The world population is approaching seven billion. According to UN estimates revised in 2010, by 2050 it will have hit 9.3 billion, by 2100; 10.1 billion.
It would seem that the world is getting fairly crowded.
This will strain the earth’s resources and the disparity between rich and poor will increase as the accessibility of goods like food, water and sanitary living conditions will become even harder for certain parts of the world.
According to experts this will create a huge flood of asylum seekers across the world as wealthier countries have to deal with the burden of foreigners on their strained natural resources.
Australia’s anti-immigration lobby suffered a set back this week with its High Court ruling that the deal to process 800 Malaysian asylum seekers offshore in Malaysia in exchange for receiving over 4000 Malaysian refugees that have already been processed is unlawful.
Of course, this measure was largely symbolic of the anti-immigration campaign as it does little to curb the number of immigrants arriving in Australia but it does highlight the tension in the country over the arrival of ‘boat people’.
The ‘Stop The Boats’ campaign supported by the Liberal opposition leader Tony Abbott has been a constant thorn in the side for the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. It is supposedly supported by the majority of Australians who believe too many asylum seekers are arriving on the boats and doing the usual contradictory things like taking their jobs, living on benefits, taking their homes, procreating etc.
The movement is not necessarily racist, it is more to do with frustration over a misguided notion that immigrants, both legal and illegal, ‘jump to the front of the queue’ and that there is not enough space to go around.
Australian conservatives claim that the country is being flooded with immigrants and if it continues at this unchecked pace then the country’s resources will be overwhelmed in the near future.
However, if you look at statistics on population and migration you’ll see a very different picture.
Australia has the second lowest population density of any inhabited country in the entire world with just 6.4 people per square mile compared to most densely populated country in the world, Monaco, which boasts 43,000 people per square mile.
Now even if we account for the fact that there is a lot of uninhabitable land in Australia this means the country does not have the same issue with space that most countries do. Furthermore, if Australia still has an active skills based immigration policy designed to bring people into Australia then presumably there is enough room for the small number of refugees who arrive every year.
Australian novelist Richard Flanagan wrote in the Guardian at the end of last year that 5,500 people sought asylum in 2009 which was less than two per cent of Australia’s annual migrant intake.
Mary Crock, a Professor of Public Law at the University of Sydney estimates that on average only two refugees a day have arrived in Australia or one of its outlying islands since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. She added that increases in people making these crossings is in line with trouble and war in specific countries and cited an influx of people from the Middle Eastern region during the beginning of the war in Afghanistan in 2001 as an example.
Meena Krish, a former refugee aid worker said in a film released on youtube campaigning against offshore detention centres :
“The truth of the matter is that most the people who come by boat are found to be genuine refugees and as a result putting through mandatory detention or sort of draconian laws is not going to stop them coming because the reality is these people are fleeing desperate situations and that is the only reason that they choose such a risky journey”.
This means with cases such as the shipwreck that killed 50 people off Christmas Island in December 2010, only people that are so desperate to flee their home countries attempt to cross to Australia. The people who arrive are not looking for an opportunity to have an easy life.
Finally, regardless of the motivations and benefits refugees receive when they do permanently settle in Australia little attention is paid to the benefits they bring.
As mentioned above the UN report states that the overall worldwide population is set to increase to 9.3 million by 2050. However the places that will see the effects of this are what are called ‘high fertility’ countries found mostly in Africa (39 countries out of the total 55 deemed to have ‘high fertility’) and Asia (9 out of 55).
The report is keen to point out that ‘small variations in fertility can produce major differences in the size of populations over the long run’. This means that countries with lower fertility rates, such as Australia and European nations, are set to produce half a child per woman below the medium of world population. Therefore although the world’s population will increase overall these countries will find their populations unsustainable at current rates.
The estimated population if only measured by the lower population variant is 8.1 billion in 2050 and only 6.2 billion in 2100. Therefore if Australia wants to support its ageing population and its infrastructure the way most developed nations are frantically trying to, it must embrace the influx of young, hardworking and fertile refugees from Asia and Africa.
Regardless of the moral obligation to give shelter to people fleeing torture, death and other horrors in their home countries, there is an overall economic and social benefit to doing so.