Australia’s highest court has given at least a temporary respite from a migrant threat such as has engulfed Europe.
With its higher standard of living and broad welfare net, the Land Down Under is the potential target for millions of Asians. Many are, as in the Middle East, legitimate refugees seeking shelter for life and limb, but others are economic migrants chasing jobs or professional careers.
In a test case involving a Bangladeshi woman, the Ozzie high court has ruled that the bipartisan strategy of holding migrants in New Guinea and on the equatorial island of Nauru was valid. Despite being a verified refugee by the Nauruan government, the court has ruled Australian forces could confine her to the island’s immigration detention centre.
What’s at stake, of course, is a possible huge flow of migrants from South Asia, replacing the current straggling arrival of occasional refugees and migrants seeking Ozzie asylum. With the archipelago of some 20,000 islands, a thousand of them permanently inhabited, on its northern flank, the Australians face the constant threat of such an invasion. The Indonesian government, although formally committed to helping Australia suppress human traffickers, there is a constant network exploiting Asians trying to make their way south. Australia, too, has recently had an outbreak of Islamic terrorist sympathizers among its recent Arab and Moslem immigrants.
The instability of Southeast Asian and South Asia is a fertile source for migrants. Most recently, for example, an explosion of anti-Moslem violence in southwestern Burma has produced a refugee crisis among the Rohinga. One of Burma or Myanmar’s dozens of minority groups, many have longtime histories of revolt against the post-World II independent government of the former British colony. The Rohinga are descendants or more recent migrants from neighboring Bangladesh, Muslims in a predominantly Buddhist country. Despite their commitment to traditional Buddhist pacifism, there have been recent outbreaks of violence against them and revenge attacks. It’s significant that even Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel prize winner an leader of a democratic movement to wrest power from the Burmese military, has refused to endorse the Rohinga cause. This ethnic dispute is only one among dozens that dog the region.
Refugee lawyers argued the woman, who had been brought temporarily to Australia for medical treatment, being detained at the behest of Canberra in a foreign country did not have the full protection of the Australian constitution. The case could have immediate ramifications for 80 children being detained, including a five-year-old boy who was sexually assaulted on Nauru. Although Immigration Minister Peter Dutton promised to take a “compassionate” approach, he said: “The last thing I want is for boats to restart and, as we’re seeing in Europe at the moment, there are thousands of people who are willing to pay people smugglers to get onto boats to come to countries like Australia. We’ve been able to stamp out that trade, and I don’t want it to restart, I don’t want our detention centers to refill.”
The Australian court’s ruling runs totally contradictory to American courts who have consistently ruled that guarantees of personal liberty afforded to U.S. citizens by the Constitution and other laws extend to any foreigners under American control. European governments, many of whom extend citizenship to individuals who have familial roots in their countries whether born outside or not, have more conflicting outcomes.
The U.S., except for the steady stream of Mexican and Central American illegal immigrants flowing across our southern border, has not had to face the complexity of a massive migrant influx as has Europe. In fact, currently, if temporarily, the flow of migrants is back to Mexico where economic conditions have improved and with the U.S. demand for unskilled workers in abeyance because of the faltering economy. But the threat of such a massive migration might develop if, for example, the current collapse of Brazilian prosperity develops into a Continent-wide Latin American economic tide.
Constant Washington surveillance to such a threat, now seemingly unlikely, is certainly necessary, especially in an atmosphere where government strategy depends on complicated and difficult compromise in the Congress and an idealistic if naïve presence in the White House.