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Category Archives: Social Justice

Our very own Marie Antoinette moment

It is a sign of the times that, within the worst cost-of-living crisis in Australia for nearly a century, we are even contemplating the return of the Spring Racing Carnival in Melbourne.

We are in the grip of an inequality tsunami. Never have so many gone hungry. Never have so many been actually homeless. Never have the wage-earners of this country struggled so hard to make ends meet.

The last four years have seen arguably the worst bushfire season in recorded history, a severe drought, and now catastrophic floods down the entire east coast, from Queensland to Tasmania.

There is a meaningless debate as to whether floods are worse than bushfires. It does not matter; both devastate the land, and blight the lives of the humans who live anywhere near them. Of course the damage to the economy leaks out to the region, the state, and the whole country.

Although Australia is a land of weather extremes, it becomes clearer every day that something is indeed very wrong. Not only with our own weather and climate, but that of the entire planet.

Deadly floods in parts of Europe, and then drought with the following summer. Record temperatures in Britain and across Scandinavia. In North America, heatwaves and wildfires to the west, and ruinous floods and hurricanes to the east.

South America’s rainfall patterns are out of whack, Andean glaciers are melting, while the Amazon disappears, square mile by square mile. The continent is heating up, and millions are leaving for the United States.

In the Arctic Ocean winter ice is becoming a novelty. The Antarctic is calving icebergs bigger than buildings. Penguins in the south, and polar bears in the north are becoming the sacrificial victims of our negligence.

A pandemic which has so far killed millions, and continues to kill the unvaccinated, and the vulnerable. A special group in Australia, the elderly, are being covertly sacrificed to our hedonism and greed.

Africa is reeling from crop failures, drought and the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic. Very few are vaccinated, and millions are moving out of their homes, in search of a better life. Nigeria is in the grip of floods, and in the neighbouring Indian sub-continent both Pakistan and Bangladesh have been battered by great heat last year, and now flooding rains.

There is a war in Ukraine. The parallels with Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939 are chilling, and the level of destruction and suffering inflicted on the Ukrainian civilians is almost mediaeval in its mindless cruelty.

Of course, with the invasion, Russia has destroyed the goal of transitioning away from fossil fuel, because winter is coming, and Europe depends on Russian gas for its heating needs.

This feeds into the developed countries’ apparent reluctance to do anything meaningful about reducing emissions. So the earth is caught in a pincer movement, between allowing millions of Ukrainians to die of the cold, or allow human civilisation to be cooked by climate change.

And what does Australia do at this time of existential threats? We party. We go to the races, and we waste millions of dollars on pretentious food and wine, while 3 million of our fellow citizens are having to skip meals, and sleep in cars.

One must admire such wilful blindness. Even as the middle class complain of the rise in interest rates, and business complains that one of these days workers MIGHT get a small pay rise, they are guzzling French Champagne, and eating canapes.

Never mind the 3 million Australians who are struggling for life, under the misapprehension that in Australia we do not allow our fellows to starve to death.

As Marie Antoinette was rumoured to have said, “let them eat cake,” we are just about in the same league, with our tone deaf response to inequality, and our clamour to not see the misery around us.

Our federal government continues to dally, trailing its coat on tax cuts for the rich. How many of them, from all the parties, will find that parliamentary business leaves them no choice but to be in the environs of Flemington at around the time the races kick off.

If caught out, they will apologise, and pay it back. No three months in jail for them, for defrauding their employer. Just apologise, and pay it back.

Hunter S. Thompson wrote his famous piece on the Kentucky Derby, and the beasts who debase themselves in and around the racetrack. Read it here and weep.

 

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Farhad Bandesh gets the letter

By Jane Salmon

This sadistic letter (see letter at the bottom of this article) is doing the rounds of Medevac survivors on Bridging Visas. It shows that Labor have yet to end the abuse meted out to those held offshore since 2013. This outrageous immigration stance reduces Labor to the low moral level of Dutton, Morrison and Abbott who used refugees as mere deterrents. Labor’s position is an electoral bonus for the Greens and Teal Independents.

My response:

Going to NZ is brutal for people such as Farhad Bandesh who has long standing friendships, business partnerships and started to build a life here. His cohort has already been bullied with iron bars on Manus at Australia’s behest, made sick, been held in hotel detention and pushed from pillar to post by Australia. We have yet to heal or compensate them adequately. Enough is enough. Farhad has a business here. NZ is splendid, though smaller and less diverse.

It is legal under the Geneva Convention to seek asylum by any means.

The so called “Sovereign Borders” doctrine is rubbish. “Push” factors outweigh any “pull” factors. People only resort to boats if there are no other options. Naval interception happens.

If the Labor Federal Government can create an orderly and efficient visa process and boats will be less attractive. They have so far baulked at this challenge.

Australia has yet to sort out regional processing pathways and processes. Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan remain unstable and unsafe as do Myanmar, Uyghur China and Sri Lanka, parts of Africa. The fact that Bangladesh, Turkey and Pakistan are drawing the majority of refugees speaks for itself.

Why is it that Shorten can start overhauling the NDIS in days … but Giles and O’Neill are still listening to and being stymied by the old guard?

We have a workforce shortage exacerbated by short-sighted racist policies.

Farhad is contributing to industry, commerce, tax and culture. What’s not to love? Ditto Moz, Thanush and their friends.

Labor will be judged by their deeds, not their rhetoric. Their actions have not significantly separated them from racist bigoted (thug) leaders like Dutton, Abbott, Morrison or Molan to date.

The culture of Home Affairs, ABF, Immigration and their contractors is unacceptable. There seems to be no capacity for change. Pezullo should not be retained.

Ongoing displacement and abuse of this cohort is intolerable. They need to heal. Healing from trauma takes peace, consistency and security.

People like Farhad, Moz and Thanush are contributors not takers. They are forgiving, resilient and capable. Their departure to the NZ or US would be our loss. That they can tolerate Australians after the abuse they have suffered at our hands is remarkable.

As an Australian citizen of 66 years, I (like others) are being denied the opportunity to maintain and develop established friendships with them.

I can promise Albo that if he behaves like Morrison he will be treated like Morrison.

Refugee advocates don’t discriminate.

Albanese needs to show moral courage.

Ending the abuse of the Bilo family was great.

But it is now overdue for Labor to prove it wasn’t a shallow gesture. End all the ongoing abuse and repair the damage.

The refugee sector will judge Labor by its acts. They end the suffering or we will help turn every marginal Teal and Green.

They get on with it or can expect a world of pain.

On the other hand, we will be very grateful for acts that substantively differentiate the current Immigration regime from that administered by Dutton, Tudge, Andrews, Morrison.

Albo, O’Neill, Giles may expect the political fate of Keneally if they further harm our refugee friends. These people are as much victims of Labor’s moral cowardice as of (bogan racist security nuts on the conservative side of politics) LNP.

Talk is cheap. Action is what matters.

As someone who has spent years trying to provide 24/7 mental health support to traumatised victims of sovereign borders policy these letters seems incredibly destructive of any hard won equanimity. It is violent to maintain this abuse. I resent the vicarious distress.

We have not yet offered reparation or fully addressed the mental and physical harm of offshore.

Pamela Curr can describe the birth trauma of women on Nauru in great detail.

These men deserve our love and care. They deserve a fair go within Australia.

Anything less is intolerable.

Jimmy Barnes, Jim Moginie of Midnight Oil, Miss Higgins, Mark Seymour, Simon Holmes a Court, artists, Angus McDonald, Craig Foster and the independent political bloc or Teals, the Bilo campaign, Gillian Triggs AND many rural Australians have demonstrated their care. Many want to share Australia with Farhad, Thanush, Moz and their cohort.

Finally the signatories to these letters are shameless and obsessively vindictive. They have already abused these men in detention using Australian taxpayer money for 9 years, opposed them in court and then demanded costs.

On the other hand, we’ll celebrate every good thing Labor does. It’s up to them. We are a very cohesive community, either way.

