39 UWA staff have so far signed the Academics for Refugees Open Letter to Prime Minister Turnbull and serving MPs. The letter calls for the government to “end its harmful policies of offshore processing, boat turnbacks and the mandatory detention of people seeking asylum” through the immediate closure of the Manus Island and Nauru detention centres [Update: Manus Island to close! But no detainees to be resettled in Australia]. It puts forward recommendations for a more humane and effective alternative in a Policy Paper published in August.
The letter also advocates that the government convene a 2017 National Policy Summit. Involving “asylum seekers, refugees and former refugees; migrant and refugee advocates; policy experts; community representatives; and politicians from all parties”, the Summit would aim to bring about a new approach to processing, with a focus on providing security to those legally seeking our aid, recognising the value migrants bring to national culture and communities, and honouring Australia’s obligations under various international conventions and treaties. In previous decades, Australia has shown great leadership in welcoming individuals fleeing persecution in their home countries; the group of scholars calls for a similar attitude to be renewed.
Greater regional consultation and cooperation is also emphasised. Appropriate, considering the PNG Senate’s April ruling that Manus Island detention was ‘unconstitutional’; Australia’s bullying approach to the tiny island of Nauru (which administrative powers left crippled by decades of phosphate mining); and New Zealand’s (rejected) offer to take on 150 asylum seekers annually.
The letter has gained over 1,800 signatures from academics across Australia, and is welcoming more.
Words by Kate Prendergast