boat Ethics

 Life boat ethics is a metaphor for resource distribution proposed by Garrett Hardin in 1974. Hardin was the American ecologist who had famously brought William Forster Lloyd’s ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ metaphor into popular consciousness in 1968. Life boat ethics was the next generation of Hardin’s exploration into population and immigration. It can be used to provide a perspective on the case for limiting migration amounts (including asylum seekers).

If the world is roughly divided into rich and poor nations, about 80% of the population would be poor and only 20% would be rich. Metaphorically, each rich nation can be seen as a lifeboat full of comparatively rich people. In the ocean outside each lifeboat swim the poor of the world. The metaphor then asks who should get in, or at least have a share of some of the wealth. What should the lifeboat passengers do?

  • Firstly, the limited capacity of the lifeboat must be recognised. For example the land, water and other resources of a nation have a theoretical carrying capacity. Hardin asked the reader to assume a life boat representing the USA with 50 people in it, and a carrying capacity of 60. The example then poses the question of what to do with 100 people of the poor nations swimming in the water outside.
  • Option 1. Take on everyone. Helping all in need would result in taking all 100 people onto the boat. The result would be having the life boat designed for 60 carrying 150, swamping the boat and drowning everyone.
  • Option 2. Take on ten people to fill up capacity. In this case, Hardin asks which ten would come on board? Are the ‘best’ ten chosen or are the first come taken? What is said to the other 90? Hardin then points out that if all ten spots are taken, putting the life boat at its theoretical maximum carrying capacity, the safety factor of a buffer amount under the carrying capacity is lost. Thus, mishaps affecting crops such as a drought or a new plant disease could have disastrous consequences.
  • Option 3. Take on less than ten. If a small buffer is preserved to provide a carrying capacity safety factor, then survival of the life boat is possible but only when constantly guarding against boarding parties.
  • Hardin argued that Option 3 was clearly the only means for survival. He also recognised that it is morally abhorrent to many people. His response was to tell them to, ‘get out and yield your place to others’.

The much higher fertility rates of the poorer nations also impact the life boat model. The richest 20% of nations are doubling every 80-odd years, whereas the poorest 80% are doubling every 30-40 years, twice as fast. The growth rates imply that the difference in average wealth between the rich and the poor nations will most likely increase. In ‘sharing with all according to their needs’, ‘their needs’ are determined by population size, which in turn is determined by the fertility rate. This is a sovereign right of every nation, poor or not. The burden of sharing (be it foreign aid or immigration into rich countries) on rich nations will continue to increase until the population growth of the poorest nations is stabilised as they go through the demographic transition.

Mutual Regard

Collier posits that mutual regard is reduced when immigrants remain outside the mainstream society. Although a diversity of migrants creates a greater diversity, a loss of mutual regard will have detrimental impacts on public institutions that require cooperation to best operate3.

 The Liberal Paradox

 Along with an increase in immigration, since World War II liberal democracies have expanded the rights for marginal and ethnic groups, including foreigners4. As we have seen, this originated with the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. These expanded rights have constrained governments in their attempts to control borders and exclude specific individuals or groups from membership in society.

The continued immigration drive by the Push and Pull Factors combined with the expanded rights since World War II have highlighted some difficulties liberal democracies are having with controlling immigration. In 1992, academic James Hollifield raised the ‘liberal paradox’: How can a society be open for economic reasons and at the same time maintain a degree of political and legal closure to protect the social contract?5 Initiatives made by many states to regain control of their borders have included the rollback of some civil and human rights. Examples of such rollbacks include the United States’ 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act which increased restrictions on immigrants; Germany’s amendment to Article 16 of the Basic Law which restricted the blanket right of asylum; and the Pasqua and Debre laws in France of the 1990s6. Since World War II there has also been a rise in nationalist, anti-immigration movements. A prime example is the French Front National Party, but similar parties exist in many countries with high immigration.

Scholars have suggested there is a trade-off between immigrant numbers and rights. States may have more foreign workers with fewer rights; alternatively they may have fewer foreign workers with more rights. However they cannot have both. That is, more foreign workers through open labour markets, and high rights for all7. However, if not all members of a society are citizens with the same rights, many argue the society is not a truly liberal society.