*(Some lawyers, Human Rights Watch and others like RCOA might have suggested that these letters carry very little legal weight but that the government will ramp up the harassment.)

 

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When does neglect under “Sovereign Borders” become a war crime?

By Jane Salmon

Afghans living overseas are certainly refugees since the fall of Kabul and US withdrawal a year ago. Therefore, the Hazara minority, who have been abused under every Afghan government for hundreds of years have been refugees even longer.

Australia has had a longstanding policy of not letting many refugees in via Indonesia, even though those already there have no rights while stranded in Indonesia and nowhere else to go. That is, we try to neutralise any attraction Australia may offer to refugees under the “Sovereign Borders” doctrine of deterrence.

As a result, there are Hazaras stuck on our doorstep in Indonesia, unable to work, nor to go forward or back. This is stranger when we consider that Australia has not met our own intake quotas over Covid and has a labour shortage.

Many people have now caught up with the Alfred Pek film about refugees in Indonesia called “Freedom Street” which outlines some of the issues.

The Australian Government gives an agency called the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) money to manage the Afghan refugees in Indonesia over there … rather than here.

And this is where 13500 of them experience limbo since fleeing Afghanistan.

Perhaps then it is unsurprising that, following the US and Australian withdrawal from Afghanistan a year ago, Australia has messed around refugees from Afghanistan too.

We have not systematically uplifted or accepted our fair share of military assistants or interpreters let alone regular Afghan refugees. The turn backs at the airport, the lack of a systematic way out, the chaos of stranding female professionals (banned from working and learning by the Taliban) and even of preventing family members of refugees detained in Australia from accessing help will challenge the imagination of the average Aussie. High profile sportswomen or judges may get through but they are the exception that proves an overall rule.

Australia has, as stated, a policy of preventing regional processing from logical staging posts like Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia. There is no proper queue for Aussie asylum seeker visas. Not only does this prevent Australia from benefitting from the skills and education of some of the most clever refugees available to our dwindling labour force, but it is also cruel.

We won’t let the Hazaras in Indonesia come here. Yet they have few other options. They certainly cannot go back.

Worse, the Hazaras kept at our behest on the streets of Indonesia for a decade are still not obtaining solutions or even adequate day to day support from Australia.

Rather than let them arrive and thrive, Australia flips thousands of taxpayer dollars per stranded refugee to IOM rather than bring them here. IOM in turn sell the refugees to the lowest cost service provider or contractor. After a while, these practices resemble people trafficking for profit.

I spoke to a couple of Hazaras in Indonesia over the weekend.

One, Ghaznavi, is a gorgeous young chap who turned his hand to baking bread and tiling, despite work bans and his very apparent higher education.

I was surprised to hear that his biggest concern is not getting off the streets or fundraising sponsorship to Canada. His priority is obtaining money to help his beloved Mum with medical bills. She is in turn stranded in Quetta, Pakistan with what appears to be throat cancer.

On Friday night I stared at the pile of his mother’s medical receipts and the pathology notes he had shared, realising that Medicare had covered very similar pathology and chemotherapy when I was being treated for advanced breast cancer over twelve years ago. The cruel contrast in our situations was hard to contemplate.

“I only have one Mum. However the cost is very high because my mum has no Identity of Pakistan. We are Afghan and the cost is expected higher.”

Undaunted, the Hazara diaspora in Indonesia has attempted to create educational opportunities for their kids by running their own schools. Cesarua is home to one such, though Prime Minister skipped it on his Indo tour in early June.

And this unity if purpose is also how a pair of highly qualified Hazara people met in Indonesia, had children and huddle in an unlit room in Timor. They are together, married but relatively broke and without work rights in Indonesia.

Alireza Quanbari has multiple degrees (automotive engineering AND political science) but is not entitled to work. His brilliant wife Kubara Hasani has a bachelor’s degree in industrial management. They have two children, Ava who is 6, and Benjamin, 4, to raise in Kupang – Nusa Tinggara Timor or NTT.

IOM pays for budget services and a small amount per head. No matter how much IOM is given, the actual supports are scant and delivered cheaply.

So when Alireza’s pregnant wife needed a caesarean, she was told she must deliver naturally to save on medical costs to IOM’s “health provider”.

“Our first child had to be delivered by caesarean section because she was big, but IOM to reduce the cost, decided my wife had to give birth naturally. So my child was stuck in the vaginal canal for hours and she did not get enough oxygen. Many of her current problems are caused by the same negligence”.

As anticipated, their first born child became stuck in the birth canal, suffered anoxia and was eventually born with intellectual challenges and additional needs. There was damage to the health of Alireza’s poor wife Kubani, too.

Is IOM, acting as an agent of Australia, denying a woman in labour an emergency caesarean a crime against her human rights? Because that’s almost how it looks from here.

When, on Saturday night when my strapping adult son bemoans his autism, I can comfort him that at least he had an optimal birth, access to therapies, food, power, wifi, school and even higher study.

Alireza’s intelligent and highly educated family on the other hand have nothing except two children with intellectual challenges share a windowless, power free single room without their own sanitation.

This literal accident of birth is unfathomable. In a colonised and militarised country occupied by first Soviet and then Allied forces, very intelligent and educated Hazaras have faced racial discrimination as systematic as that facing the Jews of Europe during World War II. If they fled Afghanistan, they are abused all over again by Australia in the name of deterrence and of reducing “pull factors” under the Sovereign Borders doctrine.

Four similar refugees died of diseases like strokes in less than twenty days in July in Indonesia. The stranded refugee suicide rate runs at around 8.43% of the overall population of 13500.

When I look into the eyes of any Australian Government leader from the past decade, this is what I see. I see women (with more grace, education and humanity than I) and their children being denied a basic right like proper birth care. I see bogan racists voting to deny them a chance to live better.

What are we Aussies doing about this since the May federal election? Surely any of us with compassion want to see these people who have been subjected to medical neglect by Australia’s proxies (IOM), here and safe and given opportunity. We need them as much as they need us.

These intelligent, cultured people offer our communities revelation and our consciences salvation, rather than any sort of inundation.

Australia have warehoused especially vulnerable Afghan refugees in Indonesia in an impossible situation even while the Allies armed forces coalition utilised their home country as a strategic stepping stone.

We babble on about Russian abuses in the Ukraine, but overlook our own. Isn’t being denied an emergency caesarean for the sake of funding on a par with other war crimes? And isn’t it closer to home?

Our Immigration system needs a lot of fixing. Minister Clare O’Neil has sent out her deputy Andrew Giles to meet with community groups begging for a fair go such as Permanent Residency and an end to the visa processing backlog.

It is to be hoped that the more elusive Home Affairs Minister has her sleeves rolled up and is getting on with the many tasks required to fix this decade old mess of immigration visas, including those for refugees stuck in Indonesia.

If Foreign Minister Senator Penny Wong can arrange 3000 visas to Solomon Islanders in the first week of this Government, it is pitiful that we STILL have such a mess on our hands by the 12th week.

Our involvement in the Afghan war makes us accountable for the wellbeing of Afghans. It is no different from the accountability of allied troops for Jewish war orphans in occupied Europe, or those affected by the bombing of Japan, Korea or Vietnam*. The Allies used their homeland to settle scores rather than our own. Even a hardened warrior like Jim Molan should be able to comprehend that.

*As a career soldier’s daughter, I still find it appropriate to support a Vietnamese orphanage.

 

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Refugees and Changing Political Narratives

By Andrew Klein

The challenges of the Global Refugee Crisis often appear unmet or lost in the narrative of political leaders attempting to use the ‘latest military’ problem to divert funding from genuine refugee problems.

In other cases, such as Haiti, the UN response led to an increase in local problems such as disease spread by UN military personnel and allegations of the selling of services and goods for sexual and other favours.

There is no doubt that aid and assistance have by their very nature taken on a ‘corporate approach’ and as such is due for a serious independent audit and review of the nature of contracts and world’s best practice responses to a humanitarian crisis.

