Prime Minister Julia Gillard will stand by the advice of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers to enforce Pacific Solution Mark 2 as a way to deter people smuggling.

The solution, which took effect in September last year, sends a clear message to people who are arriving by boat: No advantage. They will be locked up in the tent city of  Nauru or Manus in the Pacific.

Boat people are assigned to live in these tents in Manus or Nauru. (Photo: DIAC)

ABC’s Lateline on Tuesday aired a testimony of Marriane Evers on the deplorable conditions endured by asylum seekers in Manus. Evers is a trained counsellor and a veteran nurse with more than 40 years experience. She signed up to work in Manus but quit the third week.

Nauru is like a concentration camp, she said, except that the Australian Government has not exterminated the detainees. The asylum seekers instead resort to self-harm, while others have turned suicidal.

New Matilda also published open letters of asylum seekers in Manus providing minute details of their harrowing experiences.

Human rights activists stage a rally at the DIAC building in Melbourne. (Photo: R. Yoon/ The Green Journo)

Human rights activists took the streets in October-November following a prolonged hunger strike of detainees in Nauru. Several groups staged protests nationwide to lambast the return of Pacific Solution Mark 2, which violates human rights. This also underscores Australia’s inability to meet its obligation under the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees.

The Australian Parliament admits the number of unauthorized people arriving by boat is small compared to the numbers arriving in other parts of the world, like the USA, Canada and Europe.

The Refugee Action Coalition Sydney said:

It would take 20 years to fill the MCG with the number of refugees who come to Australia. The United Nations Refugee Agency, the UNHCR, estimates that there were 10.4 million refugees worldwide at the start of 2011. In 2010–2011, Australia’s refugee intake was just 13,799 people, less than 0.14%. Australia was one of the only countries in the world to have fewer refugee claims in the first half of 2011. In those six months alone, the USA received 36,400 applications for asylum; France 26,100 and Germany 20,100.

The Coalition added most new migrants in Australia are not refugees. Latest statistics available shows that boat arrivals constituted less than two percent of Australia’s total migration program and much less than one percent of the increase to the Australian population by birth and migration in a given year.

The Government turns frantic every time a boat is spotted heading towards Christmas Island. It accuses asylum seekers who arrive by boat of being queue jumpers, an accusation that human rights organisations reject.

Can Pacific Solution Mark 2 effectively deter human smuggling?

The answer is no. While the Gillard Government has given much attention to offshore smugglers, it misses the large-scale operation of onshore smugglers who are bringing more people into Australia.

Onshore human smugglers are underground intermediaries who are luring people offshore to come to Australia– with promises of jobs, better education, and excellent living conditions, among other promises of a “dream destination.”

These intermediaries are linked to a complex chain of networks such as those arranging sham marriages, forged English-language exams, bogus courses, and other immigration rackets. The DIAC have found these are often involved in various frauds such as taxation and welfare, breaches of industrial, health and safety laws and other unlawful conduct.

Student visas are reported to be the most common form of visa being exploited to smuggle people into Australia via a network of unscrupulous migration and education agents, landlords and employers. Students are promised a visa as a launching pad to get into Australia.

The Australian interviewed Tony Pollock, the chief executive of IDP Education Australia, the main recruiter for Australia’s $16 billion industry in foreign students. Pollock described the operation as a “chain of exploitation” which “could be construed as people-smuggling.”

The Herald Sun reported hundred of international students are buying the right to live in Australia by paying criminals for fake work references in a racket worth millions.

The massive scam, based in Melbourne and involving local restaurant and small business owners, has been described by officials as an “organised and lucrative criminal enterprise”.

In August last year, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) announced the Migration Amendment (Reform of Employer Sanctions) Bill 2012  which sets out the penalties for employers hiring illegal workers. This amendment bill opened a can of worms exposing the extent of onshore people smuggling. The number of illegal migrants could now be over 100,000.

Stephen Howells who led the review of the bill suggests that non-citizens working in Australia has been growing since 1998. These people do not have permission to stay and work and their presence is very often organised by intermediaries who exploit their legal status.

As part of the strategy to encourage compliance, DIAC has planned to ramp up an awareness campaign and help employers to gain access to information about prospective employees’ visa work status.

Is DIAC ready to launch a crackdown after announcing the bill?

Eye witnesses to a big-time smuggling operation, who requested anonymity, said DIAC is not interested in doing a crackdown. Underground operations in the suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne, for example, seem to be insignificant. These agents ran immigration-related businesses, including an English-testing system to bridge the requirements in fixing illegal statuses of migrants and their families.

While people who arrived by boat languish to death in the Pacific islands, people who made it onshore en route the aid of well-connected agents continue to multiply and flourish– degrading the integrity of Australia’s immigration system.

Activism against offshore processing at the DIAC, Melbourne. (Photo: R. Yoon/The Green Journo)

Demonstration at the DIAC building Melbourne. (Photo: R. Yoon/The Green Journo)