End Notes:

  1. Katharine Betts,”Attitudes to Immigration and population growth in Australia 1954 to 2010: An Overview,” People and Place, vol. 18, no. 3, 2010: 34.
  2. ibid
  3. Paul Collier, Exodus (London: Oxford University Press, 2013), 35 of 159. IBook edition.
  4. James F. Hollifield, Philip L. Martin and Pia M. Orrenius, Controlling Immigration: A Global Perspective, Third Edition (United States, Standford Univerity Press, 2014), 8-9.
  5. ibid
  6. ibid
  7. ibid

This was taken from the 2017 book, The Mess We’re In – Managing the Refugee Crisis. It can be purchased at any book store in Australia and online, including via this link.

Waiting (Chapter 5)

Welcome to the blog for The Mess We’re In – Managing the Refugee Crisis which each week provides a section from the book. One Chapter a week. This week is from Chapter 5 which details the countries of asylum, outlines the process or Refugee Status Determination as well as the problems with the Refugee Convention.

Nations that can help

 There are 65 countries of over one million in population that have both a high or upper-middle income and are categorised as Free or Partially Free by Freedom House’s Freedoms of the World Index. They have a combined population of almost 1.9 billion roughly 25% of the global population. Three of these – Lebanon, South Africa and Turkey – are Countries of First Asylum and already overwhelmed with an influx of refugees.

The other 62 are countries that possible approach options are intended to be adopted by. For brevity they will be referred to as the 62 Countries of Second Asylum. Many of these countries already receive a large amount of refugees but others do not. These countries arguably have the resources and societies to positively impact the plight of the world’s Forcibly Displaced People.


The 152 countries with over 1 million in population.*

* Note: Excludes Côte d’Ivoire, Kyrgyzstan, State of Palestine, China Hong Kong SAR, Puerto Rico and 23 million living in other non-specified areas due to incomplete data.


The 65 wealthy, free countries with populations greater than 1 million people
*Note: South Africa, Lebanon and Turkey are Countries of First Asylum.
This book refers to the other 62 as Countries of Second Asylum.


Factors Driving Countries of Asylum

Four factors appear to influence the destination for refugees.

  1. Proximity to home. This enables an easier return home should the situation improve. It’s also likely to be more culturally similar and have a larger diaspora from the homeland.
  2. Ease of access, both in terms of travel and barriers to entry. Generally it is easier to arrive at a Country of First Asylum. Until 2015, the policies of the more distant Countries of Second Asylum were increasingly restrictive in accepting refugees from Countries of First Asylum. An example of this was the ‘no advantage principle’ adopted by Australia as it reintroduced the Pacific Solution following the Houston Report.
  3. The standard of living likely to be experienced as a refugee, an example being the ability to work.
  4. The probability for successful resettlement and the quality of life if accepted in the destination country, demonstrated by the mass movement to Germany when it opened its borders to Syrian refugees.

These factors generally lead to a distribution of refugees that places excessive strains on attractive nations which, at their extreme, may lead to social or economic breakdown causing further disruption and displacement. As of the end of 2015, the most obvious strain is that borne by Lebanon, a Country of First Asylum for Syrian refugees with over 23 refugees per 100 citizens. Germany incurred a high strain as a resettlement nation in late 2015. In the midst of over 1 million refugees arriving in a matter of months, it strongly urged its neighbours to share its burdens.

Just how many refugees a nation can successfully support is also dependent on many factors. Two critical factors are its size and wealth. Larger and wealthier countries can absorb greater numbers of people. Another factor is the level of support it provides. Poorer countries like Lebanon, Turkey, Pakistan and Kenya do not provide the same financial and material support for refugees that rich countries like Germany, Sweden, the USA and Australia (for some refugees) are able to provide. An example of this is welfare payments. Australia provides Asylum Seeker Assistance to those who are qualified to live in the community. Such payments are not provided in the Countries of First Asylum that are poorer and have many more refugees to support.

Accepting this differential of support there exist three factors that appear to influence how many refugees a willing country could absorb without undue risk to its stability.

  1. Host nation population: an intake proportional to the overall population appears a sensible consideration in terms of maintaining culture and being able to absorb the additional people in existing infrastructure.
  2. Host nation wealth: an intake proportional to a nation’s wealth. The higher the wealth of a nation (measured GNI per capita) the more resources it has to support any intake.
  3. Host nation land and population density: nations with smaller land size, and those already crowded, may arguably be less able to absorb an intake.

Standard of Protection

The experience of a refugee in a poor Country of First Asylum such as Lebanon or Turkey in comparison to wealthy Country of Second Asylum such as Germany, Australia or the US is vastly different. This difference in experience is based on two key factors: the quality of life as a refugee; and the probability of resettlement into a Country of Second Asylum. It is arguably this difference that provides the motivation for some people to undertake secondary movement from a Country of First Asylum to a Country of Second Asylum.