The inability to provide housing that is more substantial than plastic tents speaks for itself and raises concerns. The world is facing a global shift in populations and both Internal and external refugees seeking to either escape from either life-threatening situations or in some cases the search for a better economic life.

The West is often seen as frowning on those that become refugees for economic reasons; this is nonsense as the very desire to better oneself and to provide for families is otherwise seen as an admirable quality in human beings.

The crisis in Africa and Syria have now become the reading material of students, which gives an indication of how long these matters have not been addressed, though huge amounts of funds have been channelled to various locations. Syria and the displacement of persons due to the actions of the Islamic State have reached new heights and the response has been woeful.

It has become apparent to me that an entire new language has developed to minimise the impact of what it means to be a refugee. One that allows the conscience of others to rest comfortably as other matters are addressed.

Uganda is another case in point where ordinary people are willing to re-build, to learn and to contribute to their society. It would not be too difficult to provide not only proper housing but the infra-structure that young refugees will need to be educated, i.e. IT Services and PC’s. Decent Housing and stability is essential for any family group to thrive. The provision of required documentation is not a major hurdle in these days of mega data and the ability to put ‘standing armies’ in the field.

The abilities of western armies to provide quality housing, communication and other ‘comforts’ can be observed in operational areas. If this can be done for armies, this can be done for refugees as long as the profiteering and corruption is curtailed.

Refugees as people must be seen as an investment in the future and not a burden. Cultures survive because they are diverse and can draw on the skills provided by such diversity. Not to embrace diversity is to insulate and isolate oneself from the potential that human beings bring. The danger lies in creating persons who become generational refugees, with all the fears and uncertainties that apply. These same individuals may easily become so disenchanted with the promises made and broken that they are either forced into a life which many would regard as undesirable (prostitution, low level crime etc.) or on the other hand be driven into the hands of those recruiting for the many groups funded to create ‘terror’, and there seems plenty of funding and recruiters available for this.

No State and body of States can function with such variables and leave themselves open to social unrest for years to come. It is time to address the ‘refugee’ problem seriously, eliminate corruption and provide quality of life to those who, for whatever reason, have been driven to become refugees.

Australia’s solutions over the last nine years leads one to doubt not just the humanity but the sanity of those who implemented the Morrison solutions. The United Kingdom under the apparently intellectually challenged and spoilt man-child Boris Johnson is merrily heading down the path that Australia created.

The same self-serving populist speak and a rather bizarre solution, sending refugees and asylum seekers to Rwanda. What would we find if we followed the money trails, both in Australia and the United Kingdom? There are still many questions left unanswered and the mainstream media is complicit by giving race baiting and populist propaganda oxygen.

 

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The transphobia “moral” panic

People contributing to anti trans rhetoric are playing a much more dangerous game than they realise.

The current wave of anti-trans sentiment will lead to more violence and victimisation. Initially the attacks will hit people who are visibly trans women. Eventually, it will spread to anyone who is LGBTQI+. The same forces promoting this violence are those aiming to limit women’s rights, and ultimately purge their countries of unwelcome categories of people.

Be very sure you know what you are doing if you join in.

In America over one weekend in Pride Month alone, extremism monitors tracked “seven in-person extremist activities targeting LGBTQ people.” In the most dramatic event, 31 uniformed men in balaclavas were dragged from a U-Haul vehicle before they could create a “riot” at a Pride event in Idaho.

American political aspirants and preachers demanded death penalties for homosexuality in a year when 250 anti LGBTQI+ bills were introduced around that nation. In Ohio laws were passed that would allow the genital inspection of secondary and tertiary female student athletes. In Idaho, the law would make it a life-sentence felony for parents or doctors to help trans youth gain puberty delaying treatment, including making it a trafficking offence to take them out of the state in pursuit of medical care.

This hysteria feels much more extreme than in Australia, but as we saw on our streets over the pandemic, the violence of the turbulent world of American politics is brought here through internet swamps. Trump flags and nooses appeared in our street protests. Australians unknowingly appealed to American constitutional amendments for protection from health measures. Most Australians were shocked to see violent brawls with the police on our streets apparently emerging out of nowhere.

And in the global sewers of the internet, the reasons for the panic are clear. Of all the manifold bigotries that pervade the space, the one with the most convergence is that gay or trans people are pedophiles. That facts dismiss this as nonsense is no help; facts long since ceased having traction in this sphere.

This iteration of social contagion is not surprising. It is easier to absorb a “moral” panic when it confirms feelings of discomfort or incomprehension. Again, when it builds on earlier waves of “moral” panic, the new variant can confirm previous prejudice.

The “save our children” hysteria of the QAnon movement crescendoed in the worst of the pandemic. Lonely and frightened people sat at home on their computers absorbing a fantasy built on earlier waves of child stealing (and sacrificing) panics. Some of the people caught up in the QAnon cult would have been immersed in the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s where childcare operators were persecuted over baseless accusations of mass child abuse. QAnon proved they hadn’t been fools to believe.

The trans panic of this moment calls upon earlier fear and horror at the existence of Queer people in general. It was only in 1994 that mainland Australia legalised homosexuality, with Tasmania following three years later. The religious campaign against marriage equality during the postal vote in 2017 harnessed all the risks and threats that conservative Australians might dread.

The success of the equality vote brought change. Queer people in Australia described feeling accepted and finally welcome as part of the community. People felt newly safe to hold hands with their partner in the street.

These changes are recent and fragile. The Religious Right is fighting hard to limit equality, then ultimately to reverse it. This is most clearly apparent in the United States, but Australia saw Scott Morrison’s faction echoing its strategies. His religious discrimination bill aimed to grant religious groups the right to practise discrimination. In the election, Morrison’s decision to harness Katherine Deves’s feminist transphobia aimed to draw in a fresh base for his religious bigotry.

*And this feminist support for transphobia needs to be seen for what it is. “How the far right is turning feminists into fascists” traces the trajectory from some early radical feminist movements to the new anti-trans “feminism.” It is as likely to celebrate women for their child-bearing capacity as it is to echo ethnonationalist ideas. While feminisms are a broad range of beliefs, this kind seems grim.

The American Religious Right which Scott Morrison aimed to inject into Australian politics is infused with the theocratic belief in the absolute necessity for Evangelical/Pentecostal Christians to purify society. Christian Nationalism demands that all sexual activity in the state is procreative and within marriage. All men must be strong patriarchs. All women must be submissive wives. The Religious Right has not, however, placed itself at the centre of American “conservative” politics by being clumsy. It has deployed any strategy to achieve its aims, and encouraging women outside the churches to define their value in their reproductive capacity has been useful. It both works to aid the Religious Right’s war on women’s reproductive freedom as well as gaining allies against the LGBTQI+ people who would blur the boundaries.

They have convinced a sizeable proportion of America that progressives demand abortion up to the point of birth. The ludicrous parallel distortion is the depiction of trans women as a threat to other women. Both nightmare boogeymen prevent rational discussion of the issue, but rational discussion was never the goal.

The issue in America is driven from the top by well-funded Christian Libertarian thinktanks, and from the ground in the post-QAnon MAGA base. Republican politicians believe they have the key to minority rule in juggling these interest groups. In Australia, the nascent Religious Right is regrouping after Scott Morrison’s defeat. The secular version of their talking points is being amplified on Sky News, funnelled free-to-air into the regions.

When decent Australians allow themselves to be carried along by the wave of this moral panic, they are not defending women. What they are doing is becoming caught up on the rational-sounding fringes of a hysteria that will lead to violence.

The overlapping groups attacking LGBTQI+ people in America include Christian fascists and post QAnon conspiracy theorists alongside a range of other extremist factions. Anti-LGBTQI action has overtaken all the other “cross-pollination opportunities” like CRT, pandemic health measures and abortion access.

The violence in Australia is unlikely to look like militia in U-Hauls, but how many bashings or murders would be acceptable? The attack on trans people – or abortion – are not ends in themselves but trojan horse missions with the aim to replace our democratic projects with theocracy, and our freedoms to shape our lives with stringent rules of chaste behaviour.

