Dr Daniel Ghezelbash, senior lecturer at Macquarie law school, author of 'Refuge Lost: Asylum Law in an Interdependent World' argues hardline policies towards asylum seekers can “spread like wildfire” between countries seeking to burnish their deterrent credentials, and anxious to keep asylum seekers from seeking protection on their shores.
“We have entered dangerous times, with respect to states’ attitudes towards the hard-won protections of the refugee convention,” Ghezelbash argued, speaking at the Australian Institute of International Affairs. “We’ve entered what some have referred to as a deterrence paradigm, where states are continuing to pay lip service to their obligations under the refugee convention, but are bending over backwards to come up with new and innovative ways of keeping asylum seekers from accessing these protections.” He continued, “The risk,” he said, “is we’ll see a race to the bottom as countries compete to deter asylum seekers. This competitive approach creates a vicious cycle, in which governments seek to outdo each other by implementing progressively more restrictive policies. If Europe goes down the same path as the United States and Australia, it will be inflicting a mortal wound on the universal principle of asylum and the international refugee protection regime more broadly.”
The acting director of the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at the University of New South Wales, Guy Goodwin Gill, said a tendency towards secrecy by governments was anti-democratic, citing the Intergovernmental Consultations on Migration, Asylum and Refugees, which has as its members the Five Eyes countries – Australia, the US, UK, New Zealand and Canada – plus 12 European states.The organisation has its secretariat in Geneva, but its website is not open to the public, nor its meetings to NGOs or the media.
“We don’t know what they talk about,” Goodwin-Gill said. “We perhaps see the effects of what they talk about, as we witness yet another disastrous policy in relation to asylum seekers emerging in this or that part of the world. Why do they meet in secret? What is so attractive about secrecy?" Secrecy tends to enable more executive discretion, Goodwin-Gill argued: “The antithesis of democratic and accountable decision-making.”