  • Quality of Life as a Refugee

The majority of refugee-producing countries are poor or are in the midst of conflict. These include countries such as the Central African Republic in Africa or Syria in the Middle East. As a general rule the neighbouring countries – at least those willing to accept refugees – are also relatively poor. The Central African Republic’s neighbours including South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo have a very low per capita GNI as do the main destinations for Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. Given the large number of refugees and the limited infrastructure and financial resources, these countries are not well placed to sufficiently provide for the influx of refugees. Often the UNHCR and other voluntary organisations are called in to provide support and protection. Such support is essentially basic shelter and food with limited work opportunities for adults and educational opportunities for children. Refugees in these countries have the choice between remaining in a UNHCR camp with limited opportunities for education or work, or trying their chances in the main cities without any formal support.

Many refugees prefer to remain in the Countries of First Asylum for reasons including cultural similarity, increased diaspora and proximity to their home to ease the return process. However, some refugees prefer to head toward a more developed country such as Germany, Australia or the United States. For those who are able to make the journey, the Refugee Convention dictates that as refugees they must be supported to a level similar to citizens of the host nation. Countries of Second Asylum with a comparatively high social net like Australia and Germany thus become much more attractive than less wealthy Countries of First Asylum.

An example is an asylum seeker to Australia who arrives with a visa authorising their entry. A refugee in Australia on a permanent protection visa is provided unemployment benefits (if not working) and rental assistance. Although modest (approximately A$570 per fortnight in 2012) these benefits offer much more autonomy compared to what is provided to refugees in Lebanon. Additional, non-financial support is also provided in the form of orientation, assistance with sourcing accommodation and introduction to community and settlement groups and services. The full level of services is detailed in Chapter 9. Of course, this assistance is only provided to a very small subset of refugees. With the re-introduction of the Pacific Solution in 2013, asylum seekers arriving without a visa to Australia are now placed into Offshore detention with little likelihood of ever settling in Australia.

  • Probability of Resettlement into the Country of Second Asylum

The number of refugees who are resettled to a Country of Second Asylum is very low in comparison to the total number of refugees. In 2014, less than 1% (103,390) of the total number of refugees were resettled. For asylum seekers hoping for resettlement into a Country of Second Asylum, the odds are very slim for those who remain in a Country of First Asylum. Relatively few refugees are submitted for resettlement on the back of UNHCR processing. Of these, less than 10% are taken each year.

In contrast, arriving at the desired Country of Second Asylum often means the asylum seeker will be processed by that country. If their refugee status is confirmed during the RSD then the individual can expect eventual permanent residency. Although Australia has removed this outcome for unauthorised arrivals, it is still an avenue in many countries – most notably Germany and Sweden during 2015. As failing the RSD does not necessarily result in compulsory expulsion, there are still advantages to arriving at resettlement countries without strict border control policies.

This was taken from the 2017 book, The Mess We’re In – Managing the Refugee Crisis. It can be purchased at any book store in Australia and online, including via this link.

Temporary Protection (Chapter 4)

Welcome to the blog for The Mess We’re In – Managing the Refugee Crisis which each week provides a section from the book. One Chapter a week. This week is from Chapter 4 which outlines international laws including the Refugee Convention and the framework through which forcibly displaced people can seek protection from signatory nations.

The Refugee Convention

The Refugee Convention grew out of Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 and was originally created in 19511. The Refugee Convention contained 46 Articles over seven chapters. At the time of its drafting the Convention was focused on Europe, the events of World War II, and the development of the Cold War. It only applied to people displaced prior to 1 January 1951 and countries could choose to limit their efforts to those displaced by events within Europe2. In 1967, the Protocol to the Refugee Convention was introduced which expanded the application of the Convention to cover refugees all over the world and from any time period.

As of 2016 there are 142 member nations to both the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol. Madagascar and Saint Kitts & Nevis only signed the 1951 Convention. Although some countries only signed the 1967 Protocol, it contains a provision that specifies signature countries agree to abide by the original Refugee Convention as well. A majority of the world’s countries have signed the convention. The most significant omissions from an Australian context are the Middle Eastern and Asian countries including Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. They are significant as they leave few viable options for a person fleeing a country in the Middle East or South Asia and looking for a signatory nation to the Refugee Convention through which to claim asylum.

