Let the asylum seekers into Australia!
The issue of asylum seekers cuts right to the heart of everything that’s rotten and inhumane about capitalism – its racism, its hypocrisy, its brutality and its utter contempt for humanity Liam Ward argues in Socialist Alternative.
Anyone who heard Brindha, the 9 year old Tamil asylum seeker, pleading recently to be allowed into Australia should have been disgusted with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s response.
Adrift on a crowded boat off the Indonesian coast, Brindha made a heartbreaking plea to Australian journalists: “please save us, please, please!”
With an unflinching appeal to the right, Rudd delivered a chilling reply: “I make absolutely no apology whatsoever for taking a hard line on illegal immigration to Australia.”
The 253 asylum seekers – not “illegal immigrants” – on that boat have sacrificed everything they once had to make a desperate bid for safety from the systematic slaughter being wrought on them by the Sri Lankan government – a slaughter supported by the Australian government, who couldn’t wait to label the Tamils as “terrorists.”
They are fleeing a situation where the Sri Lankan government is killing 1400 a week of the 300,000 detained in concentration camps. This horror, this hell-on-earth that drives people to flee with nothing other than the clothes on their back, is what politicians and media goons have taken to euphemistically calling a “push factor.”
This same anti-human Orwellian logic recently led senators in parliament to draw parallels between the Oceanic Viking (the Australian customs ship stranded off the Indonesian coast with 78 asylum seekers onboard) and another maritime stand-off from the John Howard era.
And no, they weren’t talking about the Tampa…. They were talking about the Como Express, which in 2003 was unable to dock in Saudi Arabia and unload its cargo of 50,000 sheep.
This is the way Australian politicians talk about people fleeing war and genocide, as though they were a kind of livestock. Less marketable, not profitable, but apparently just as disposable.
Socialist Alternative stands for a total scrapping of mandatory detention. Indeed, we are opposed to all immigration controls.
In a world where money can flow unhindered across any and every border on the planet, it is deeply, profoundly objectionable that human beings are denied that same privilege, or that those who try are hounded, demonised, shot at and locked up.
While the Australian ruling class claims a need to militarise its borders to keep out “unauthorised non-citizens”, it repeatedly uses that same military to breach the borders of other nations.
So Australian troops and federal police invade the Solomons, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, East Timor, to say nothing of the carnage they have helped wreak on Iraq and Afghanistan.
Australian companies force their way into the sovereign territory of these same islands of the South Pacific, where they pillage the earth and poison the population.
Consider the many notorious Australian-owned mines that scar the region, including BHP’s Ok Tedi in PNG and Rio Tinto’s Freeport Grasberg in West Papua and Panguna in Bougainville.
This article aims to counter some of the myths and lies being peddled by Australian politicians and the media.
It’s a good rule of thumb that when it comes to the issue of refugees, it’s no overstatement to assume that every word uttered by any politician in this country is a lie. And the media are a party to this whole thing.
We need to attack every one of these myths, these lies and these distortions.
Firstly, we need to emphasise that mandatory detention of asylum seekers is still the practice and policy of the Australian government.
Any unauthorised off-shore (ie. not on the mainland) asylum seeker will be incarcerated for an indefinite period.
Recently, much of the liberal media have rightly highlighted the horrific conditions in the Indonesian detention centres. They tell of people having to drink water contaminated by fungus and faeces, and of being held for years on end. Without a doubt these claims are true.
But the conclusion reached by many – including the Greens, from whom we expect better – is that Australia needs to pressure Indonesia into improving things, to “clean up” their detention centres.
Nothing at all from most of them about closing the centres, or about Australia bringing those people here and granting them refugee status, not even those people who Australia previously sent back to the camps in Indonesia.
But more importantly, this whole focus on the horrors of the Indonesian detention centres is built on an implicit suggestion that the detention centres in Australia are somehow acceptable. This is outrageous.
We need to be calling for all the Australian detention centres to be closed and for mandatory detention to be scrapped.
Besides, the conditions in the Australian centres are gruesome, particularly the indefinite nature of detention.
Dozens of people have been driven to suicide and mental breakdowns over many years now. People in Australian detention centres have self-harmed and sewed their lips shut in protest at their treatment.
After detainees resisted, rioted, broke out and staged hunger strikes at the notorious camps at Port Hedland and Woomera, the Howard Government opened the heavily militarised Baxter detention centre in 2003.
This camp was designed from the ground up to psychologically crush those held inside. And it was the only prison complex in Australia surrounded by an electric fence – and not a minor one either, it carried a 9000-volt charge.
But even that wasn’t enough; last year the Labor government opened the major wing of their Christmas Island centre. Modelled on Guantanamo Bay, this newest most militarised monstrosity yet, is separated not by an electric fence, but by a five-hour plane flight from the Australian mainland.
In 2002, the Medical Journal of Australia described the extreme psychological and emotional damage done to people detained in immigration detention in Australia.
The pervasive pattern they describe includes “the development of a psychological state characterised by severe depression, despair, hopelessness, paranoia, chronic rage, persecutory delusions, sub-syndromal psychosis, characterological change, stereotypic movements and persistent self harming behaviour”.
In their sample, “all but one of the detained asylum seekers displayed symptoms of psychological distress at some time during their period of detention”. Eighty-five per cent had “chronic depressive symptoms” and sixty-five per cent had “pronounced ongoing suicidal ideation”.
That’s the reality of detention in Australia, and it’s not old history.
You might be forgiven for not noticing, but in late October, amid all the cries of horror over the Indonesian detention centres, the Australian Human Rights Commission published yet another report condemning the Christmas Island centre.
They particularly singled out the old “construction camp” wing where children are now held, explicitly stating that the situation for children detained by the Labor government has actually regressed since 2005.
