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Australia’s shameful treatment of refugees and asylum seekers must end

By Julie Grint

Many issues about human rights are dear to me as a former refugee. Two of these issues: the genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar by the military junta and the inhumane and cruel treatment of asylum seekers by the Australian government in defiance of the United Nations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, treatment meted out by political leaders from both sides of the aisle leads me to ask “why?” Why are we so cruel and indifferent to the fate of our fellow human beings when we call ourselves Christians?

I have written to Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten with my plea. A plea for human rights. Here are my letters:

The Hon Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull,

Dear Mr Turnbull,

I would like to bring the following matters to the attention of your good self and of your cabinet colleagues.

Minister Dutton is trying to illegally refoul Rohingya Muslims from Manus island, right now. Men are being coerced to sign papers stating they wish to return home.

I appeal to your consciences to oppose such moves by your Ministerial colleague.

The ethnic Rohingya people of Myanmar (Burma) in Southeast Asia are being massacred. These barbarous acts are being carried out by Neo-Nazi racist groups like the RNDP (Rakhine Nationalities Development Party), ALA (Arakan Liberation Army), NaSaKa border police and 969 monks led by Monk Wirathu, the self-proclaimed Bin Laden of Buddhism. The Government of Myanmar is at best ignoring the slaughter of these people, just like the rest of the international community, and at worst is participating in the crimes.

The Burmese military junta considers the Rohingya to be sub-human and denies them almost all basic human rights. Often, they are subject to torture, gang rape, starvation, slave labor, and have been forced to live in the most dire camps in the world – some call these refugee camps but they are concentration camps. Over the past few months, thousands of Rohingya have been encouraged onto boats and sent out to sea with not enough food or fuel, and left there to die. Some of the boats were attacked and sunk, with women and children on board.

Whilst the United States claims to defend human rights, their record clearly reflects a government that will only intercede when their business interests are threatened. While politicians occasionally pay lip service to the horrific conditions in Myanmar no effective action has been taken by the UN or the US.

The only people neglecting the situation in Myanmar worse than the U.S. are the 4th estate who consistently ignored these atrocities or report them as ’ethnic clashes’. Since they have failed to document these crimes in any way, I would consider the media to be complicit in concealing the situation from the rest of the world. The acts of genocide being committed against the Rohingya people must not be ignored. The Rohingya are now anticipating a third massacre in which the junta attempts to force them all out of Rakhine State until there are no Rohingya left in Burma.


The Hon Bill Shorten

Dear Mr Shorten,

It is clear that Minister Peter Dutton is trying to disperse as many people from the Manus Island prison as he can, even resorting to using the excuse of “medical treatment” when in fact medical support provided by IHMS has been criminally lacking on Manus island for years. Men are being flown in manacles, like criminals, to Port Moresby (POM) for so called medical care. Which BTW they are NOT receiving at the Pacific International hospital.

Some 100 men have been sent to POM, leaving 700 on Manus, these are not even the sickest of the cohort. No one seems to know the basis for the selection of the transferees although many fear that they will simply be dumped in POM and left to fend for themselves if they do not agree to return to their home countries, despite 86% of those who have been processed, being found to be genuine refugees. Some of the men have refused to participate in the process conducted by PNG Immigration as they do not trust it and do not think it is fair. As a result of refusing to co-operate these men have been automatically deemed to be non- refugees and have been earmarked by DIBP for deportation.

I believe that Dutton is now in full panic mode and is doing everything he can to hide the crimes he has committed whilst he has been the Minister for Immigration & Border Protection. On his watch 5 men have died on Manus island and 2 have died on Nauru by self-immolation. Countless other refugees have taken their own lives in Australia due to the harsh and punitive system that Dutton has established for refugees living in the community and in onshore detention centres. People are being kept on Temporary Protection Visas (TPV) for years, being unable to work or study, having to rely on charity and a meagre Government stipend and living in limbo and uncertainty. Never sure when the knock on the door is from DIBP telling them they are being deported without rhyme or reason purely at the whim of the Minister.

What is happening on Manus island, on Nauru and in Australia’s onshore detention centres is unspeakably cruel and inhumane and breaches Australia’s obligations under the UN Declaration of Universal Human Rights, The Rights of the Refugee, The Rights of the Child and the Convention against Torture. Australia is a proud signatory to all but the last Convention against Torture, maybe if we were Dondale would not have happened.

