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Pacific solution causes waves

20 June 2014

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Asia and the Pacific Policy Studies is the flagship journal of Crawford School of Public Policy. It is a peer-reviewed publication that targets research in policy studies in Australia, Asia and the Pacific.

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The policy of sending asylum seekers headed to Australia off-shore in the ‘Pacific Solution’ has significant repercussions for Pacific Island states, a new Asia and the Pacific Policy Studies article warns.

Writing for Crawford’s flagship journal, Aulden Warbrooke from the University of the South Pacific, Fiji, argues the policy doesn’t just affect the countries directly involved but has broader implications for the Pacific region as a whole.

“I am highlighting the very real impact that such a policy is having, not just on asylum seekers or the Australian public generally, but equally important, on the people of Nauru, PNG and the Pacific Islands more broadly,” Warbrooke said.

“The Pacific Island states already have their own issues – political, economic, social, and under-development issues. This policy is doing far more harm than good.

“To re-settle people peacefully you need supporting infrastructure. PNG and Nauru are ill-equipped to do this, given the language, ethnic and education barriers. Cambodia is just as ill-equipped as PNG and the Pacific Islands to take Australia’s asylum seekers.”

Warbrooke says the way Australia carried out negotiations with individual nations and without consultation across the region went against the “Pacific Way”.

“The Pacific Way is formal negotiation, discussion and dialogue, through bodies including the Pacific Islands Forum and the Melanesian Spearhead Group. It’s consensus-based,” he said.

“In this case, Australia’s economic and political clout played a significant role in negotiating the ‘Pacific Solution’. PNG and Nauru did not stand a chance in the negotiations. For aid, economically, and militarily they rely on Australia’s patronage.”

The repercussions for local residents on the decision to house asylum seekers in the Pacific Islands have been serious, Warbrooke argues.

“There are key procedural, legal, security and socio-cultural issues to consider,” he said.

“Obviously the most pressing issue in the short-term is the security situation for Nauru and PNG residents. Never before have they seen such violence.

“On Manus Island, Christmas Island and Nauru the local residents are suffering psychological trauma. They are frightened. And it is potentially turning into resentment towards the asylum seekers.

“I think the governments involved would have expected some sort of resistance on the asylum seekers part, but I don’t think they expected instability to this level.”

In the future, Warbrooke says the Pacific Islands need to negotiate together on any developments in Australia’s ‘Pacific Solution’ and show solidarity, just as they have on issues including nuclear testing and climate change.

To read and download the full Asia and the Pacific Policy Studies paper:

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