''WHAT hope is there for me?'' The question was posed this week to Chris Bowen in Beirut by a 30-year-old man who had spent his entire existence in overcrowded refugee camps. There was no easy answer, and the Immigration Minister did not offer one.
But he did offer some reassurance: Australia was now taking 7250 more refugees, including up to 3800 from Syria, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon and up to 2000 from countries neighbouring Afghanistan.
If the exchange was confronting, so too was the news that a woman had been electrocuted in the camp while Mr Bowen was inspecting an area of just 500 square metres that accommodates about 30,000 people.
''They've just done their own electricity as they go and it's been a humanitarian disaster,'' he told The Age yesterday. There had been 11 electrocutions in the past 12 months.
''These are the people who often get forgotten in Australia's debate, which is often inappropriately focused only on those who arrive by boat,'' Mr Bowen said.
Today he will announce a breakdown of the country's new 20,000-people humanitarian program, and try to send a message to those considering paying people smugglers to take them - that there is another way.
The message for the Hazara ethnic group targeted by fundamentalists in Afghanistan and Pakistan is emphatic - a quadrupling of the number of Afghans granted protection visas this financial year compared with last, and a more than seven-fold jump since 2010-11.
''We have the highest resettlement program per capita in the world,'' Mr Bowen said. ''It's not the answer to everything, with 43 million displaced people in the world, but the only way to get to Australia is not to get on a boat.''
Although the number of boat arrivals is at a record high (and Indonesia intercepted another one yesterday carrying 106 Afghan and Iranian refugees), Mr Bowen remains convinced that the combination of carrots and sticks - a higher humanitarian intake and sending uninvited arrivals to Nauru and Manus Island - is the best way.
''The Liberals who say all you need is a hard-headed approach are wrong. The Greens who say all you have to do is increase the [refugee] program are wrong. You need to do it all.''
The problem is that there is no evidence yet that the new approach is working. On the contrary, the system is under much more strain. Before the new policy came into force on August 13, there had been 7629 unauthorised arrivals this year in 114 boats; since then another 5310 have arrived on 87 boats.
While the numbers in mainland immigration detention are steady, about 5160, the number in the community on bridging visas has almost doubled from 3566 to 7147, and those in community detention have increased from 1212 to 1648.
Perhaps most striking of all is that, since the new policy, Sri Lankans have overtaken Afghans as the biggest component of boat arrivals, with 4893 arriving this year, compared with 3311 Afghans.
Asked if the number of arrivals since August 13 justified looking at new approaches, Mr Bowen replied: ''Obviously, I'm always monitoring the situation but my focus has been, and will continue to be, implementing those [Houston report] recommendations.''
Asked if voluntary organisations were coping with the number of asylum seekers being released into the community on bridging visas, he said: ''At this point, yes.''
Mr Bowen said high rejection rates in the recent Sri Lankan caseload suggested there was ''an element of economic migration'' that was being addressed.
''We have to work with Sri Lanka, and we are - and part of it is spreading the message that if you are coming to Australia for work rights and you're on Nauru, you won't be getting them.''