Papua New Guinea solution – good or bad?

The Australian Government’s recent announcement that it will send all “boat people” (i.e. refugees/asylum seekers that attempt to come to Australia by boat) to Papua New Guinea and not allow them to ever enter Australia has caused widespread controversy. The main argument against this policy is that it is not exactly a compassionate way to deal with asylum seekers (who, let’s not forget, are fleeing all kinds of awful horrors). Today I’m going to play devil’s advocate and ask: is it such a bad idea?

Note: for the purpose of this blog, let’s pretend that there is no political motivation behind the solution.

I was watching TV the other night, and a government representative was defending the policy on the grounds that it will stop people smugglers. The argument is that if asylum seekers know that attempts to come to Australia via people smugglers will just see them abandoned in PNG, they will choose not to use the people smugglers.

From a purely pragmatic point of view, is this so bad? People smugglers are nasty criminals who take advantage of people’s desperation, and I think we can all agree that they should be stopped. But basic economics says that as long as there is demand, there will always be supply. How do you get rid of demand? Achieving world peace is apparently quite tricky, so the tactic seems to be to convince asylum seekers that life will be just as bad if they come to Australia via boat. The best case scenario is that an initial batch of people get sent straight to PNG and have a pretty miserable time, but in the long run less people drown at sea and we get rid of most of the people smugglers.

There is a logic to that argument. If all assumptions are in your favour, it ends up with a better result for people in general, at the cost of some extra suffering for a small few. Would you kill one innocent person to save 20 people’s lives?

Of course, this is a best case scenario depending on a lot of assumptions. If life in PNG is still better than whatever hell these poor people are fleeing from then it won’t achieve anything except some nice under-the-rug-brushing for our politicians.

So will this policy stop people smugglers? Or will we just cause a bunch of extra misery for some people who have already gone through all kinds of suffering? Tell me your thoughts in the comments!

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