Evidence to UK House of Commons
Kaldor Centre researchers give evidence to the UK House of Commons on 'offshore processing' and boat turnbacks
In September 2020, it was reported that UK Home Secretary Priti Patel was considering the possibility of adopting an Australian-style model of 'offshore processing' of asylum seekers. In November, Kaldor Centre Senior Research Fellow Madeline Gleeson and affiliate Professor Natalie Klein appeared before the UK House of Commons Home Affairs Committee to give evidence on this and related matters to the Committee's inquiry into Channel crossings, migration and asylum-seeking routes through the EU.
In her evidence, Gleeson pointed out that offshore processing did not achieve its stated policy aims in Australia, and carried very high human and financial costs:
It is deeply concerning that any country would consider trying to replicate what Australia has done in terms of offshore processing.
It was not effective in achieving its policy goal, and on top of that the legal and humanitarian concerns with this policy should be cause for great pause – certainly for any state that is a signatory to the relevant international conventions, but more than that for any state that considers itself a democratic society based on respect for common decency.
There are a few structural aspects of offshore processing that any country would need to be willing to commit to if it wished to pursue this model.
The first is an unwavering commitment to deterrence as the core objective. Australia is in a different position from the UK geographically, but for Australia this commitment meant it had to be willing to subject people to conditions worse than those they were fleeing. If Australia wanted to deter people from coming by boat to seek asylum, it had to be promising them that what they would meet in Australia would be worse than the situation they were in.
You would have to be willing to deport and detain children, pregnant women, the elderly, disabled, victims of trafficking. There can be no exceptions, because if vulnerable people are exempt then its core objective of deterrence will fall down.
You would need to have, like Australia, no national or regional human rights framework, and no national or regional court that could adjudicate claims based on violations of human rights.
You would need to introduce laws and policies that impose strict secrecy requirements. For example, in Australia if somebody working in one of these offshore centres were to talk publicly about what was going on there, they would risk two years’ imprisonment. That is not speaking about classified national security information; it is talking about the comings and goings of the day. These laws also originally covered doctors who might raise concerns about what they were seeing with patients there.
You would need a place that could accommodate an unlimited number of arrivals, otherwise you would get the problem Australia did 12 weeks in: if people come in too large a number they will outstrip your capacity.
Finally you would need to have a lot of money. A conservative estimate is that this costs Australia roughly $1bn a year. For the financial year 2020-21, it is estimated to be above $1bn – for 300 people.
Any country considering this policy would need to calculate how many people it was going to be for and what the taxpayer cost would end up being for a policy that still might not work.
It did not work in Australia. In the first 12 months we saw more people arrive in Australia by boat seeking asylum than at any other time in history or since. We only saw the number of people arriving by boat drop once Operation Sovereign Borders, the boat turn-back policy, was implemented. That policy also has very serious legal and humanitarian concerns, but the main point on offshore processing is that it did not deter people from arriving in Australia by boat to seek asylum.
This policy should never have been introduced in Australia. It is long overdue to end, and Australia’s mistakes should not be repeated elsewhere.
Read the full transcript of Madeline Gleeson and Professor Natalie Klein's evidence to the UK House of Commons Home Affairs Committee.
Watch the Kaldor Centre's Madeline Gleeson and affiliate Professor Natalie Klein give their evidence to the UK Home Affairs Committee
Read the parliamentary submissions
Following her appearance, on the request of the Home Affairs Committee, Senior Research Fellow Madeline Gleeson provided two written submissions to the Committee:
- Submission to the Home Affairs Select Committee on Channel crossings, migration and asylum-seeking routes through the EU regarding the costs of offshore processing
- Submission to the Home Affairs Select Committee on Channel crossings, migration and asylum-seeking routes through the EU regarding the mental health impact of offshore processing
News coverage of Kaldor Centre evidence to the UK Home Affairs Committee
- Various UK media outlets provided coverage of the Kaldor Centre's evidence to the UK Home Affairs Committee, including The Times, The London Economic, and The Mirror.
- The National reported that the Scottish National Party's shadow home affairs secretary Stuart McDonald had urged Priti Patel to rule out plans for offshore detention centres, and noted that 'the move followed hard-hitting evidence to the Commons Home Affairs Committee from Madeline Gleeson, an academic with expert knowledge of the Australian government’s asylum policy'.
- Australian media outlets also reported on the Kaldor Centre's evidence to the UK Home Affairs Committee, including The Guardian and SBS News.