Introduction to the Book

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 introduction page provides a broad overview of the book purpose and structure. I hope you find it of interest.



How do we best help refugees? As a 21st century Australian resident, it is difficult not to be drawn into the plight of refugees and our country’s response. For almost two decades it has been one of our country’s dominant political topics and over that time the country has repeatedly changed its refugee-related policies. Each change is seemingly critiqued by local and international observers. Some focus on Australia’s international obligations and adherence to human rights. Others contextualise the changes in terms of border security and controlling the numbers of asylum seekers arriving at our shores. For the casual observer, these changes appear to greatly impact the inflows of asylum seekers, the human rights they experience, and Australia’s global standing.


Overlaying the debate about Australia’s response to a large, long-standing and growing issue, are two global developments that are hard to ignore. The first is the rapidly growing global population, most significant in the poor and developing nations; many of these nations having consistently produced large numbers of refugees over the past 35 years. This growth suggests the scale of refugees is likely to increase significantly in the coming decades. The second is the mass migration toward Europe in the northern summer of 2015 and the ensuing friction. This event may be interpreted either as an isolated occurrence requiring a special effort to resolve, or as a harbinger of future movements should policies remain unchanged. Regardless of the interpretation, the mass migration to Europe in 2015 has crystallised for a generation the possibility of what may eventuate without a review of the current system. Such mass migration is unprecedented in recent times, and therefore its consequences unknown.


The question of how we best help refugees is one of the key issues of our time. It is a global question and has implications for the vast numbers of forcibly displaced people and, potentially, the viability of the nations who are trying to help them.


My new book, The Mess We’re In – Managing the Refugee Crisis explores the relevant facts, moral questions and options as to how best help refugees. It is very much an outsiders take on the refugee crisis. It is a non-political review, free of vested interests. This makes the book unique.


It is an attempt to further the knowledge base of any interested person by detailing, as objectively and succinctly as possible, all the relevant facts.





Over a number of weeks I will be posting snippets from the book. Today’s post, the first instalment, will be an overview of the book’s structure.



The book is set into three parts that broadly mirror a management consulting report. This structure has proved effective for decades in introducing and conveying broad and complex issues in a logical and methodical format. Part 1 is a situational review divided into two sections. Section 1.1 comprises seven chapters and outlines the global refugee situation. This section discusses why people are displaced and become refugees, the types of countries that traditionally produce refugees, and the likely future projections. It covers the history of international efforts in protecting refugees including the formation of the United Nations and its subsidiary organ for supporting refugees – the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). An overview of the different ways in which countries help is also provided. Efforts of supporting nations include donations to the UNHCR, the harbouring of refugees, and granting refugees a permanent residency within their lands. Benefits and costs of migration are reviewed, as is the potential economic, social and security threats that large numbers of refugees may present.


Section 1.2 covers Australia specifically. It contains three chapters that discuss Australia’s migration history and current set up. Australia is one of the world’s foremost nation of migrants, however this has not prevented episodes of racism and xenophobia. Since 1970 it has embraced high levels of migration and achieved a relatively harmonious society where almost half the population is either born overseas or has a parent born overseas. In this section, Australia’s humanitarian history and current approach is also reviewed. The final chapter focuses on the issues and controversies regarding Australia’s current humanitarian policies. Such policies include boat turn-backs, off-shore processing and the mandatory detention of all boat arrivals, including the detention of children.


Part 2 has only two chapters. Chapter 11 describes the complication, which is the summarised list of the main issues identified in the situational analysis. These issues are the essence of the problem, if they could all somehow be resolved then the plight of the world’s forcibly displaced people (and the countries trying to help them) would be rectified. Unfortunately, because it is unlikely that they will all somehow be resolved, we are led to questions of trade-offs regarding competing needs.


Chapter 12 provides a set of ‘questions-of-principle’ that relate to these competing needs. These, questions-of-principle, require priorities to be determined that then frame how the approach options will be assessed. Many of these, questions-of-principle, are difficult as they require a subordination of an intuitive good. Responses are likely to vary among people and will lead to different views as to what approach is the best. A weakness of the current debate about the refugee situation is that it focuses on disagreements regarding approach options rather than the underlying principles from which they are developed. Such a focus may never result in an agreement as two parties that cannot understand their differences in principle are unlikely to be able to agree on an approach option.


In order to move to the options assessment I provide answers to these questions-of-principles. It is these answers that develop the assessment framework. As such, a reader who disagrees with my answers to these, questions-of-principle, will disagree with my assessment of the approach options.

Part 3 provides the options assessment and recommendation. It has two sections each with two chapters. Section 3.1 provides factual information about various policy options and approaches to help refugees. One area regards Component Policies. These are ideas that can help refugees without being complete (or holistic) approaches. The intention is to communicate the broad range of ideas being discussed and tried, both here and abroad. The other area focuses on the Holistic Approaches. These are total approaches, which may utilise some Component Policies. The book details eight Holistic Approaches from the perspective of the likely outcome if all the nations of the world that wanted to help were asked to follow each approach. Each option is described and then assessed against the framework developed in Part 2.


Section 3.2 compares the approach options and reviews the trade-offs required to be made in selecting a ‘best’ option. An example of one such trade-off is choosing between an approach that provides a better standard of living for more refugees but has large implementation challenges that could ultimately lead to failure, against an approach that is not as beneficial for refugees but more likely to succeed. Selecting a ‘best’ option is ultimately a judgement call that can only be effectively made with a full understanding of these trade-offs. The book finishes with a global recommendation as well as a roadmap for action detailing how Australia can lead the way in its implementation.


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.