Their report describes “a claustrophobic facility consisting of demountables linked by covered walkways. There is little open space, there are virtually no trees, and there is no open grassy area for children to play.
The bedrooms are very small, with beds that are not appropriate for babies or young toddlers.” This is Rudd’s detention centre, where in the last 12 months, his government has imprisoned over 1600 people who have committed no crime, let alone been charged or sentenced.
This is the “humane” treatment of asylum seekers Rudd constantly proclaims.
As part of this, we are being subjected to a vicious campaign to criminalise asylum seekers.
First, there’s the pervasive practice of labelling asylum seekers as “illegal.” This lie has been consciously pushed by people up to and including Kevin Rudd.
In fact, there is absolutely nothing illegal about seeking asylum, about arriving without authorisation or papers, or about coming by unregistered boats. The UN Declaration on Refugees spells this out explicitly.
Even the Australian Press Council has begrudgingly acknowledged this on numerous occasions and directed media outlets to stop describing asylum seekers or their actions as “illegal.”
The twin line of this argument is pushed by those who suggest that some if not all of the asylum seekers could be “criminals” or “terrorists”. This is sheer racism. And coming from the Australian state who gave the world’s worst war criminal and mass murderer, George Bush, a red carpet welcome when he visited Sydney!
Another common myth is that the real villains are not the governments who invade other countries or sponsor genocide or lock up refugees in concentration camps, but the people who help them escape, the people smugglers.
So Rudd talks about the “scourge” of people-smugglers, who he says represent the “vilest form of people on the planet”. Labor’s Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor claims “organised crime syndicates are involved in the vast majority of vessel arrivals.”
Everyone under the sun seems to agree that the aim is to “stop the boats coming.” This is a travesty. The real crime is not people smuggling, but the insurmountable obstacles that the Australian government continues to place in front of refugees.
Arresting the smugglers, further militarising the Australian coastline or just generally increasing the obstacles facing refugees only pushes the industry further into the criminal underground, increasing the danger and almost certainly the death toll.
If Rudd really cared about the lives of refugees he would remove all such obstacles.
In other words he would dismantle the fortress that surrounds this continent and let the refugees in. Furthermore, he’d withdraw Australian troops from Afghanistan, and stop instigating the type of horror that creates refugees.
It’s still claimed that asylum seekers who come unauthorised by boat are “queue jumpers”. This is rubbish.
Amid the chaos in Sri Lanka or Afghanistan, there is literally no queue. This is especially so for persecuted minorities like the Tamils in Sri Lanka or the Hazaras in Afghanistan.
The Hazara, just to illustrate a point here, are a minority persecuted both by the Taliban and by Rudd’s favoured thugs in Kabul now calling themselves the Afghan government.
What’s more, as a report in The Age revealed a few months ago, there hasn’t even been an Australian embassy capable of processing such visas in Afghanistan since 2007!
The closest one is in Pakistan, but it can only process particular types of asylum applications. Hardly helpful when you’ve got warlords hunting you down and you’re fleeing for your life.
In the concentration camps of Sri Lanka, along with the media and aid agencies, the UN is not even allowed in; and the Rudd Labor government is not demanding it be let in to process asylum seekers, or that Australian representative be allowed in.
The refugees who risk everything to reach Australia by boat are, almost by definition, those most at risk, the most desperate. They’re not “freeloaders” or “queue jumpers.”
Finally, we need to challenge the idea that the Australian government has the right to (and can be trusted to) be the judge and jury over people’s claim to asylum.
Even by the government’s own harsh standards, over 90 per cent of boat arrivals are eventually found to be “genuine” refugees. That “lucky” 90 per cent have all been through lengthy periods of traumatic detention.
Those who aren’t deemed worthy are deported, an act that invariably involves returning people to persecution (if they’re even returned to the correct country).
Over much of the last decade, the Edmund Rice Centre has tracked many of the hundreds of refugees deported from Australia.
Through two meticulously researched projects (Deported to Danger in 2004 and Deported to Danger II in 2006), they found that almost all of those deported had been returned to situations of extreme danger, many had been deported from Australia under duress and arguably with the use of force, and the rejection of their asylum claims was invariably based on flawed assessments (and that’s the ERC’s overly generous analysis of Immigration Department motives).
This year, another study revealed that of 400 refugees deported to Afghanistan, at least 20 had been conclusively proven to be murdered, many had been tortured, and others have simply disappeared.
Australian governments have long proven themselves to be no fair judge of a person’s asylum claim, and they have no interest in being a fair judge – as the case with the Tamils clearly illustrates.
Socialist Alternative is opposed to all of this.
We do not accept that the Australian government has the right to decide the fate of people seeking refuge, especially from chaos that the government has a hand in creating or an interest in supporting.
Anyone who comes here seeking asylum should be welcomed, and should be granted permanent, full and equal citizenship rights, with no detention.
Socialist Alternative has always been a strident campaigner for refugee rights.
We have never relented on our opposition to mandatory detention, never conceding that perhaps it would be OK to campaign to just get the children out, or to minimise the length of detention, or to just make the detention culture “nicer” or “more accountable” or “transparent.”
We never conceded any of the approaches that were argued for by conservative forces and which would only have legitimised mandatory detention.
In 2002 we helped tear down the fences of the noxious hellhole that was the Woomera Detention Centre, assisting people inside to make a courageous and inspiring breakout. We would not hesitate to do it again.
This is an issue that might not have been mobilising tens of thousands in the street like it once did, but it’s an issue that cuts right to the heart of everything that’s rotten and inhumane about capitalism – its racism, its hypocrisy, its brutality and its utter contempt for humanity.
We stand firmly for the rights of asylum seekers, and we will not go silent until every detention centre on this planet is torn down.