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For Its Immigration Enforcement Policy to Be Sustainable, Australia Must Strengthen Bilateral and Regional Cooperation
Press Release
Wednesday, March 30, 2022

For Its Immigration Enforcement Policy to Be Sustainable, Australia Must Strengthen Bilateral and Regional Cooperation

WASHINGTON — In recent decades, cooperation with other countries has become a central part of Australia’s immigration enforcement strategy. Seeking to deter irregular maritime migration, the Australian government has entered into a range of formal and informal bilateral cooperation arrangements on enforcement and protection issues with countries including Indonesia, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Cambodia and the United States.

The most recent example occurred earlier this week when Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government accepted an offer New Zealand has had on the table for nine years to resettle up to 450 asylum seekers who had been detained in offshore camps on Nauru and Papua New Guinea. Successive Australian governments had long opposed the proposal, saying it would encourage more boat arrivals.

Bilateral and regional partnerships are key to addressing some of Australia’s enforcement challenges, and they have also served as a tool for improving enforcement and asylum policies in partner countries. But this cooperation has also come with significant tradeoffs, most notably curbing asylum seekers’ access to effective refugee status determination processes and support. Australia could consider several steps to strengthen regional cooperation and address these challenges, a new report from the Migration Policy Institute’s Transatlantic Council on Migration finds.

The report, The Central Role of Cooperation in Australia’s Immigration Enforcement Strategy, describes how to build more effective and sustainable bilateral and regional partnerships. It recommends that Australian policymakers think strategically about short- and long-term interests, pay greater attention to the interests of partner countries and address the protection gaps that have emerged from cooperation.

“Australia has created a successful border enforcement framework only because successive Australian governments have spent unprecedented amounts of political capital and financial resources on these policy goals,” writes analyst Henry Sherrell. “Given these dynamics, Australia should prioritize future cooperation that can reduce this expenditure because it is politically unsustainable and has large opportunity costs. Australia can do this while maintaining its overarching policy goals.”

In particular, the report recommends deeper regional cooperation with the two key countries in the region—Indonesia and Malaysia—and the creation of a genuine regional protection policy framework with a mechanism that interweaves status determination, resettlement and returns across the three countries and allows key actors to address concerns.

“Policymakers will need to expand and complement the current enforcement toolkit,” the report finds. “The most important takeaways are that acting unilaterally on border enforcement is now a nonstarter, and cooperation is necessary.”

Read the report here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/cooperation-australia-immigration-enforcement.

And for more of the Transatlantic Council’s work on international cooperation managing migration and borders, click here.