As well as defining a refugee (article 1), The Refugee Convention and Protocol outline the rights provided to refugees. Some key rights are3:

  • Under Chapter 1 – General Provisions: Non-discrimination based on race, religion or Country of Origin (article 3). Freedom of religion in line with freedoms of nationals of the host state (article 4).
  • Under Chapter 2 – Judicial Status: Legal rights including free access to courts (article 16).
  • Under Chapter 3 – Gainful Employment: The right to be employed (article 17), the right for self-employment (article 18) and the right to work in a profession should they possess suitable qualifications (article 19).
  • Under Chapter 4 – Welfare: Public support in line with that provided to nationals of the host nation including the rights to housing (article 21), public education (article 22), and social security (article 24).
  • Under Chapter 5 – Administrative Measures: Freedom of movement within the territory (article 26), the right to travel documents to travel outside the territory (article 28), the right to not be penalised for illegal entry (article 31), the right to not be expelled unless on the grounds of national security or public order (article 32), and the right not to undergo a return to a country where their life or freedom is threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion (article 33). This right is widely known as the right to non-refoulement.


Articles of the 1951 Refugee Convention
Source: UNHCR – Convention and Protocol relating to the Statute of Refugees


Articles of the 1967 Refugee Protocol
Source: UNHCR – Convention and Protocol relating to the Statute of Refugees


The non-refoulement right is a very important right as it protects refugees from the forcible return to places where they fear persecution. The importance of this right became apparent at the end of World War II through the violent resistance and suicides of many Eastern European and Soviet refugees who were being forced to return home against their will. As a consequence, Western powers ceased repatriating people to areas under Communist control in 19464. Not all of the rights provided to refugees apply to asylum seekers. However, the right of non-refoulement does apply. This is crucial in ensuring the ongoing safety to those legitimately fleeing persecution.

There are no limits in terms of the number of asylum seekers specified by The Convention. At the time of the original draft, this uncapped obligation was discussed. Some countries, including the United States and France, argued that if governments were to adhere to the Refugee Convention then specific numbers should be defined5. However, the timing and location constraints (restricting the definition of refugees as Europeans impacting by World War II) of the 1951 Convention allayed these concerns. These concerns did not appear to be as strong at the time the Protocol expanded the Convention’s scope in 1967. At this time the Cold War was at its height and the strong regimes of the Soviet Union and China tightly controlled departures from their countries.

This context may have resulted in the belief that large volumes requiring asylum was not a likely scenario. It is this uncapped obligation that now appears to be a driver for many industrialised nations to limit or deter asylum seekers through increasingly restrictive thresholds and harsh penalties. Australia has implemented such strategies. A recent insight into the potential consequences for industrialised nations through the uncapped obligation has been provided through the arrival of approximately one million people into Germany from North Africa and the Middle East in the last half of 2015.

In regard to such large numbers, an underlying understanding of the Refugee Convention is signatory countries would have the primary responsibility for protecting refugees and there would be cooperation between the states. This cooperation would play out in burden-sharing arrangements to help alleviate large volumes. The UNHCR could provide further assistance if needed, however it would be limited. Instead, the UNHCR’s role is to assist and oversee the states in meeting their obligations, not taking on roles on their behalf6. Although there is an underlying understanding, there are no documented rules or guidelines regarding burden-sharing. Nor are there rules regarding when and in what capacity the UNHCR will provide support. Times of high volumes are assessed and responded to on an as-needs basis. For instance, with the Syrian Civil War:

  • At the time of writing the UNHCR is very active in supporting the protection of the high number of asylum seekers in camps across Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
  • After Germany accepted the approximately 1 million refugees, it sought support from other members in the EU to share the burden.

The rights provided to refugees are essentially on par with citizens of the host nation. Naturally, there is a subsequent economic cost in providing rights such as courts, housing, education, and social security. As discussed in Chapter 2, the disparities between rich and poor nations are great. It is clear to many of the world’s poor that immigration to a wealthy country will improve their chances of prosperity. As many of the world’s wealthy countries are difficult to immigrate to, the avenue of claiming asylum and seeking refugee status is a rational option. Significantly, Australian law recognises extreme economic deprivation may amount to persecution in and of itself7.