We need to work together, just like the overlapping groups that despise us.

 

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Beyond Bilo

Advocates look to RESET Australia’s Refugee Policy After #HometoBiloela

Media Release 12 June 2022

“This is a weekend of rejoicing for thousands of Australians as Priya, Nades, Kopika and Tharnicaa returned home to Biloela. Their fabled journey of suffering and abuse and yesterday’s fanfare return to Biloela have been very public.

It is a story that resonates with warm Australians on a deep human, almost mythical, level. We feel proud to be generous and compassionate,” reflected Fabia Claridge, co-convener of People Just Like Us.

“We have fixated on confected racist false narratives for too long.”

The ordeals of this iconic refugee family are not unique. Australia needs the contribution of migrants and refugees on all levels,” says PJLU (People Just Like Us).” (1)

Refugee organisation “People Just Like Us” (or PJLU) is calling for ALL refugees and asylum seekers on Bridging Visas to be given permanent protection: not just TPV & SHEV holders. (2)

“Let’s not kowtow to the Shadow cabinet. They are no longer in government. Progressives have been elected instead.

Forever finding reasons NOT to act on asylum seekers has proven morally and politically debilitating. It is to give in to racist slurs and xenophobia. As Bill Shorten has found with NDIS, it is also a lawyers’ picnic at taxpayer expense. Let’s quickly settle the refugee backlog, so we have oxygen for the other enormous issues we need to tackle as a nation,” Claridge said.

“First, the minister of immigration has ‘god powers’ legislated by the LNP. Why not use them to cut through the red tape, the endless court hearings and reviews, the before and after dates, the Kafkaesque morass – all designed to delay and block?”

Next, when we see the decisive action announced this week by Foreign Minister Senator Wong to grant 3,000 visas per year, giving Pacific Islanders a pathway to permanency, we see how easy it is to act when you really want to. We applaud this. It shows that where there is a will, there IS a way.

“We applaud that Labor has already promised to give permanent residency to people holding Temporary Protection visas and SHEV visas. They are already here working by our side, sitting on the train next to us, paying taxes. They just need security and safety so they can help build a better, more harmonious future. No one need be left behind, as Prime Minister Albanese has said.”

“Thousands of others (families, sons, daughters, husbands, fathers, mothers) are in the same predicament as the Nadesalingam family. All are the victims of a flawed and biased system under the Liberal government for the last 9 years. Bullied into silence, they have been deliberately kept secret. They too have lived in fear of deportation to danger. Many, like the Tamil family, come from persecuted groups within danger zones such as the Rohingya and the Hazara from Afghanistan.”

An “amnesty” or permanent truce in the war on refugees would be a logical step in the refugee policy reset.

While not every asylum seeker coming by boat has a strong claim, Australia has illegally detained and tortured them (according to the Refugee Convention) for more than 9, 10 years. They have actually been persecuted by our government under our own cruel refugee policy. Therefore, they deserve the permanent protection/ residency from Australia.

An important aspect of this is to decouple refugees issues from national “security” concepts. This false narrative has debased our whole nation,” concludes Ms Claridge. “Mode of arrival has nothing to do with refugee needs, character, skills or objectives.”

Credlin must acknowledge that cruelty does not work. The boats never actually stopped. Stealthy turnbacks or refoulements occurred constantly.

Secondly, the incoming Australian Federal Government is urged to work with UNHCR and Indonesia to set up the “safe passage” for refugees trapped in Indonesia.

“This cohort of refugees in Indonesia are clearly within the purview of Australia since they have been warehoused there for almost a decade at the behest of Australia and at our expense”, says Claridge.

“They are about 13,700 in number. Half are Afghan. Stateless Rohingya languish there, too. Previous governments have paid to maintain a secretive network of detention centres throughout Indonesia (via IOM).

Some of those have now been closed, but refugees are still trapped there with no work rights, no study rights and no right to travel internally within Indonesia. Indonesia is not a signatory to The Refugee Convention. It is also a multi-racial nation facing economic challenges.

“Indonesia is an open prison for stranded refugees. People cannot plan a future or get on with their lives. Record rates of refugee suicide are testimony to desperation and despair. This system is deliberately designed to steal essential hope. Daily protests on the streets are met with police bashings. Sadly, during Prime Minister Albanese’s visit to Makassar some of our friends were forcibly locked up so that they could not protest.”

“By making a visit to Indonesia a top priority this week Prime Minister Albanese and Foreign Minister Wong established that they esteem collegiate relations with our near neighbour. Both in Asia and in the Pacific, they understand it’s time for Australia to embrace equality and to end the arrogant colonial behaviour of the previous government.”

Ms Claridge emphasised, “It is both neighbourly and strategic to resolve this backlog of suffering on our doorstep.”

“People Just Like Us is therefore calling for a one-off intake of refugees from Indonesia to clear the backlog at source. This is where most boats come from. Give people a better option and they will never risk their children’s’ lives on a boat. Time and again we have been told that.

Given the hiatus in migrant intake over the past few years, it is a perfect time to do this. Australia currently needs all sorts of workers, skilled and ‘unskilled’”. (3)

“A one-off intake of refugees from Indonesia can demonstrate Australia’s willingness to reset the whole future of regional cooperation in the refugee space. A regional solution reset would systematically manage the flow of people through SE Asia rather than merely deter desperate people by creating insurmountable blockages.”

For details, please contact People Just Like Us.

Notes:

(1) “Raising Australia’s refugee intake would boost economy by billions, Oxfam says” by Helen Davidson (The Guardian, 28 Aug 2019).

(2) The number of those who need asylum has not been transparent and needs clarification: roughly 29,210 in total; including BVs (Backlog) 9,705, PNG, Nauru and Medevac around 500 (less those opting to go to US, NZ and CA), and TPVs and SHEV holders roughly 19,000.

(3) “When we open up, open up big: economists say we need more migrants” by Peter Martin (The Conversation, 20 Feb 2022).

 

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Advocates calling for more collaboration with Indonesia on refugee issues

People Just Like Us (PJLU) Media Release

Representatives of the new Albanese Labor Government visited Indonesia this week. Refugee advocacy group, People Just Like Us, today urges that the newly elected Labor Government takes the chance to “reset” our relationship with our Asian neighbours on refugee issues by setting up “safe passage” for those refugees trapped in Indonesia.

There are around 14,000 refugees trapped in Indonesia for more than a decade, among them more than 7,000 were from Afghanistan.

In the last ten years, Australia accepted only 54 people annually on average from Indonesia. There have been daily refugee protests on the streets in all major cities in Indonesia. People are losing hopes and dying.

“We need to significantly increase the refugee intake from Indonesia. We should work with Indonesia government and UNHCR to take more refugees from our region. No one will risk their own precious life to come to Australia by boat if they know there is orderly pass-way existed. Refugees are willing to wait for a reasonable time for assessment and process,” said Fabia Clairage, convenor of People Just Like Us.

“Furthermore, it would demonstrate that Australia is proactive about a regional solution and demonstrate that Australia is prepared to do some heavy lifting as a country built on migration. It would be an opportunity to support our neighbour Indonesia by removing the suffering families suiciding on its streets and bringing them to Australia. It would also mark a departure from the colonial behaviour of dumping on our neighbours those we choose to reject.

“It will save the government’s budget on ‘border protection’ whilst enhancing our ability to safely and fairly assess the refugees right on our doorstep,” she concludes.

For details, please contact People Just Like Us.

 

 

 

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The savagery of ignorance – We will decide

By David Ayliffe

“We will decide”

When the savagery of ignorance

makes the savagery of innocence

The cruellest cut of all.

“Who will come.”

As the wise men drive past

Eyes-glazed staring at the crying eyes

of the children at the windows of their prison,

hotel of leisure.

“To this country.”

They are determined to do nothing to ease

that suffering of the rejected ones –

the comfort of their cars too great.

“And the manner in which.”

That savagery of ignorance

Makes the savagery of innocence

The cruellest cut of all.

“They come.”

Still,

“I stopped the boats.”

the child King proudly says.

