Having explored and debated the issue of asylum seekers arriving in boats for well over a decade, there are really only two solutions which I can see that are likely to work in the longer term – and they will inevitably be only partial solutions.
The first is to resolve the issues which cause people to flee in the first place. This is usually hard to do, because (a) the problems are occurring in other countries, and (b) the factors involved are usually intractable or deep-seated. However, clearly part of the cause of recent asylum seeker flows has been the situation in Sri Lanka. It certainly wouldn’t hurt for the Australian government to put some more direct pressure on the Sri Lankan government to cease the current interment in terrible conditions of over a quarter of a million Tamil civilians.
The second approach is to try to ensure that people fleeing persecution have some sort of realistic prospect that they will be able to resettle somewhere safely within a bearable period of time. People will wait a long time if they think there is hope at the end of it all. But if people see no realistic prospect of being able to get themselves and their family to safety in the foreseeable future, more of them will start rolling the dice and taking their chances by jumping on leaky boats.
Getting asylum seekers to apply to the UNHCR in Indonesia is fine, as long as those who are recognised as refugees have some hope of getting somewhere secure eventually. That is not currently happening – there are plenty of people who have been recognised as refugees by the UNHCR in Indonesia who have been stuck there for six years or more. However, if the ABC’s report is correct in stating that current negotiations with Indonesia involve “Australia helping to resettle all ‘illegal immigrants’ (sic) in Indonesia” then perhaps some improvement will appear soon.
Having said all that, I think it needs to be said that – unless we can achieve the utopian goal of world peace – this is a messy and difficult matter which is never likely to be completely solved. Which leads me to a third solution, which is to not get so worked up about a comparatively very small number of refugees trying to get into Australia by boat. History shows the vast majority go on to become very productive and responsible members of our community. The Vietnamese community in Australia is a good example.