Australia’s asylum seeker policy and offshore detention regime shames our country and ALL decent humane and thinking Australians. Ever since the Tampa affair during John Howard’s Prime Ministership and the children overboard LIE which was deliberately created for political advantage Australia has been travelling ever downwards to the abyss. Our asylum seeker and refugee policies are cruel, harsh and just plain wrong. It is TIME for a radical rethink!

Australia’s political prisoners on Manus and Nauru must be brought to Australia for resettlement. John Howard quietly resettled the refugees on Nauru during Pacific solution Mark 1. The sky did not fall in and no one comments on that fact. Let these poor people come here and settle so they can start to rebuild their lives. All they want is to be afforded protection and safety and to be given a chance to make a contribution to Australia.

These people have many talented and educated folk amongst them, one man even speaks 6 languages, one is a journalist/film maker, one is an award-winning cartoonist, one is an actor/comedian these people will be an asset to Australia just like all the refugees who came to this country before them.

It is TIME for Labor to join the Greens in calling for an end to indefinite offshore detention of asylum seekers and refugees. These people are Australia’s responsibility no one else’s. The LNP Government has been unable to find a realistic resettlement option for these asylum seekers in four long years. It is fairly obvious that the so-called refugee swap deal with the USA is a sham and a phoney and very few if any refugees are going to America. Those not accepted by the Trump administration, the vast majority, must be brought to Australia immediately to have their health restored.

Could Labor approach the commercial airlines who fly to the Middle east and Africa, such as QANTAS, Emirates, Qatar, Singapore airlines etc and ask that they refuse to participate in the Australian government’s illegal refouling of refugees to their countries of origin. If this LNP government and Minister for Immigration want to persist in refouling refugees they will just have to use the RAAF to do so.

When is Mr Shorten and his executive team with media in tow going to visit Manus island and Nauru to see conditions for themselves in a well-publicised effort to end this impasse?


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  1. nurses1968

    Sorry Julie, until there is a marked change in community attitudes to asylum seekers I don’t think much will change

  2. Cara Clark

    Excellent letters. Would that they would elicit a proper and humane response.

  3. helvityni

    I’m afraid that nurses1968 is right; majority of Australian people seem happy with the inhumane treatment of asylum seekers. Immigration portfolio is usually given to the most punishing person in the government.. (Burke is not an uncaring man, and he was pleased to be moved, Dutton seems to love it…)

  4. diannaart


    Your letters are superb. While I can imagine Turnbull remaining insensitive to your righteously reasoned letters, maybe Shorten is power hungry enough to realise NOT ALL AUSTRALIANS ARE HEARTLESS RACISTS.

    Pester power works and I thank you for these letters which I can resend to those who really need to listen.

  5. guest

    The kind of passionate, reasoned and humane argument here is not what supporters of these off-shore detention centres want to hear. One can understand why right-wing apologists hate the UN so much because, they claim, the UN is trying to create a world government through the “scam” of Climate Change. And the UNHCR is attacked mercilessly – and anyone associated with it. Human Rights, for these sovereign-minded people, are just a lot of red tape and restriction of freedom.

    That is why they ignore treaties to which they are signatories, make up their own unilateral laws, employ other people to do their work so they need take no blame for what they do, treat other sovrinties as vassal colonies, trade people like cattle across the world, allow no human rights, refoul people in danger of death…and they do all this in the name of secure borders.

    How the Left can support this inhumanity is hard to understand, except to see it as the “will” of the people – and to oppose it would be to allow itself to be “wedged” politically. But now, it claims, it did not realise it would all go on for so long.

    Surely it was wrong from the start. Time now to say: Enough is enough!

  6. babyjewels10

    Thanks Julie – because I know what a thankless task it is, to try and move government to a more humane stance, especially when the Australian people allow them to be inhumane. It’s heart breaking and soul destroying.

  7. helvityni

    I just watched Jane Hutcheon interview Julian Barnes, what an impressive, and yet so modest man, he has done more than anyone to help asylum seekers, and yes they are not illegal…he also said being very impressed by something by something what Arundhati Roy said…it had made an impression on me as well….

    No doubt there are plenty repeats on ABC,or it is on Iview…well worth watching for anyone who cares about the plight of asylum seekers.

