STONE the crows! We have fans in Iran!

The Crows know a moral conundrum when they see one and are not buying into the debate over asylum seekers and economic immigrants, or how to define the former and deal with the latter. But they are appalled by the incompetence and greed of cliques and cabals, factions and fellowships that provide countries from Iran to Zimbabwe with government by some of the people for the same people and their pals.

The foreign minister’s response to the spike in Sri Lankans turning up on the north west coast is to call them economic migrants and suggest that aid is a way to reduce demand at source.[i] Well-placed individuals in the immigration industry agree.[ii] Still, the outcomes of 30 years of communal conflict are still occurring and it is easy to understand why people want out of Sri Lanka. [iii]

But, according to Minister Carr, Iran is in the same circumstances. “There’s been a spike in people coming from Iran, for example – none of them are claiming persecution. It’s the economic pressure of the sanctions in Iran, and the squeeze on living standards.”[iv]

Up to a point, a big one that the senator simplifies. People in Iran are not migrants like the Irish are, escaping a crook economy. Some Irish even go home. (The Crows know an Ulster-bloke who moved back to Derry to set up a gym in 2010!)

The 2700 Iranians who arrived in 2012 and the 5500 this year are different; they are fleeing a failing state, which Ireland manifestly is not.[v] And, according to Laura Tingle, the Iranian government will not accept people back who fail to be accepted as asylum seekers but do not want to return.[vi]

Inevitably, many arriving Iranians will talk up the persecution they suffered – and undoubtedly many were abused, bullied and beaten for political opinions, religious beliefs or for annoying somebody in the regime’s street-level enforcers, the Basij militia.[vii]

But the Crows guess is that most have just had enough. They are sick of elections that aren’t free. In the recent presidential poll a moderate won with 51 per cent of the vote, twice the share of his nearest rival, which would be impressive if all candidates were not pre-approved by the Guardian Council, stacked with lawyers and clerics picked by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. [viii]

Iranian emigrants have had it with the religious bigotry; even the United Nations acknowledges persecution of just about every faith other than Shia Islam.[ix] They are sick of the sexism; women, whom the morality police decide are not appropriately attired, are pulled off the streets for a ticking off. [x]

They are absolutely over the kleptocracy that passes for government. The Revolutionary Guard is more than a private army that provides the clerisy with an independent armed force – it controls a third of the economy.[xi] People leaving are certainly sick of the sanctions, the price of a nuclear program, which an oil rich country should not need for energy security.

Ah yes, oil, the country is not expected to refine enough petrol for local needs until 2015.[xii] And the economy is collapsing. Incoming president Hassan Rowhani says inflation is running at 42 per cent, GDP contracted last year and he expects 4.5 million unemployed graduates in four years time.[xiii]

There are subtler tests of a failing state other than rebellion and repression. One is a collapsing birth rate. Iran’s population is projected to start falling in 20 years and to halve by the end of the century.[xiv] The other is that people leaving. Iran’s educated, especially the young, flee the lack of work at home. Even Afghan refugees are going home, some 200,000 of the 2.5 million in Iran left in the seven months to February, an indication of how crook things are.[xv]

Funnily enough, figures on how many Iranians leave are scarce, but one US group describes the country’s circumstances as “a vast diaspora abroad and millions of refugees at home.”[xvi]

Iran is a failing state, just as the German Democratic Republic was from its foundation. But not everybody who came over the Wall was a refugee seeking safety from threats of death or imprisonment. The Crows suspect most of them could not stomach the misery that is inevitably life wherever politicians do not live in mortal fear of the judgement of the people and where public servants think the populace exists to do their bidding.

