Migrant workers face danger ahead of Qatar World Cup 2022

Estimates are that 4000 migrant workers will die before Qatar’s World Cup in 2022.  Many have demanded that the tournament be moved to another country. In this radio interview, I talk with Jereme McDonnell, host of WBEZ’s global affairs program Worldview, about Qatar, the kefala system and modern slavery.

Posted by Fiona David Saturday September 6 2014

Refugee laws in need of reform

Dr Anne Gallagher AO and Fiona David

INTERNATIONAL law gets a bad rap from conservatives, particularly “hardliners”, when it comes to dealing with irregular migration into Australia. That is a pity. Contrary to what many believe, international laws are not imposed from on high but are based on consensus, reflecting what the vast majority of countries can agree on.

Australia participates in international rule-making and these rules benefit us, directly and through the predictability they provide in an interdependent world. The way they are ­developed means that international rules are almost always modest and careful. In relation to migrant smuggling they seek to preserve, not trample on, national sovereignty. They deliberately avoid imposing unworkable burdens on governments that are disproportionately affected.

Critically, international law recognises the fundamental right of states to control their borders. Of course, this rule operates alongside others. The mass expulsion of Asians from Idi Amin’s Uganda was a violation of international law and sending back migrants to face persecution is prohibited.

While international law requires Sri Lanka to accept the return of its nationals, India is not required to accept people who do not have a lawful right to be there in the first place.

International law permits Australia to search a vessel without nationality that is suspected of being engaged in migrant smuggling, on the high seas, and to take “appropriate measures” to deal with the vessel and those on board. But once the vessel is intercepted, it is under Australia’s “control”. Australia becomes answerable for the welfare of those on board. If they die, drown, disappear or are severely mistreated, this is Australia’s responsibility.

Australia may indeed arrest and detain people arriving without authorisation. But international law places reasonable limits on how a state can treat ­irregular migrants. They can’t be tortured or treated inhumanely and it follows that pregnant women should receive more care, as should children and those in urgent medical need. The duration of any detention should not be prolonged unnecessarily. If someone doesn’t have a right to be here, then a decision should be taken swiftly as to where they should be sent.

Some areas of international law are incomplete or uncertain because countries are unable to agree on the rules. Human rights laws are notoriously vague because countries don’t want to be tied down to specifics but the big rules, for example, the ­obligation not to torture someone or treat them inhumanely, are clear.

Unfortunately international refugee law remains stuck in another age because nobody wants to touch it for fear that the alternative will be worse. Set up to deal with post-World War II refugee flows, these rules are straining under the burden of unprecedented movements.

Refugee law protects only those who have a well-founded fear of persecution so it’s irrelevant to all those not meeting this high threshold. And it kicks in only once someone arrives in or is under the control of the intercepting country. Australia tries to deal with this “refugee loophole” by stopping people arriving. Migrants, including refugees, respond by turning to smugglers. There is no satisfactory answer to this mess. Migrant smuggling is the classic “wicked problem” — hard to define, constantly changing, with no clear solution because of pre-existing factors that are highly resistant to change. The future lies in embarking on a good-faith effort to revise the rules so causes are confronted and burdens shared more equally. Without reform involving the affected countries, migrant smuggling will continue. To deny this represents a wilful disregard of both evidence and ­experience.

Published in The Australian, August 01, 2014.

Posted by Fiona David Monday August 11 2014