Staring at the windows

Where the sinners,

mothers’ sons and daughters

hang crucified

outside the city of the damned.

Yet he prays wearing out the carpet next to his bed.

But the prophets of hate

still preach at the gate

till their words become blood

on the ground.

“They have a go and get a go.”

What then of the suffering children?

We will decide who will come to this country and the manner in which they come.


Freedom Is Mine – Victorian Pride Centre

I wrote the above poem about the work to which I am committed supporting LGBTQI+ refugees from Africa and other places. Yes, my poem is political but I do not apologise.

I have just attended the launch of the “FREEDOM IS MINE” exhibition at Melbourne’s beautiful Victorian Pride Centre, St Kilda. FREEDOM IS MINE is a raw and powerful portrait exhibition of LGBTQI+ people seeking asylum in Australia, members of not for profit Many Coloured Sky’s Queer Refugee and Asylum Seeker Peers (QRASP) community.

This was a powerful evening. I found the photographs and the brief text that accompanies each one very moving indeed.

Consider just one:

“For an LGBTQI+ person, life is like a boat on the ocean.

Waves will try to knock you down and push you back to where you started.

But if you fight through them, the entire ocean is yours.”

The person who wrote this is discovering a whole new world of promise, an entire ocean. On the way though there are far too many who have drowned. Not because of politicians’ descriptions of leaking boats, but because of words that people say that put holes in their hearts and in their minds and a violent world that will not accept them for who they are.

 

Image from The Pride Centre

In Australia, But Seeking Welcome

A real welcome for the wonderful volunteers working with Many Coloured Sky would be for their efforts in our community to be recognised with permanent residency. Nevertheless, it was wonderful to hear the stories of refugees still suffering their lack of acceptance from the land they love, but committed to caring for each other along the way, and working tirelessly to that end.

Thank You, Malcolm Farr

In the poem, I use the expression “The Savagery of Ignorance.” It is a very powerful expression but not my own. Veteran journalist Malcolm Farr used it on ABC television’s The Drum recently when commenting in a segment about a new podcast “The Greatest Menace.” The podcast focuses on the world’s only known “gay prison,” which operated in Cooma, NSW, to house men convicted of homosexual offences. Can you believe it? Ah, Australia we have so much to be proud of in our history(!)

Farr’s comment related to a phrase used in 1958 by a then NSW Police Commissioner: “Homosexuality is the “greatest menacefacing Australia.” It was because of attitudes like that the gay prison in Cooma was established. So cruel that the horrendous practise of gay conversion therapy, normally attributed to ultra-conservative religious groups, was then practised in that prison by the State.

Talk about injustice.

Preachers Of Hate

In the poem, I speak of the preachers of hate. We haven’t moved far enough from that repulsive statement by a forgotten police commission in the late 1950s. During the dreaded 2017 plebiscite under the Prime Ministership of a man we had such hopes for, Malcolm Turnbull, every gay, lesbian and trans person in Australia was put on public display to be judged by the populace of Australia as to whether they were worthy of having their love relationships recognised or not. At the time perhaps it was the only way to get past the hard right in his party who were so against it and who still wield power and control. Thankfully back then Australia proved the hard right politicians just how wrong they were.

Yet it was only in 1997 that Tasmania became the last Australian state to change the repressive laws that criminalised homosexuality. Only twenty-four years ago! And it was just over a year ago that South Australia became the last state to abolish the “gay panic” laws that allowed that defence to be made to reduce a murder charge to manslaughter. Incredible.

Religious Discrimination

Not surprising then that in the last weeks of sitting of the current government, that furphy of a Religious Discrimination Law was being discussed – a promise of another conservative Prime Minister. If passed it would, give conservatives their way and enable Government-funded religious schools the enshrined right to discriminate against people who didn’t comply with their beliefs. It would include gay and trans people. Ironically, just prior to this in the news we were horrified to read of Citipoint School, part of the Hillsong network, where parents were required to sign agreeing to a definition of sexuality that precluded anyone but heterosexuals and that would give the school the right to dismiss gay and trans students for the crime of being themselves.

Shame.

All of this is bad enough in Australia but take the words of the preachers of hate to other continents, say, Africa and those words became the fuel for a fire that literally destroys people because of their sexuality. The preachers and politicians literally have blood on their hands and don’t care. Many countries in Africa still criminalise homosexuality both in public and private. In private? The organisation with which I am associated, “Humanity in Need – Rainbow Refugees” deals with LGBTQI+ refugees from Uganda who have fled persecution from families, churches, neighbours and the state. Oftentimes gay men or lesbians will tell of their partners being killed by their families or their neighbours and police turning a blind eye. Fearing retribution against themselves, they flee to Kenya where there are two refugee camps (that Kenya plans to close) but where also homosexuals and trans people are outlawed. So much for asylum. So much for refuge.

 

Image from The Pride Centre

Homophobic Gangs Rape And Kill

In the camps homophobic refugee gangs will persecute, abuse, beat up and rape LGBTQI+ refugees. In the view of these gangs the LGBTQI+ people are not human after all. They have heard enough preaching against these “vessels of the devil” so their attacks for some become “God’s work.” The words of the preachers of hate from America whose message is clear through social media and YouTube inspires them. So too are the words of conservative people in Australia and other countries.

We have seen community blocks in Kakuma Refugee Camp burnt to the ground with people inside killed or injured so badly that they cannot survive. We know of lesbians raped by the mobs, and sometimes even by the police, to help cure them of the evil that makes them who they are.

Recently we supported:

  • a man to have surgery after his nose was slashed off by a machete wielded by someone who saw the devil in him.
  • a lesbian to have surgery to repair internal damage because of rape.
  • a young boy to be reunited with his birth father – the boy faced violent attacks from his community because his birth father was gay and therefore the innocent boy was contaminated.
  • a food program to supplement the meagre supplies the UNHCR is able to give refugees
  • medical care when in some cases it has been denied, and
  • we continue to help fund safe houses in Nairobi where LGBTQI+ folk desperate to find safety in welcoming countries find some security.

What then of the man whose rotting foot may soon be amputated because we can’t raise the money to pay the medical bills that will save him.? Or the ex-Kakuma refugee (who fled in fear after murders and violence there), and who is about to be deported back to Uganda from Somalia to face possible death because he lacks bail money? And so many more.

I wrote the poem and do this work because as a Christian I am angered by the hatred that conservative religious people and others vomit that leads to this violence. There is a direct link between their religiously inspired hatred and lives lost. Homophobia hidden behind ancient religious texts is the worst kind. It purports to be holy, but it is simply wholly wrong.

Humanity Needs Us

Why is it that few churches, who purport to preach a Gospel of a loving God, will out themselves to support these least of the least.

After all, you don’t have to be a person of colour to care about race.

You don’t have to be an Aborigine to care about the injustice against our First Nations People. You also don’t have to be an LGBTQI+ person to fight for equality and mercy for the LBGTQI+ community.

Please join us.

Don’t be like the child king in the poem who boasts of stopping boats.

Don’t be like the wise men comfortable in their Commonwealth cars and unable to empathise with the genuine plight of refugees held in detention either in this country or those seeking refuge from abuse in their own.

We are currently developing a partnership that will enable tax deductibility for donations supporting our development work in Africa. This will be announced soon.

Meanwhile, your regular donation, no matter how small will help us demonstrate Australia is no longer the place of the 1950s where we alone of all countries in the world had a recognised prison designated for homosexual men. It will demonstrate that the overwhelming majority of people who supported same-sex marriage are truly representative of a new Australia that values humanity and equality first and not on ancient beliefs that condemn some for being different whilst rewarding others for being the same. Please donate to support our work for refugees in Kenya here:

https://chuffed.org/pay/campaign/75217

The Greatest Menace” podcast

Freedom is Mine Exhibition:

https://pridecentre.org.au/visual-arts-at-the-pride-centre/

http://www.threeforallfoundation.org/

 

Image from The Pride Centre (Photo by Peter Casamento)

 

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The Omicron Murders?