End Notes:

  1. Alternatives to Offshore Processing: Submissions to the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers 2012, Australia: Labor for Refugees, 2013), 2.
  2. Jane McAdam and Fiona Chong, Refugees: Why seeking asylum is legal and Australia’s policies are not, (Sydney: NewSouth Publishing, 2014), 10.
  3. Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, opened for signature 28 July 1951 (entered into force 22 April 1954) read together with the Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, opened for signature 31 January 1967 (entered into force 4 October 1967).
  4. Alexander Betts, Gil Loescher and James Milner, UNHCR: The Politics and Practice of Refugee Protection, Second Edition (New York: Routledge, 2012), 11.
  5. Ibid 16.
  6. Ibid 82.
  7. Jane McAdam and Fiona Chong, Refugees: Why seeking asylum is legal and Australia’s policies are not, (Sydney: NewSouth Publishing, 2014), 39.


This was taken from the 2017 book, The Mess We’re In – Managing the Refugee Crisis. It can be purchased at any book store in Australia and online, including via this link.

Future Projections of Forcibly Displaced People (Chapter 3)

Welcome to the blog for The Mess We’re In – Managing the Refugee Crisis which each week provides a section from the book. One Chapter a week. This week is from Chapter 3 which outlines the options for people who have been forcibly displaced, provides an overview of mass movements since World War II, and summarises the history of asylum seeker arrivals to Australia.

Asylum seekers and refugee arrivals to Australia can be summarised in three types:

  • Offshore Program, Resettled Refugees: Already under temporary protection and are being resettled in Australia from a UNHCR camp or another signatory nation.
  • Onshore Program, Irregular Maritime Arrivals (IMAs): Not currently protected and arrive in Australia by boat without the necessary documents that would allow them into Australia should they not be requesting asylum. Note. The Refugee Convention specifies that travel documents are not required by those requesting asylum.
  • Onshore Program, Non-IMAs. Not currently protected and arrive in Australia (usually by plane or by boat) with documents that allow them into Australia on a visa such as a tourist visa, and who then request asylum.

Arrivals to Australia via the Offshore program were already protected by their Country of First Asylum. Arrivals to Australia by the methods covered by the Onshore program are not. At the time of their arrival, people covered by the Onshore program are displaced and vulnerable.

There has been much debate in Australia regarding the treatment of IMAs since the infamous MV Tampa incident of August 2001. At that time, the Howard Government of Australia refused entry to 438 would-be IMAs who were picked up by the Norwegian freighter MV Tampa. Over the preceding three years, the number of people arriving as IMAs had risen sharply from 200 in 1998 to 5,516 in 2001.

The incident proved to be a line-in-the-sand moment for the Australian Prime Minister John Howard and his government;

“Although the circumstances of the Tampa had not been foreseen it became, almost immediately, a powerful symbol of our determination to regain control over the flow of people into Australia”1.

The asylum seekers on board the Tampa were ultimately processed in New Zealand and Nauru and the incident also prompted the creation of the Pacific Solution.

Irregular Maritime Arrivals to Australia
Source. Project SafeCom, <www.safecom.org.au/pdfs/boat-arrivals-stats.pdf> accessed July 30, 2016

The Pacific Solution was an initiative to process and determine all IMA refugee claims in regions outside Australia. From 2001 these claims were processed on Nauru and Manus Island. In addition to this, a policy of turning back boats attempting to arrive in Australia was also adopted. The explicit purpose was to deter people from setting out for Australia at all by clearly showing that not even the processing of refugee claims would be done in Australia.

The number of IMAs following the 2001 introduction of the Pacific Solution suggests it worked in deterring people from attempting to come to Australia by boat. The number of arrivals dropped dramatically in 2002 and stayed low until 2008. In 2008 the Australian Government, under Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, ended the Pacific Solution and the numbers once again began to rise. This rise continued until the re-introduction of similar deterrence initiatives from 2012. These initiatives being a reintroduction of the Pacific Solution in 2012 and Operation Sovereign Borders, the process of turning back boats carrying asylum seekers to the country from which the boat departed, in 2013.

Over the past 15 years, 72,000 (or 60%) of the Onshore arrivals have been through the Non-IMA channel, with 48,000 (or 40%) arriving as IMAs. However, the year-on-year experience has fluctuated significantly. Using financial year data provided by the Parliament of Australia2 between 2002-03 and 2007-08 the average annual number of IMAs was 73, about two per cent of Australia’s total asylum seekers for that time. In 2012-13 it peaked at over 18,000 with the average across the three year period 2011-12 to 2013-14 being over 11,000, about 58 per cent of all asylum seeker requests. The variation in the number of IMA arrivals has a direct link to Australia’s policies regarding the protection provided to IMA asylum seekers. This is a contentious policy area explored further in Chapters 9 and 10.