  8. Kyran

    How can it be that our Foreign Minister is still trying to prosecute a case for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, knowing that we have already had a ‘Bradbury Gold’ win? Three contenders for two seats. France withdrew. We already have the seat. Yet she is in New York, yelling at the NK leader, blowing smoke up indescribable crevices, and trying to vindicate, or validate, the Australian government’s position on Human Rights.

    “Ms Bishop also used her speech to talk up Australia’s bid for a 2018-2020 seat on the UN Human Rights Council.
    Australia would help empower women, girls and indigenous groups to reach their full potential if elected.
    “Australia is proud to be home to the world’s oldest continuous culture and will strive to advance the human rights of indigenous peoples around the globe,” she said.
    Ms Bishop, who has led Australia’s delegation at this week’s General Assembly after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull chose not to make the trip, made special mention of the “inspiring work” of Australian businessman and philanthropist Andrew Forrest, his wife Nicola and daughter Grace with their anti-slavery Walk Free Foundation.”

    Australia has recently given a few million dollars to stop DV in the Pacific, whilst defunding such attempts here. That ‘they’ claim to empower women and girls, whilst ignoring the disparity in gender equality simply beggars belief. The notion that ‘they’ boast the domicile of the world’s oldest culture, whilst belittling and demeaning those of that culture simply beggars belief. The notion that ‘they’ would cite forrest as testimony to either, is nothing short of sickening.
    The above relates to this article only because of the comments by nurses1968 and helvityni.
    “until there is a marked change in community attitudes to asylum seekers I don’t think much will change.”
    Back in 2013, ‘they’ worked it out. If the possible answer to the question is adverse to what you want, don’t ask the question.

    This is an argument based on fear and hysteria. As long as you don’t check for facts, apparently, no harm, no foul. Imagine this.

    Thank you Ms Grint and commenters (in particular, nurses1968 and helvityni). Australia has a seat on the Human Rights Council. Now let’s see how ‘they’ prosecute the case for human rights, devoid of gender, colour, religion, ethnicity, wealth. My fervent belief is that community attitudes to all of those issues have changed. My point is that our ‘leaders’ haven’t, cause they keep asking the wrong questions of the wrong people. As a matter of concern, please don’t hold your breath waiting for a response, Ms Grint. Take care

  9. diannaart


    I worked for well over 20 years in the welfare sector. I found the majority of people with whom I (often) had close interaction were reasonable and empathic people, in spite of the high proportion of ex-crims, druggies, migrants, refugees and all the rest. The ones who kept myself and my team busy amounted to maybe about 10% of the overall population. I believe the same of Australians as a nation.

    The problem we face is the ownership (and infiltration) of our media by an elitist few, the imbalance of politicians weighted in favour of the authoritarian and controlling.

    I am one of those “Pollyannas” who believe most people are good. BUT, increasing the imbalance between poverty and extreme wealth destroys much of our collective care and acceptance of others who are considered too different.

    Therefore, I disagree with you, nurses1968 and Helvitini.

  10. nurses1968

    You can disagree all you like but I simply made an observation based on results of polls and focus group polling that is constantly undertaken and personally can see nothing that would change that perception
    The LNP continues to stay in the race with perceived views by those questioned that the are “strong on Economy,Asylum Seekers and Terrorism”, so close in fact,in the polls that the LNP have closed the gap by 2% in the most recent survey Labor were 54/46 now back to 52/48% 2 Party Preferred

  11. darrel nay

    We are being Balkanised, but, average people are waking up to the plan.

    I agree with nurses1968.


  12. nurses1968

    It is not my personal view,as I don’t intend to discuss that,simply an observation

  13. Kyran

    My apologies, diannaart, for the perceived ambiguity. For most of my life, I also have found the majority of people with whom I have had interaction with are/were reasonable and empathic people. Yet I keep hearing a media peddling a different story, that most people are not reasonable, or, somehow, incapable of sympathy, let alone empathy.
    Isn’t it how we look after the 10% that defines the very character, the very essence, of the 90%?

    “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

    That’s not Pollyanna. Or me. That was Anne Frank.

    My comment was not intended as an interpretation of the comments of nurses1968 or helvityni, and in no way should impugn their comments. It was intended as an observation on the lack of empirical evidence, because nobody will ask the questions.

    Do you believe there are good and bad people?