So who will speak on behalf of the dead?

Will they ever lie as forgotten sacrifices in the putrid side gutters of the golden path to profit and mindless economic growth?

Who decided to let a sickness reign unfettered across our land? Was it a collective decision? Did the People agree? Or did one person grab the power and decide to unleash the tide?

Who decided that profit is more precious than life?

Death by accident is accidental death not planned. Death by murder is a crime. But death by Government Policy?

Political fingers at a deniable remove. It wasn’t us. No overt signs of blood on their grabbing strangling hands.

It wasn’t Corporate us. Without growing profit, nothing will trickle down to where nothing ever has or will. We deserve our rewards.

It wasn’t little old Investor us. Who cares if that’s another grandmother, or grandfather, or mother, or father, or child, or stranger, gone. We’ve six houses and we want more. Open things up. Give us our freedoms.

We voted for them. But it wasn’t us. They cater to us because we vote for them. Give us money, more tax breaks, feed our avaricious aspirations. But it wasn’t us, we are just voters. Not killers at all.

Culpability. Hard to define. Hard to pin in place.

The Old and Sick are quietly expendable. More deaths today. More tomorrow.

Government Policy. Who decides it? Who supports it? Who profits by it? Who are these proxies?

Because murder by proxy is still murder indeed.

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Time to end the ‘criminality with impunity’ of Australia’s immigration detention regime

By Max Costello

The unfitness for office of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his coalition government now stands comprehensively exposed. Yet the apparent criminality of Liberal-National cruelty to immigration detainees has somehow remained largely unexposed, unprevented, and unpunished for nearly a decade.

In late August 2014, a formerly fit, healthy, 24 year-old Iranian man, Hamid Khazaei, a detainee in an Australian immigration detention facility (IDF) on PNG’s Manus Island, was belatedly flown here for medical care but arrived, brain dead, at a Brisbane hospital. An infected lesion on his leg had led to sepsis. Life support was turned off on 5 September.

The July 2018 report of Queensland coroner Mr Terry Ryan’s inquest said the death was “preventable”, and identified, among the contributing factors:

(1) Immigration’s failure to stock, at the Manus clinic, Meropenem, an antibiotic that would “safely and effectively treat” most common tropical infections “including Mr Khazaei’s”; and

(2) the “overly bureaucratic” approvals process for medical evacuations, involving at least four levels of public servants in Canberra, that had delayed Mr Khazaei’s airlift.

So, why wasn’t the Immigration department subsequently brought to book? And why, when 21 of 45 detainees in a Melbourne hotel IDF contracted COVID-19 in October 2021 (ABC 7.30, 28/10/21), after being denied vaccines for six months until August (Australian Border Force statement, 29/11/21), has the successor department, Home Affairs, not yet been held to account?

Q: Is there a law against such dangerous neglect? A: Yes, but it’s rarely enforced. Allow me to explain.

What applicable law has been, and is being, apparently broken?

The maltreatment of detainees in the variously named IDFs was and is apparently criminal, because it exposes detainees to preventable risks to their health and safety, thereby contravening criminal offence provisions of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Cth) (WHS Act): it commenced on 1 January 2012.

The WHS Act applies to all Commonwealth workplaces, including IDFs, wherever located: s12F(3) gives the Act “extended geographical jurisdiction” over Commonwealth workplaces located in countries that, like PNG and Nauru, lack a WHS law. Thus the WHS Act applied to the Manus Island regional processing centre (RPC) until it closed on 31/10/17, and could re-apply to the long empty Nauru RPC if re-occupied.

The Act calls a Commonwealth workplace operator a “person conducting a business or undertaking” (a ‘PCBU’). At IDFs, the PCBU is the Commonwealth of Australia – effectively, the relevant government department, namely Home Affairs, and in particular its Australian Border Force (ABF) unit, whose website says, “We are responsible for the management … of [IDFs] including the health and welfare of detainees”. To assist at IDFs, the Commonwealth contracts Serco Australia Pty Ltd (Serco) to provide “garrison services” (e.g., security guards), and International Health and Medical Services Pty Ltd (IHMS).

But IHMS doctors can’t directly refer detainees to specialist external health facilities: they may only recommend such care to a non-medical body, ABF, which decides whether such care will be arranged. Often it’s refused or delayed, as detailed by Health Care Denied: Medevac and the long wait for essential medical treatment in Australian immigration detention (Public Interest Advocacy Centre, 3/12/21).

The WHS Act’s s19 imposes on PCBUs like Immigration/Home Affairs/ABF a “primary duty of care” to “ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the health [including psychological health] and safety of workers [19(1)] and other persons [e.g., IDF detainees, 19(2)] is not put at risk …”.

Section 18 defines “so far as is reasonably practicable” in process terms: PCBUs must identify all potential dangers to health and safety; risk assess each one (how likely to eventuate, how harmful if it does) to tease out all the significant risks; then find available and suitable ways to “eliminate or minimise” each one. Section 17 prioritises elimination: minimisation is sufficient only if elimination is not realistically achievable. In short, the s19(1) & (2) duty is both exacting and pro-actively preventative.

Also, the onerous s27 requires a PCBU’s “officers” (senior decision-makers) to “exercise due diligence to ensure that [their PCBU] complies with [every Act] duty or obligation”.

Non-compliance with s19, s27, and any other “health and safety duty”, is a serious criminal offence.

What the WHS Act’s regulator, Comcare, should do, but has rarely done

Comcare’s key function is “to monitor and enforce compliance with this Act” – s152(b). Since the Act commenced on 1/1/12, Comcare, in relation to IDF detainees, has used two enforcement modes: orders to comply (“improvement notices”) and prosecutions. Comcare’s Annual Reports since 2011–12 record one prosecution: on 3/3/21, two charges each were laid against IHMS and (effectively) Home Affairs, alleging breaches of the s19 duty to ensure the mental health of a detainee at Sydney’s Villawood IDF (prior to his 2019 suicide). The next mention is on 21/12/21. Annual Reports of the Immigration/Home Affairs department show that it incurred nine WHS Act improvement notices from 2011–12 to 2020–21.

Two examples of Comcare non-enforcement in relation to IDF detainees

In February 2019, another refugee advocate and I urged Comcare to prosecute re the Khazaei matter. We suggested that the coroner’s two contributing factors implied grave breaches of the s19(2) duty. On 9/8/19, Comcare emailed me to ‘explain’ why no charges had been laid: “After assessing the Coroner’s Report …, it did not appear to Comcare that an offence had been committed against the WHS Act”. Thus the Khazaei family was denied justice.

Home Affairs/ABF is yet to incur Comcare enforcement action over its neglect of a Melbourne IDF’s 45 detainees. Does Comcare truly believe that denying access to vaccines for 6 months, and other ‘COVID risk’ behaviours (such as making openable windows un-openable), are not serious breaches of the Act?

So, what is to be done? Can the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner discipline Comcare?

No. The Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner Act 2006 (Cth) (LEIC Act) only gives the Commissioner power over law enforcement bodies that are designated as a “law enforcement agency” by that Act or its regulations. Comcare is not. It must be, ASAP. But even then, since the LEIC Act doesn’t refer to agency integrity, just natural person corruption, the Commissioner could only tackle an individual Comcare staffer who “engages in corrupt conduct”, not agency-wide corruption. Thus Comcare would stay ‘captured’ by Home Affairs/ABF re IDF detainees. Clearly, the Act must be amended to empower the Commissioner to deal incisively with blatantly non-enforcing agencies.

Could the media have relentlessly exposed, and Parliament ended, the ‘criminality with impunity’?

Yes. But inexcusably they haven’t, despite being apprised by, e.g., Anna Talbot’s 149-page report, Untold Damage – workplace health and safety in immigration (Australian Lawyers Alliance, 10/6/16). To my knowledge, no Senate Estimates Committee has asked Secretary Pezzullo or Commissioner Outram to instance due diligence steps they have taken to ensure Home Affairs/ABF compliance with the WHS Act at IDFs, or asked Comcare’s CEO why Comcare has so rarely enforced the Act in relation to detainees. Many (most?) Commonwealth politicians have called for a commission to tackle federal level corruption, but not one of them has publicly called out, much less campaigned against, almost a decade of apparent federal level criminality (with near total impunity) at IDFs.