Onshore Asylum Applications to Australia.
Source: Asylum Seekers and refugees: what are the facts? Parliamentary Library Research Paper (2 March 2015). DIBP, Asylum Trends Australia 2010-11 Annual Publication, Canberra, 2011, p 2; Asylum Trends Australia 2012-13 Annual Publication, Canerra, 2013, p 4; and Asylum statistics Australia: quarterly tables – June quarter 2014, Canberra, 2014, p 5. Note: September and December quarter 2014 statistics not available.


Over the same time period, the number of asylum seekers arriving in Australia has been a very small fraction (between 0.5-2.3%) of the total worldwide number of asylum seekers (700,000 to 1.8 million). The fluctuation in application volume follows a similar pattern, although Australia’s range varies more than the global variation. In the years since 1999, Australia’s range varied 800% (between 2,000 and 16,000) whereas the OECD has varied about 200% (between 600,000 and 300,000).


Asylum Inflows. Australia vs OECD.

Data Source: Australian Parliament, Parliamentary Library.




The fact the worldwide volume of asylum seekers is much larger has been used by both sides of the debate. Opponents to the current policies (those tough on IMAs in order to deter their arrival to Australia) point to Australia’s small percentage share of the worldwide asylum seeker numbers as evidence of the country not doing its part to adequately share the burden. Supporters of the current policies use those same figures as evidence of the potentially overwhelming numbers that are in desperate need and could arrive on Australia’s shores if Australia was perceived as a soft target.

Given Australia’s island geography and remote location it is able to control its borders like few other countries. This leads to debate as to what its obligations are in relation to acceptance of asylum seekers. The debate centres around whether Australia should be obligated to accept people who could more easily have sought sanctuary elsewhere. On one hand, there is the obvious reluctance to turn people in need away, and the desire to help all those who need it.

On the other hand, accepting people who could have more easily sought asylum elsewhere creates an incentive for others to try the same approach. This promotes dangerous travel, often through people smugglers. The relative attractiveness of requesting asylum in one country, such as Australia, over another indicates a difference in protection standards and potential outcomes based on the location of application for asylum. The differences in the quality of life a refugee experiences based on where they request asylum is considered by many as a limitation of the current system (explored further in Chapter 5).


End Notes:

  1. John Howard, Lazarus Rising (Revised Edition), (Australia: HarperCollins, 2013), 325 of 765, iBooks edition.
  2. Janet Phillips, “Asylum seekers and refugees: what are the facts?,” Australian Policy Online 2 March, 2015).

This was taken from the 2017 book, The Mess We’re In – Managing the Refugee Crisis. It can be purchased at any book store in Australia and online, including via this link.


Future Projections of Forcibly Displaced People (Chapter 2)

Welcome to the blog for The Mess We’re In – Managing the Refugee Crisis which each week provides a section from the book. One Chapter a week. This week is from Chapter 2 which outlines why people become refugees, the historic data and future projections. I hope you find it of interest.

The previously discussed relationship between low wealth, low growth and civil war is important when considering the probability of refugee volumes in the future. As mentioned, projections suggest that the greatest population growth will come from the poorer nations. Alarmingly it is also the poorer nations that are more likely to fall into civil war. Ultimately this creates the potential for the displacement of very large groups of people in the future.

Not only does this increase the potential number of people that could be displaced, it also increases the number of people in the developing world relative to the developed world. This will proportionally reduce the developed world’s ability to support those in need. According to data from the United Nations Population Division, since 1951 approximately 91% of the world’s population growth has occurred outside the high income countries defined by the World Bank1. This skewed growth has decreased the proportion of the population that lives within high income countries from 32% to 19%.

World population since 1950 (by Country Incomes).
Source Data: “2015 Revision of World Population Prospects” UN Population Division.

This skewed growth reflects a general pattern where the population growth of a country reduces as the average wealth and life expectancy of its people improves. This pattern is explained by the concept of Demographic Transition, which outlines five stages in the transition from high birth rates to low birth rates. It explains that countries generally start with both high birth rates and high mortality rates. As wealth and development improves, both sanitation and medicine improves as well. The mortality rate subsequently drops but the high birth rate persists, rapidly expanding the population. Over time, the improving wealth, urbanisation and education lowers the birth rate and the population stabilises.