    Do you believe that gender, colour, religion, wealth, age, education, health, whatever, is a predictor of their behaviour?

    If I have caused you distress, I apologize. Without reservation. Take care

  14. Joseph Carli

    It is curious that those who stridently oppose refugees, and perhaps have never lived through a desperate survival situation, but have grown up in secure comfort of an un-threatening environment, seem to presume that the refugee will want to recreate that very environment they have escaped from.
    People are not stupid…well..there are some..but people with children who have come from a desperate situation are well aware and will strive to not repeat those mistakes that placed them in the same situation. That is not to say they will abandon their cultural mores, how can one?…and in small ways this will resemble their original homeland..but the difference is in their new cultural surroundings which, if one would care to look closely, we would see the embracing of the best of their new homeland..but you have to look closely to see the intent to create the new without the complete abandoning of their familiar habits that gives comfort and continuity.
    But if one examines the incorporation by the many ethnic groups that have come in desperation to this country and now are a integral part of our culture AND our politics..the Greeks, Italians , Slavs, Vietnamese, Chinese, Germans..I could go on and on..but I think we can see that any new arrival, while looking strange by their very newness, will with a generation or two morph without problem into the general mass of our society..we just have to have humanistic faith and belief…not in THEIR capability, but in our own selves to live and let live..

  15. diannaart


    You believe polls are accurate all of the time?

    Murdoch has some stories he’d like you to swallow.

    Nothing personal.

  16. diannaart


    I don’t believe in any biblical good v evil.

    I do believe most people ARE good (even if some of them behave like righteous cows).

    I have found in my experience there’s far more hospitality to be found among the poorest than the wealthiest.

    Also, if there really were as many ‘bad’ people as some people like to believe… the human race would not have made it even this far – raping and pillaging only works so far, then there’s child raising, care and feeding which takes cooperation.

    On that theme… be generous, because it might just be the one good act which saves us all.

  17. nurses1968

    If you’d care to Google you will find that overall the Polls in Australia are reasonably accurate. I did include Labor polling and focus group polling in my comment.
    Sometimes we just wish to hard for things and it clouds our perspective ,don’t ypu think? 😀

  18. diannaart


    Just off the top of my head now…

    Did you include the polls for Brexit and Trump? France? New Zealand though they’d have a brand new Labour government. No one thought Kennett would lose his last Victorian state election.

    I could go google, but why would I bother? – you just believe in the f#ckedupness of people and I will continue to hope for the best.

  19. nurses1968

    diannaart I said
    “Polls in Australia”
    I’ll just believe the reality of the situation. Pipedreams are ok for some though

  20. diannaart

    Yes N1968, you did say “polls in Australia” like Australia is on another planet and what happens here is not reflected anywhere else.

    If it is a pipe-dream to believe that people care about vulnerable dispossessed people – then I’ll stick to dreaming, better than living anywhere near your brutal world.

  21. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    As usual, nurses1968 is obsessed by numbers, as expressed in polls

    I prefer diannaart’s take on people’s hearts and minds. Thanks again for your insight, diannaart.

    nurses1968, It’s Time to put your slippers on and let the better people take over the pathmaking for the Labor Party in great need of rejuvenation (NOT neoliberalisation).

  22. nurses1968

    No, accepting of reality JMS
    You can keep up the Ostrich stance and change your mind regularly but the reality is polls give an indication of the community view and the main poll, the Election is the poll that needs winning
    I’ll chose my degree of involvement in Labor thanks all the same

  23. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    I think you mean ‘choose’.

    “Accepting of reality” is a cop-out constructed by lazy political apparatchiks, who have given up on meaningful political reforms and advancements and have just settled for political games and humdrum pretence of higher goals.

  24. nurses1968

    oo aah I left out an “o”
    I think I’ll sleep ok regardless 😀

  25. Matters Not

    Political parties driven by the pursuit of both the ‘right’ and the ‘good’ need to be aware of what the polls are saying. Polls certainly show the way to ‘political success’, at least in the short term, BUT that’s also their potential moral and ethical limitation(s).

    Good and right political leadership proceeds from the IS to the OUGHT. And sadly that’s what’s lacking here in Australia and elsewhere. nurses1968 knows that – I hope.

  26. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    nurses1968 likes to think he’s operating the ethical compass until the magnetic pol(l)es take control.

    Too bad then when the hands face either up or down without any considered different path.

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