The Incredible $15.3 billion Asylum Seeker Cost And Its Human Toll

And that is a conservative estimate.

13/09/2016 5:34 AM AEST | Updated 13/09/2016 10:01 AM AEST
Fairfax Media
And that doesn't take into account the human cost.

CANBERRA – The public money funding Australia's current harsh asylum seeker framework is here, there and over there in Treasury's books, but for the first time, all the main line items have been pulled together to estimate the first seven years of the policies will cost taxpayers $15.3 billion.

In the report "At What Cost?" released Tuesday, the groups Save the Children and UNICEF Australia have sought to expose the full financial, strategic and human toll of onshore mandatory detention, offshore processing, boat turn-backs and the failing Cambodia resettlement agreement.

UNICEF, Save the Children
17m children have been displaced by conflict and violence within own countries.

The report has a particular focus on children in the immigration system, but first digs deep into budget papers and Treasury statements.

"Australians will be quite surprised and quite concerned about the level of expenditure moving in this direction," UNICEF's Nicole Breeze told The Huffington Post Australia.

"We have taken a fairly conservative approach to the costings of the policy settings to produce these figures," she said.

The analysis of the immigration money trail -- spread over ten agencies -- finds taxpayers paid at least $9.6 billion between the framework's start in 2013 and 2016 and should expect to pay out a further $5.7 billion over the next four years.

The Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has not disputed the analysis by the charities about the total cost of offshore processing to Australian taxpayers.

"I don't have the precise figure on how much we are spending on processing people offshore," he told RN Breakfast.

"What I can tell you it is $3 billion less than what it was, because we have closed 17 detention centres since we have been able to stop the boats and we are not subject to the $11 billion blow out in the cost of border protection and processing of illegal boat arrivals."

The economists behind "At What Cost?" did not include the funding for the Government side of legal challenges, reviews (including "The Forgotten Children"), Senate inquiries and compensation rulings.

While the report puts the most precise yet financial figure on the full program of asylum seeker deterrence, the human cost is being described by UNICEF and Save the Children as incalculable.

Among the documented problems, particularly for children; not having comprehensive access to education, disruption of health services, family separation, the harm of prolonged detention, deterioration of mental health, exposure to violence and cases of self-harm and attempted suicide.

"What's very clear is that these policies are having the effect of disrupting lives," Breeze told HuffPost Australia. "They are impeding children's development."

"The long term effects ... will be felt into future years."

There are also strategic costs for Australia, according to the report, including the loss of Australia's reputation as a rights-respecting nation and strains on relationships with nations such as Indonesia.

With asylum seekers and refugees – who had headed for Australia - now being held on Nauru and Manus Island for almost four years, UNICEF and Save the Children are calling for the Turnbull Government to end the detainees' limbo and strongly consider third country destinations, such as New Zealand.

"We do not accept it is a zero sum game," Freeze said. "We don't believe in it necessary to keep people in limbo."

"We believe it is possible for the government (to find a way forward). We're really encouraging the Government to pivot away from bilateralism and towards the establishment of a genuine, durable regional solution."

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