Demographic Transition has occurred across Europe, the United States and other parts of the industrialised west over the past 150 years. More recently it has occurred in some countries across Asia (such as Japan, South Korea), South America (such as Brazil, Argentina) and Africa (such as Kenya) as their wealth has increased. The inverse relationship between wealth and fertility rates applies across the world’s major religions of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism2. However, not all religions have the same current TFR. This is discussed in further detail in Chapter 7.

Demographic Transition.
Source: Max Roser, “Our World In Data”, accessed 25 October, 2016.
Many poor and war-ravaged countries have yet to go through the Demographic Transition. As examples, since 2001 the population of Afghanistan has increased by 58%, the Democratic Republic of Congo by 56% and Nigeria by 45%. A key contributing factor in the Demographic Transition is the birth rate, best measured by the Total Fertility Rate (TFR). Previous predictions about the reduction in TFR in Africa have proved to be incorrect, leading to an upward adjustment in regard to the world’s 2100 population estimate by the UN Population Division. Until initiatives to reduce TFR are firmly established in the poor and developing nations the probability of rapid growth remains high. As they are also likely to be impacted by civil war, the probability of the displacement of large amounts of people in these countries also remains high.

The consecutive year count (see Figure below) shows that countries tend to remain as significant sources for refugees for a number of years, and that problems tend to persist. Thus, the most likely refugee Countries or Origin are the countries that are already the primary refugee-producing nations. Only a small percentage of each country’s total population have become refugees or asylum seekers to date, leaving a large future potential population who may still request asylum. Those who are already IDPs would be the most likely to move. The high TFRs indicate that these countries are still growing, very rapidly. Eight of the top ten Countries of Origin for forcibly displaced people in 2014 have fertility rates of four or more (much higher than the worldwide average of 2.4). Thus, even if all of today’s refugees are provided a durable solution, without rectifying the situations within the Countries of Origin, the future numbers of refugees from these countries could be even larger than they are today.

Top 10 Refugee Country of Origin and potential for further refugees.
Source Data: UNHCR, Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2014. (2015)

End Notes:

  1. “2015 Revision of World Population Prospects,” UN Population Division, accessed 10 December, 2016 www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/
  2. Hans Rosling, “Religion and Babies” (Talk presented via TED Tal, April 2012, Doha, Qatar).

This was taken from the 2017 book, The Mess We’re In – Managing the Refugee Crisis. It can be purchased at any book store in Australia and online, including via this link.

The Refugee Journey (Chapter 1)

Welcome to the blog for The Mess We’re In – Managing the Refugee Crisis which each week provides a section from the book. One Chapter a week. This week is from Chapter 1 which outlines the common steps that a refugee goes through from initial disruption through to eventual permanent protection. I hope you find it of interest.


The Refugee Journey
The Refugee Journey


The Refugee Journey is a framework that outlines the unenviable journey a person who becomes a refugee takes from forcible displacement through to a permanent, durable solution. The Mess We’re In – Managing the Refugee Crisis reviews information relevant to each step to ensure a complete coverage of aspects to consider with regard to the refugee situation. In Part 3 the Refugee Journey is also used in the assessment of various Holistic Approach Options for best managing the global crisis.




The Refugee Journey explained

The Refugee Journey is depicted across three steps. Each step contains an ‘event’ and a ‘status’. The event is an occurrence that moves a person out of one status and into a new status. The status reflects the type of protection (or lack of protection) a person is receiving from a state or non-government agency like the UNHCR. The journey is thought to be an extremely long one. Although precise calculations are difficult, the current average time to move through these three stages is estimated to be eighteen years and growing. In 1993 the average was nine years1.


Step 1: Not Protected


Step 1 Event: Disruptive Cause

A Disruptive Cause is an event that results in an individual becoming displaced and, initially at least, unprotected by a state or agency. There are multiple types of Disruptive Causes including: persecution of an individual or group by a government (or another group the government fails to keep in check); war or conflict that places a threat to an individual’s life; and natural disasters such as earthquakes or environmental changes such as rising sea levels.


Step 1 Status: Not Protected (through country nor Refugee Convention)

Individuals who are displaced due to a Disruptive Cause do not perceive themselves to be protected by their home country nor are they protected under the Refugee Convention by an agency such as the UNHCR or another state. It is difficult to get a true measure of the number of people in this status as they do not always identify themselves, often for their own safety. Examples of people in this status include:

  • 2 million IDPs at the end of 2014 as estimated by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre2. This includes people in emergency camps due to conflict or a natural disaster within their home country.
  • People who are in their home country but are persecuted due to their race.
  • People who have left their country due to religious persecution and are travelling (e.g. on foot or on a boat).
  • People who have left their country and now reside in another country illegally without having registered as an asylum seeker.


