Editor’s Note

Editor’s Note August 2015

The asylum-seeker issue reared its head again this week, following the ALP’s policy reversal on turnbacks and revelations that Australia returned a boatload of Vietnamese asylum seekers to the place from which they fled. Meanwhile, up to a million Rohingya face genocide, and boats are their only possible means of escape from Myanmar. Our prime minister’s major contribution regarding their future consisted of three words: “Nope, nope, nope.”

Australia once helped resettle three million people from the same region – from Vietnam, after its war – through a regional framework, and successfully absorbed 50,000 asylum seekers into the community, permanently and without too much debate. Now, as Richard Cooke writes, we “can’t even remember how we did it”.

In this month’s cover essay, Cooke explores the myths, misunderstandings and policy missteps that have dogged the asylum-seeker issue in Australia over recent decades. The debate has become so warped by the monomaniacal priority of stopping the boats that a regional solution to the current refugee crisis has become all but impossible.

Australia’s neighbours now treat the punitive unilateralism of Operation Sovereign Borders more as an example to emulate than a spur to action. “Boat turnbacks don’t work, however, [when] everyone starts doing them,” Cooke writes, “as the Rohingya discovered this year.”

If a solution to the refugee crisis can be found, “it will be in spite of our efforts, not because of them”.

Nick Feik

Nick Feik is the editor of The Monthly.

@nickfeik

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