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editorial: illegals make a joke of migration law.


  1. Editorial: Illegals Make A Joke Of Migration Law.

    December 17, 2002

    ALMOST 14,000 asylum-seekers who have had their applications for refugee status rejected are virtual fugitives in the nation they thought would offer them a new and better life. When the estimated 60,000 tourists who have overstayed their visas are added, we can see the size of the problem, and understand how porous Australia's borders have become. Moreover, it makes a joke of the migration program. Many tourist overstayers will eventually go home voluntarily, but that's not an option most asylum-seekers would be prepared to consider, having invested substantial funds, as well as enormous personal risk and effort, to get here.

    As revealed on Saturday in The Weekend Australian's Inquirer section, many of the absconding asylum-seekers are being supported by an underground network, a development that multiplies the extent of the conspiracy to breach Australia's immigration laws. Those who are prepared to hide, protect and support these fugitives may be doing it for what they see as strong altruistic and moral reasons. But if they are helping those who have escaped detention, they are breaking the law, along with the runaways. Harbouring people who have failed to gain refugee status also is against the law. The law says that people who are found not to be refugees should return to their country of origin. Failing that, the law should be enforced and those on the run should be arrested and deported. That's the law, and Australians expect it to be properly applied.

    The task of rounding up individuals is obviously huge. No one wants to see an atmosphere of fear develop where suspicion surrounds anyone with a broken accent and poor identification documents. Most of us would not be able to function without a driver's licence to prove our identity. A tax file number and a Medicare card also are essential equipment for the majority of citizens. For the 14,000 asylum-seekers on the run, these means of identification are unattainable without resort to sophisticated and expensive forgery or fraud. Yet, with a support network, they will probably be able to merge undetected into society – until that moment at a hospital accident ward or a random roadside police check when things don't quite tally. However, leaving detection to chance is not going to make a significant dent on the numbers.

    Would a national ID card help improve the detection rate? It's now 15 years since the Australia Card disappeared into a political black hole. The last time this newspaper suggested an ID card might be worth revisiting was four months before the September 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington. Since then, the Howard Government has been re-elected on the back of the refugee issue. We all live in changed circumstances, and we need to respond appropriately.

    Given the reality that we already carry some form of identification, it might be time to look again at the advantages of a national ID card for all citizens. With modern technology incorporating DNA information on barcodes, for example, it should be possible to issue a card that can't be forged or traded. Such a card could prove to be the ultimate border protection guard. The need for detention centres in the middle of the desert would be reduced, perhaps removed altogether. It also would be convenient to have one card for multiple uses. Welfare and electoral fraud would be curtailed, if not eradicated. A national ID card also would have the potential to improve national security. And it should produce significant savings on behalf of taxpayers.

    Refugee advocates will argue that we can easily absorb an extra 14,000 people without undue pressure on the welfare system. The lobby that wants a higher migrant intake will say the economy would benefit through a boost to demand. But what should attract everyone's concern is the large number of people walking around the streets that have not qualified for entry under the migration program, and who have been judged not to be refugees or who have overstayed their tourist visas. Both categories are in Australia illegally and both should be reduced. It might not be the complete answer, but the political climate might be right for another shot at introducing a national ID card.



    http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5744,5689060%255E7583,00.html

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