Step 2: Temporary Protection


Step 2 Event: Provision of Temporary Protection

The provision of temporary protection occurs when an individual moves under the protection of a new country or an organisation such as the UNHCR. An example of this event is when a Syrian asylum seeker arrives at an UNHCR camp in Jordan. Another example is an Afghani arriving in Australia on a boat and requesting asylum.


Step 2 Status: Temporarily Protected

Individuals are protected (as asylum seekers and then as refugees) by a government or agency while a durable solution is sought. Currently the temporary protection across countries varies. Different countries provide variations in the quality of life for the refugees they harbour as well as disparate probabilities and time-lines for a durable solution if the refugees are seeking resettlement into a developed nation.


There were 21.3 million people temporarily protected in 2014 across three categories.

  • 8 million asylum seekers awaiting their status as a refugee to be confirmed or not.
  • 4 million people who have been confirmed as refugees awaiting a durable solution.
  • 1 million Palestinians registered by UNRWA.


Step 3: Permanent Protection


Step 3 Event: Provision of a Durable Solution

The provision of a Durable Solution occurs when an individual moves back home through voluntary repatriation or is provided with permanent protection from a new country. This new country could either be the country of asylum that has provided the temporary protection to the refugee or a country of resettlement not yet inhabited by the refugee. As an example, the 12,000 Syrian refugees Australia volunteered to resettle in 2015 are being provided with durable solutions.


Step 3 Status: Permanently Protected

Individuals enjoy the protection of their state. Their state may be their Country of Origin (which has protected them continuously or since their repatriation following a period in asylum), or it may be a new state they have either migrated to (through regular migration channels) or have been resettled to (through an asylum seeking and resettlement process).


A detailed insight into the plight of refugees is beyond the scope of this book. This does not mean forcibly displaced people do not suffer greatly. Nor does it mean this suffering should not be taken into account. That refugees flee grave suffering, hardship and uncertainty is well established and beyond doubt. That leaving their home country is often just the beginning of a long, arduous and sometimes torturous journey has also been well established. For many people, the realisation of protection and freedom may never come again. It is a worldwide tragedy of enormous scale.


As there are many different Disruptive Causes, there are many forms of suffering and hardships. Whether it be an Afghan suffering at the hands of the Taliban, or an Iraqi being tortured under Saddam Hussein’s regime or a Rohingyan enduring persecution in Myanmar, the experience can be devastating. For many, it will take their life, if not their sanity. Some are lucky enough to escape, but often with the physical and emotional scars of the terror they left behind.


The danger does not end with leaving their Country of Origin. To get to safety, an asylum seeker may have to travel across open seas or perhaps place themselves in the power and trust of people smugglers whom they have just met. Countries to which they flee, particularly non-signatories to the Refugee Convention, may show a great disinterest in helping them, or could even send them back to the country they fled.


Perhaps most alarmingly, even when asylum seekers manage to get to a country that has signed the Refugee Convention, their torment may have just begun. The most relevant example is Australia’s mandatory detention centres, off-shore processing centres and range of temporary visas. Australia’s migration and humanitarian processes have been shown to cause further harm to those who have fled such terror and already endured so much.


While not detailed explicitly in this book, the pain and suffering endured by asylum seekers is a critical data point that must be front of mind when understanding the situation and determining the best Holistic Approach Option. There are many accounts that help provide insight into the plight of refugees. Four good books relating to various stages along the Refugee Journey to Australia are: Raised In Conflict: Growing Up in Afghanistan by Essan Dileri as told by Jill Parris; The People Smuggler by Robin De Crespigny; From Nothing to Zero: Letters from Refugees in Australia’s Detention Centres preface and chapter introductions by Julian Burnside QC; and Lives In Limbo: Voices of Refugees Under Temporary Protection6 by Michael Leach and Fethi Mansouri.


End Notes:

  1. Dr. James Milner, “Integrative Thinking and Solutions for Refugees” (Talk presented via TEDxRideauCanal, February 2012).
  2. Norwegian Refugee Council and Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, Global Overview 2015: People internally displaced by conflict and violence, 7.




This was taken from the 2017 book, The Mess We’re In – Managing the Refugee Crisis. It can be purchased at any book store in Australia and online, including via this link.