Australia the Lucky Country unless you are an asylum seeker
Over the parliamentary break, knowing that an expert panel was working on recommendations to break the political deadlock, I was hopeful. Asylum seeker and refugee advocacy groups were making submissions and at least one of the members of the panel had a long history of a humanitarian approach to asylum seeker policy. Surely sanity would prevail?
I have been so shocked at the final outcome it has taken me days to write anything. As I start drafting this, I have no plan for this article, I am just writing. Many people with much broader experience in this field than I have written much in the past few days and I’ve read as much as I can. Ordered to bed by my doctor with a chest infection, reading has actually been possible.
“We do need to do as much as we can to dissuade people from embarking on dangerous boat journeys to Australia, but we have a responsibility alongside that to not further damage people who are escaping persecution and are the victims of trauma and torture.”
I agree. I live with the aftermath of mandatory detention. I listen to my husband cry out in his restless dreams. I live with the residual pain of his journey every damn day. The politicians do not. Yes, of course, gradually he is healing but it doesn’t happen overnight. To those who say asylum seekers are “economic refugees” (simply fleeing poor countries for a better life) I can’t speak for all but I do know without a doubt my husband was never one of those. He pores over news reports from his homeland and is horrified at developments. While he is happy here, I know there will always be a part of him that would prefer to be back there driving change. This is not possible. As it is not possible for so many others who flee.
Off-shore processing has always been out of consideration for me for those who actually get here, to Australia. Mandatory detention just has to be the case with off-shore processing. So people risk drowning to get here, then we ship them off to Nauru or Manus Island (under the new legislation) for an indeterminate period of time. Limbo. Psychological problems. Drugs given by Australia to control the depression caused by Australia. Tents, lack of water, horrendous conditions.
Run-down and termite-infested wooden houses of the old detention centre are surrounded by overgrown bushland.
News Ltd photographer Gary Ramage accompanied RAAF engineers to inspect the detention centre today.
He described the surrounds as “unliveable”.
“I can see about 30-40 demountable buildings that are in bad condition. Most are full of termites,” he said.
“A major reconstruction operation will have to take place if a new facility is to hold refugees.”
Yet we are happy to do this? We, as a nation, feel this is an acceptable way to treat our fellow-man? Clearly some of us do, because the legislation passed. We voted for the politicians that passed this into law.
The report was commissioned because the politicians couldn’t agree on a policy. Tony Abbott, leader of the opposition, has “stop the boats” as his catch-cry, as if the boats are some terrible plague upon the nation. This isn’t even remotely true, of course, but it makes good press – repeatedly. There is considerable evidence to suggest that Nauru and Manus Island are not going to “stop the boats”. People will always flee persecution and war, no matter what the cost. Australians, safe in their comfy armchairs watching Tony Abbot and his ilk demonize innocent people, think the risk of drowning is horrific. To an asylum seeker it is simply risk of transit, a risk that must be taken to reach safety.
So why, seven years later, did he pay a small fortune to a people smuggler, leave his wife and three children, and risk his life on a leaky boat a second time to try to come to Australia? Because, he says, the prospect of death at sea or prolonged detention in Australia — even a return to Nauru — was better than living every minute of his life in fear in Afghanistan or Pakistan.
The full recommendations of the final Report of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers are, according to the panel, to be adopted in their entirety. That is, Manus Island and Nauru are only a small part of the overall plan. The fear among many is that FULL implementation of recommendations will not happen.
Michael Gordon interviewed Paris Aristotle, A Change of Heart, to discover how he came to support Nauru and Manus Island after so many years of campaigning against such solutions. The interview is well worth reading. I think Paris may well live to regret his support, but we shall see. I understand his change of heart, definitely I do: I don’t have faith Astralia will implement the full recommendatons of the report, a situation that saddens me.
While the whole reason, supposedly, for this legislation was to save desperate people from drowning, I did read that not once was that mentioned in the bill that was passed.
Many Australians, I know, felt the passing of this legislation was a very sad day in the history of Australia.
Please share your thoughts. You may like to join the Amnesty International protest: Tell Abbott and Gillard: don’t punish refugees in my name
Related (on this site):
- Asylum Seekers in Australia: more of the same
- Unbalanced article fuels moral panic
- Australia’s refugee intake – Budget 2012
- Detention Centres dysfuntional
- Amnesty International report on Australian detention centres
- Asylum seekers win and lose
- Ranjini needs our help to encourage the government to find a better way
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