Max Costello, now retired, is a former prosecuting solicitor with WorkSafe Victoria, and a lecturer in Employment Law at Melbourne’s RMIT University. He wrote “Offshore Crimes” (The Monthly online, 22/9/16) and several subsequent refugee-related pieces in Pearls and Irritations. He also co-authored with Robert Richter QC submission 75 to the 2019 Senate Committee considering the government bill aimed at repealing the Medevac amendments to the Migration Act.

 

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Australian Government Must Continue Pressure on Indonesian Government on Human Rights in West Papua

Media Release – Catholic Justice & Peace Commission, Brisbane

The Australian Government must continue pressuring the Indonesian Government to make arrangements to enable a UN human rights mission to West Papua to take place without further delay.

This call was made by Brisbane’s Catholic Justice & Peace Commission on the 7th anniversary of the killing by Indonesian soldiers of 4 teenage boys in the Paniai District in the Highlands of West Papua.

The Commission’s Executive Officer, Peter Arndt, said that Indonesia’s President, Joko Widodo, agreed to a request from the UN for this mission in February 2018, but it is yet to happen.

“The UN mission needs to go ahead without further delay,” Mr. Arndt said.

“The Australian Government has expressed its support for the UN mission both in correspondence to our Commission and in answers to questions at recent Estimates hearings in the Senate,” he said.

“We hope the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister will continue to pressure the Indonesian Government so that an independent investigation into the Paniai massacre and many other human rights violations in West Papua can happen,” he said.

“We have met with the families of the boys killed in Paniai and they have waited far too long for justice,” he said.

“Many other victims’ families and survivors have waited too long for justice too,” he added.

Mr. Arndt said that the Commission has been engaging this year with MPs and Senators to maintain Australian support for the UN mission and to build pressure on the Indonesian Government.

“We are encouraged to see good support for action on West Papua among MPs and Senators from the Government, the Opposition and from the cross benches,” Mr. Arndt said.

“A number of questions on West Papua were asked at Senate Estimates hearings this year,” he said.

“A motion on West Papua was also put on the House of Representatives notice paper by Government MP, George Christensen, and Tasmanian Independent MP, Andrew Wilkie in November and we hope this will be debated in the House when it returns in February 2022,” Mr. Arndt said.

“Our Commission continues to keep in touch with Catholic priests and leaders from other churches in West Papua and also with victims’ families,” he said.

“They have waited far too long for justice and we will continue to offer them our support and solidarity,” he said.

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Manufactured Cruelties: Belarus, Poland and the Refugee Crisis

Refugee crises are often manufactured by governments. They can be done at the source: war, famine, rapacious institutions. They can also be manufactured by the refusal of governments to accept those seeking asylum, sanctuary and refuge.

The latter is very much in evidence in Europe: governments of the European Union are staring down desperate humans keen to travel into the EU; Belarus, engaging in its own form of mega-trafficking, has become a conduit for the movement of asylum seekers and migrants fleeing from Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan.

Despite being granted Belarussian visas at considerable cost, many being initially housed in government hotels, their stay is only intended as temporary. After brief respite, they are pushed towards the country’s border with Poland, Latvia and Lithuania. How they get there is not entirely clear. Some migrants are escorted by uniformed men; others pay additional fees to be transported. It has also been reported that Belarusian security forces have furnished instructions and tools – axes and wire cutters – to aid the crossing of the border. Attempts by Belarussian personnel to destroy border fences near Czeremcha, and disorientate Polish soldiers with stroboscopes and lasers, have also been noted.

Once at the border, the migrants are not allowed to approach any checkpoints to seek asylum. Nor are they allowed to return to Minsk, threatened by Belarusian border guards who insist on keeping them there.

Trapped in purgatorial fashion along the border, the migrants find themselves sleeping in rude conditions and left at the mercy of the elements. There have inadequate supplies, lack warm clothing and are starving. One estimate has put the death toll at nine.

All political sides are making hay from this suffering. Lukashenko can be accused of being an opportunistic trafficker of desperate folk and keen on jailing opponents in a desperate bit to stay in power, but Poland’s Law and Justice Party has happily stirred xenophobic hysteria. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and President Adrzej Duda are part of an administration that does not shy away from demonising arrivals they associate with terrorists with kinky characteristics. Doing so supplies an appropriate distraction from accusations of corruption, galloping inflation and a troubling rise in COVID-19 numbers.

In September, the Minister of the Interior, Mariusz Kamiński, and the National Defence Minister, Mariusz Błaszczak, appeared at a press conference to show a picture of a man copulating with a cow. The content had been allegedly found on a phone belonging to an Afghan migrant lurking in the woods. Spokesman for the Ministry of the Interior, Stanisław Żaryn, suggested that this was an act “associated with sexual disorders,” signalling a government campaign to link refugees with zoophilia and paedophilia.

In a gesture of such refined generosity, TVP Info, the main propaganda outlet of the ruling party, ran a video with a suitably prurient title: “He raped a cow and wanted to enter Poland?” There were two problems with the footage: the material, recorded on a VHS videotape, was drawn from bestiality porn from the 1970s; and the animal in question was a mare, not a cow.

Earlier this month, Duda signed a bill into law to construct what was described as “a high-tech barrier on the border with Belarus to guard against an influx of irregular migrants.” The barrier, valued at some €350 million, was “needed due to increased migratory pressure from Belarus.” The right to asylum had all but entirely vanished.

Liz Throssell, spokesperson from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), is adamant that, “The human rights of migrants and refugees have to come first.” Unfortunately, she was far from informative on what solutions might be pursued on the Belarus-EU border. “It is really important they must be respected under international human rights refugee law, but as for the political dimension to this, I would leave that to others to address”.

Along the Belarus-Polish border, refugees and migrants have been instrumentalised, their rights assiduously ignored. Lukashenko has been accused of using a form of “hybrid” warfare by throwing migrants at the border like willing assailants of rabid intent. The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, makes the point. “It is a hybrid attack, a brutal attack, a violent attack and a shameful attack.” Such nasty terminology has turned those wishing to make their way to the EU into foot soldiers in a political cause they wish to play no part in. Wedged in between this vicious play of power, these unfortunates trapped on the border find themselves divested of their humanity, their desires, their wishes.

The EU is also playing its own vile game, falling back upon frontier states who have held themselves up to be saviours of European civilisation. “It is important that Lukashenko understands that [the regime’s] behaviour comes with a price,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen warned after talks with US President Joe Biden. Sanctions are being considered against the airlines that have been accused of facilitating human trafficking.

There is one final perversion in all this. In essentially condemning human trafficking, the EU and its counterparts are condemning the right to asylum, which such trafficking aids. With that sentiment, von der Leyen would regard Oskar Schindler and his more recent equivalent, Iraq’s Ali Al Jenabi, as traffickers worthy of punishment.

 

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Dear Mr Morrison: “I ask you not to forget Afghanistan”

Nazdana Sultanfar lives in Afghanistan. Below is a letter she wrote to our Prime Minister asking that her country and the appalling treatment of Afghan women not be forgotten.

Dear Mr. Morrison,

As the whole world is witnessing a change in Afghanistan’s political system, with this regime change in Afghanistan, we are witnessing many collapses. These include the unemployment of thousands of people, the closing of the gates of universities and schools and government offices.

I am Nazdana Sultanfar, a Law and Political Science student, as well as a civil and social activist.

It has been two years since I started my studies at the university, and I have been working in social and cultural work and defending women’s rights. In my activities, I pursue two major goals:

  1. Changing the attitude of Afghan society towards women
  2. Informing women about their rights and status in a family, community and government.

