I’ve written a short piece on the Asian Correspondent website about the Australian media coverage of Julia Gillard’s visit to south-east Asia.
I’ve been frustrated, but not surprised, that the majority of the coverage – at least amongst what I’ve seen – has been focused on the issue of a few thousand asylum seekers who arrive here in boats, and so little on the significant economic, human rights, environmental, social and security issues which are important in our future relations with our neighbouring countries.
According to the UNHCR’s global trends report of 2009, Malaysia has over 76 000 refugees and asylum seekers, plus another 100 000 people of concern. This report estimates there are over 400 000 in Thailand. There must be some bemusement about how big a panic Australia goes into about trying to stop a few thousand from reaching our shores – yet as this report notes, we are dragging the chain even on resettling 500 from Indonesia, which makes it more likely refugees will take their chances on a leaky boat.
Working to economically strengthen our region and building better ties is a valuable long-term way to reduce human rights abuses and improve the capacity of other countries to better deal with asylum seekers. Strengthening trade opportunities and education opportunities are just a couple of key areas which have also been on the agenda in talks between Australia and neighbouring countries, but it seems stopping boat people is what matters most.