Jul 09,2014  | INTERNATIONAL

Australian Immigration Policy: Now Enhanced

In an euphemistically similar manner that "enhanced integration techniques" were unscrupulously tossed around by the Bush administration to sugarcoat the use of what practically amounted to torture, the Australian government is now promoting the concept of "enhanced screening process" to deal with the beleaguered immigrants netted on the high seas by the Border Protection Command (BPC).

 

What this coinage means in practice is that immigrants intercepted at sea (and considering Australia's geography, they all are), are no longer transferred to dry land in order to have their asylum eligibility assessed, but instead are speedily processed at sea. Of course even before this "enhancement" took effect, people were transferred to Nauru or Papua New Guinea (PNG, not to be confused with P&G) and not mainland Australia, so the new procedures are in reality just another step towards neutering the country's obligations under the Refugee Convention and the rest of the international treaties.

 

In the recent case where 41 Sri Lankans were intercepted by BPC west of Cocos Islands, the authorities acted expediently under this new enhanced process which basically involves asking asylum seekers "just four or five questions via Skype or teleconference on a boat with no access to independent legal representation."

 

Now, considering that Skype calls are most of the time of less than stellar quality and more suitable for long-distance relationships and war-zone correspondents, I dare to say that this doesn't seem to be the best way to ensure the proper assessment of  someone's asylum credentials especially when that someone is probably traumatized, exhausted and without counsel. If you also consider that of those four or five questions most are basic and non-asylum-indicative (name, age, birthplace, favorite singer, book to be stranded on desert island with, etc), it is evident that the whole thing is a procedural charade paying lip service to human rights.

 

No surprise then that all 41 immigrants were sent back to where they came from, handed over to Sri Lankan hospitality authority, a.k.a. the police. Unfortunately for them, instead of a welcome-back pat on the back, they are probably facing charges of leaving the country illegally and those found guilty should expect "rigorous imprisonment" (as opposed to what? gentle? genial imprisonment? Sri Lankan authorities don't mince their words). So to summarize, the Australian authorities have speedily deemed that these people are ineligible for asylum, i.e. do not face any danger in their country of origin, and therefore should be returned there so they can face "rigorous imprisonment". Makes perfect sense, but only if the Australian detention centers in Nauru or PNG are even worse than Sri Lankan prisons (and bear in mind, Sri Lanka is the country that regularly head-hunts for executioners).

 

In a similar case of 153 Sri Lankans, the government, after a some days feigning ignorance, admitted that they too are held at sea. But lest you think the enhanced processing has broken down for those people not to have been already assessed and shipped back, be aware that there has been a court injunction blocking their return to Sri Lanka. Of course, even in the face of such judicial action, the immigration authorities prefer to keep them shipbound rather than to transfer them to a more "permanent" detention center where there would be a slim chance of being granted asylum. On the other hand, the authorities claim there is no harm in their sea-bound policy. Surely an Indian Ocean cruise is quite a magical experience ("It ain't P&G but is sure is better than PNG!") for cruise-prone Sri Lankans, especially one with complementary WiFi, fishing (for food) and skeet shooting (again, for food, apparently seagulls make for a good roast).

 

To be fair, no country has an open-border, make-yourselves-at-home immigration policy,  at least no country that people actually want to immigrate to, so Australia's approach is symptomatic rather than an anomaly of global practices towards asylum seekers (just look at all the deadlock in the US Congress about immigration policy or the drowning epidemic occurring  in the Mediterranean bordering the EU). But it seems that the conservative government of Tony Abbott is really trying to be exceptionally cruel, to veer the boat all the way to the right so to speak. Granted, the fast-tracked process was introduced by former Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard in 2012, but the current government has perfected it, gone overboard one might say, by doing the assessments at sea, through Skype. 

 

The whole strategy resembles a spam filter, whereby all incoming emails (asylum-seekers) deemed as spam (i.e. originating from suspicious sources, be that penis-erectile pill-peddlers, Sri Lanka, Pakistan or Iraq) are immediately stashed in a separate spam folder (unassuming folder in your mail box, detention centers on land or at sea), where they are automatically checked by the system in a perfunctory, algorithmic manner and dully deleted to make way for the next bunch as the storage capacity is low. As anyone with a robust spam filter will attest, it really works, you never again have to deal with those annoying spam nuisances and if once in a while a legitimate email gets lost, so be it. Only problem in this case being that people are more corporeal than electronic bytes.

 

Future plans by the Ministry of Immigration & Border Protection include asylum-processing by drone while still onboard the "suspected illegal entry vessel" (SIEV). In this high-tech process the immigrants are scanned by a Google-glass-type technology via the hovering unmanned drone while they leisurely lounge on the vessel's deck. Each applicant's Facebook, Google+ and/or other social media profile is thus retrieved by the system and rigorously assessed by a new app (Alylum Pro) to determined if the asylum criteria are met (e.g. pictures of applicant being tortured on Instagram is considered a plus). For those lucky ones that the system verifies their asylum seeking authenticity, life-jackets are thrown down from the drone and they are invited to swim to the nearest border patrol ship that will transport them to their exotic new residence in the Antarctic or a selection of exotic Pacific atolls / ex-nuclear-test-sites.