I had and will have big goals. My biggest goal is to be a legal analyst in my community and save my community from misery by making a law. But with the rise of the Taliban, all my activities came to an end. And all my dreams remain like a nightmare. With the university closed, it is impossible to achieve my goals, and I am not only thinking about my future, but also thinking about the future of my generation, especially Afghan girls, who are called the second gender in Afghanistan. Hearing these two words is painful and upsetting to me.

The purpose of my hard work was to prove to men that a woman is not the second gender, but a woman like me is a human being and has equal value, responsibility and rights, Mr. Morrison! Another big problem in Afghanistan is increasing rate of poverty and unemployment, which will cause unprecedented human catastrophe. If poverty and unemployment are not prevented or a specific plan is not implemented, it will be a total humanitarian collapse. It is very painful for me and all Afghan citizens for the moment. Streets are full of women, men, children and the disabled; asleep and awake, hungry and thirsty for a little help to find a piece of bread, and get five Afghanis. I am so upset that I sleep for long hours and I talk to myself and I think that the only logical solution is for me and my generation to study. Then we will end this current situation with science and knowledge.

In addition to poverty and unemployment there is apparent ethnic and gender discrimination in Afghanistan. These two terms have been on the rise in Afghanistan for many years. We see girls deprived from school and university, women banned from work.

Apart from gender discrimination, ethnic discrimination is rampant in Afghanistan, and a single ethnic government has been established, and all decisions are made by the Pashtuns with the idea of ​​Talibani. In the shadow of this government the most vulnerable people are the Hazara people, who have no national or international support. Hundreds of young people with all their dreams and aspirations went underground and slept forever. With the coming to power of the Taliban, the Hazara people are the hardest hit, Mr. Morrison! As a young Afghan, I have no authority or power to do for my community and country. The only thing I could do was to study and gain knowledge. But unfortunately, the gate of the university is closed for me and my generation. The only thing I could do was write this letter to your Excellency, expressing the common pains of the Afghan people. I always follow your Twitter and Facebook.

I ask you not to forget Afghanistan, especially Afghan women.

Best regards,

Nazdana Sultanfar

Nazdana Sultanfar is a second-year student at the Faculty of Law and Political Science of Kabul University, a social, cultural and women’s rights activist

 

 

 

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Law Council calls for more clarity about proposed family violence regimes

Law Council of Australia Media Release

While the Law Council of Australia strongly supports the intent of the Family Law Amendment (Federal Family Violence Orders) Bill 2021, there are several issues within the legislation that need clarification.

Speaking after the public hearing before the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, President of the Law Council Dr Jacoba Brasch QC said, “while the Bill is designed to make things easier for vulnerable people, we are looking for some clarity on how the proposed scheme will actually work and how it would interact with existing state and territory Family Violence Order regimes.

“The Law Council is also concerned about the potential impact of this scheme on the workload of federal family law courts.

“It appears that the proposed Bill only allows for a person experiencing family violence, who has proceedings before the family law courts, to seek a final Federal Family Violence Order (FFVO) and not an interim order.

“This means that a person experiencing family violence and who needs urgent or immediate protection, will still seek remedies from the state and territory courts.

“It is also not clear how a person would apply for and obtain a FFVO, and when that might happen.

“It is critical that the government engage closely with the courts and legal assistance bodies to ensure that any measures proposed are accompanied by adequate resourcing for the courts, their support services, and the legal assistance sector, to cope with the additional workload we envisage will arise should the FFVO regime come into effect.

The Law Council is also concerned that the Bill may inadvertently create opportunities for perpetrators of family violence to delay determination of family violence and family law issues, by increasing the number, length and cost of family law and family violence proceedings through an additional FFVO pathway.

Given the serious nature of the Law Council’s concerns, more information about how the scheme will operate and how quickly a final FFVO can be granted is needed.”

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Denmark Offshores the Right to Asylum

This has been a fantasy of Danish governments for some time. There have been gazes of admiration towards countries like Australia, where processing refugees and asylum-seekers is a task offloaded, with cash incentives, to third countries (Papua New Guinea and Nauru come to mind). Danish politicians, notably a good number among the Social Democrats, have dreamed about doing the same to countries in Africa, returning to that customary pattern of making poorer states undertake onerous burdens best undertaken by more affluent states.

The government of Mette Frederiksen has now secured amendments to the Danish Aliens Act that authorises the transfer of asylum seekers to other countries as their applications are being processed. The measure was secured on June 3 by a vote of 70 to 24, though critics must surely look at the absence of 85 MPs as telling. The measure is not automatic: the Danish government will have to secure (or bribe) the trust of third party states to assume their share.

Government spokesman Rasmus Stoklund left few doubts as to what the new law entailed. “If you apply for asylum in Denmark, you know that you will be sent back to a country outside Europe, and therefore we hope that people stop seeking asylum in Denmark.”

Stoklund’s language of warning evokes parallels with Australia’s own campaign of discouragement, marked by a highly-budgeted effort featuring such savage products as No Way. You Will Not Make Australia Home. In the video, Lieutenant General Angus Campbell, then chief of Australia’s effort to repel naval arrivals known as Operation Sovereign Borders, is stern in threatening that “if you travel by boat without a visa you will never make Australia home.” Other delights involve a graphic novel, translated into 18 different languages, promising trauma and suffering to those who end up in a detention centre in the Pacific, and the feature film Journey, where an Iranian mother and her child seek sanctuary in Australia. The Danish propaganda arm will have some catching up to do.

Who then, are the third country candidates? Denmark already has a memorandum of understanding with the Rwandan government that covers migration, asylum, return and repatriation. Its purpose is to target an asylum system which supposedly gives incentives to “children, women and women to embark on dangerous journeys along migratory routes, while human traffickers earn fortunes.” When it was made, Amnesty International’s Europe Director, Nils Muižnieks could see the writing on the wall, calling it “unconscionable” and even “potentially unlawful.” But for Rwanda, just as it is with Pacific island states such as Nauru, money is to be made. Such countries effectively replace demonised people smugglers as approved traffickers and middlemen.

The response to the legislation from those in the business of advocating for refugees and the right to asylum has been uniform in curtness and distress. Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, voiced strong opposition to “efforts that seek to externalise or outsource asylum and international protection obligations to other countries.”

UNHCR spokesman Babar Balloch could only make the relevant point that the legislation ran “counter to the letter and spirit of the 1951 Refugee Convention.” Moves to externalise “asylum processing and protecting of refugees to a third country… seriously risk setting in motion a process of gradual erosion of the international protection system, which has withstood the test of time over the last 70 years.”

Balloch is evidently not as attentive as he thinks: those wishing to externalise such obligations have well and truly set this train in motion. The 2018 EU summit went so far as to debate the building of offshore processing centres in Morocco, Algeria and Libya to plug arrival routes via the Mediterranean. The UK government is also toying with the idea of an offshore asylum system.

Bill Frelick of Human Rights Watch’s Refugee and Migrant Rights Division distils the relevant principle being sacrificed. “By sending people to a third country, what you are essentially doing is taking what is a legal right and making it a discretionary political choice.” It is an increasingly attractive, if grotesque policy, for wealthier countries with little appetite to share the burdens of sharing the processing claims under the UNHCR’s Global Compact on Refugees.

Unfortunately for Frelkick and their like, the Danish government is proving derivatively consistent. It has been opting out of the European asylum system since the 2000s, doing its bit to fragment an already incoherent approach in the bloc. The centre right government of Anders Fogh Rasmussen, just by way of example, was proud to reduce the number of asylum seekers and those wishing to settle in Denmark. In 2004, 1,607 people were granted asylum compared to 6,263 three years prior.

The approach of the current government is to negate the very right to seeking asylum in Denmark, aided by third countries. And there is not much left to do, given that the country received a mere 1,515 asylum applications in 2020, its lowest in two decades. Of those, 601 were granted permits to stay.

Lurking, as it always does in these situations, is the Australian example. The right to asylum is vanishing before the efforts of bureaucrats and border closing populists. The UN Refugee Convention, like other documents speaking to freedoms and rights, is becoming a doomed relic.

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