Did this make East Germans then, indeed Iranians now, refugees? You can make a case for both under the UN convention, which, defines a refugee as a person, who is “unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.” [xvii]

Then again (admittedly anonymous) a petition to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship in favour of faster processing of immigration applications from educated Iranians emphasises the shambles there:

Applicants cannot ignore the fearful reality of a profound global economic crisis and its life changing consequences together with the unique characteristics and conditions of Iran particularly the changing conditions following the presidential elections.[xviii]

The problem is how to allocate scarce resources. Like it or not, neither major political party will ever advocate opening our borders to all comers, meaning migration places are rationed. So, whose claim on compassion is greater, an Iranian who has had it with a wretched regime or a Syrian desperate to escape the civil war? There are 1.6 million Syrian refugees across the Middle East – and the Crows wonder when some will start to turn up here. [xix]

The depressing thing is that none of these people are fleeing natural disaster, famine or pestilence. They want to escape the consequences of government by thugs, thieves, theocrats and there is sod-all we can do about this. The boats might stop arriving at Christmas Island for a while but the demand for sanctuary in nations with properly functioning governments will not.

The obvious solution is to adapt Senator Bob Carr’s Sri Lankan strategy, pour in aid so people do not feel a need to leave. The trouble is that Iran’s problems go to the nature of the state not a downturn in GDP. Helping people there would require assisting them to create the infrastructures that make freedom and prosperity possible – democracy, the rule of law and free markets.

Don’t hold your breath for it to happen. George W Bush understood the challenge:

People everywhere – everywhere – prefer freedom to slavery and that liberty … Throughout history, tyrants and would-be tyrants have always claimed that murder is justified to serve their grand vision, and they end up alienating decent people across the globe. Tyrants and would be tyrants have always claimed that regimented societies are strong and pure, until those societies collapse in corruption and decay. Tyrants and would-be tyrants have always claimed that free men and women are weak and decadent, until the day that free men and women defeat them[xx]

And look where taking tyrants on got him.


For speeches and strategy, articles, opeds and ideas contact Stephen Matchett, 0417 469 093



[i] Bob Carr, “Australia Sri-Lanka talks: four point program to beat people smugglers,” Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, December 17 2012 @ recovered on July 21

[ii] Stephanie March, “Sri Lankans heading to Australia ‘economic migrants’ not refugees: International Organisation for Migration,” Australia Network News, November 7 2012 @ recovered on July 21

[iii] Charles Haviland, “Tension over army seizure over Sri Lanka Jafna land,” BBC News, May 24 @ recovered on July 21

[iv] Bob Carr, “Meet the press transcript,” Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, June 10 recovered on July 21

[v] Connie Agius, “Iran’s poor economy and religious, political and racial persecution blamed for refugees.” ABC News July 20 @ recovered on July 21

[vi] Laura Tingle, “Rudd’s new policy a lurch to the right,” Australian Financial Review, July 20

[vii] Saeid Golkar, “The ideological-political training of Iran’s Basij,” Brandies University, Middle East Brief, September 2010 @ recovered on July 21

[viii] “Victory for the Islamic Republic,” The Economist, June 17

[ix] United Nations Secretary General, “The situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” UN General Assembly, September 23 2011 @ recovered on July 21

[x] Pomegranate blog, “Iran: Fashion police,” The Economist,  May 5 @ recovered on July 21

[xi] Mark Gregory, “Expanding business empire of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard,” BBC News Jul26 2010 @ recovered on July 21

[xii] US Energy Administration, “Iran energy data,” November 2011 @ recovered on July 22

[xiii] Thomas Erdbrink and Rick Gladstone, “Iran’s next president faults Ahmadinejad on economy,” New York Times, July 15

[xiv] David Ignatius, “Muslim world faces fertility crisis,” The Australian, February 12

[xv] “Go back home,” The Economist, February 16

[xvi] Migration Information Source, “Iran country profile,” @ recovered on July 21

[xvii] UN High Commission for Refugees, “Convention and protocol relating to the status of refugees,” December 2010 @ recovered on July 21

[xviii] “Demand for acceleration of Iranian immigration cases to Australia,” Petition Online nd @ recovered on July 21

[xix] Refugee Council of Australia, “Middle East provides an impressive lesson in hospitality,” June 13 @ recovered on July 21

[xx] George W Bush, “Remarks to the national endowment for democracy,” October 6 2005, Presidential @ recovered on July 21