By Jane Salmon
I have been glued to mainstream and social media on the Manus issue as an advocate for 3 years. And I’ve met a few refugees along the way.
But yesterday took the biscuit. The sight of Aussies swallowing dishonest propaganda whole has shaken me. We’re in deep trouble if we think that Dutton and Bishop can lie straight in bed at night, let alone display any sensitivity to the facts of four years of offshore detention.
Every knee-jerk racist troll claims that the refugees on Manus trashed their own living space yesterday. They have dutifully maintained Dutton’s line that each of us can blame refugees for anything. They even claimed that drawing on your sweating prison walls was vandalism. Well what else was there to do for 4 years? Never happens in white jails, surely!
Xenophobic patriot trolls ignore the tidier “before” pictures of Wednesday 22nd in the camp and the many touching images of tired, hungry, traumatised men cleaning up the camp “after” Dutton’s destructive proxies and PNG thugs left in the evening of 23rd.
Our “patriots” have missed the fact that since staff left Manus RPC, the men have been empowered and become more organised. They have done this despite a lack of water, medication, medical care, sanitation, electricity and the demoralising blockade of food. A handful of judiciously used solar battery chargers are looked on as proof that the men are lying about having no power or flushing loos. Because belief is all that matters to a racist.
[“Oh well, mate. It’s alright. They’ll get compo. They’re cool. And they got food. They’ve got their lives. What more do they want?”]
Well there are at least six men whose families would actually like their sons and their lives back. There are men who are injured permanently. There are still vibrant, dynamic, clever young adults who won’t ever forget the powerlessness they have experienced. And they have been slandered again and again by Australia’s officials and their supporters. Just because they were vulnerable.
These refugees are not saints. But jail never brought out the best in anyone. However, the abuse they experienced has led these men to cooperate pretty well. The emotional maturity and organisation that most Manus refugees have displayed under pressure is an example to us all.
As one whose grandfathers and also father came back from wars physically and emotionally damaged (Dad’s Korean War spinal shrapnel used to set off airport metal detectors, four great uncles died over Britain or France, Grandpa Jack lost an arm, Grandpa was ultimately finished off by the gassing); as one whose Great Uncle Ron, a banker, survived camps in Singapore for four years and came back pretty damn broken; as one who has worked alongside an ex-Changi inmate, I disgree that a lousy $35K will fix any of that.
And don’t the “Patriots” see the “do as you would be done by” parallel in any of this? Or are they really too thick? How long would they manage up there in the tropics? (Oh, that’s right, a few of the Aussie “security” staff got a bit violent and rapey. Marvellous!).
Career Officer Molan took professional pride in demonstrating that this Fortress Island would not be breached on his watch. (Note that this is not a man who has been directly exposed to war in his own home country. Sure, a few subs approached Darwin and Sydney in his parents’ lifetime). He probably also believes that every non-Anglo is a potential terrorist because that’s what the chaplain led him to believe in Sunday school. He has only devoted his mind to military and naval strategy since.
Foreigners are not lesser humans. Even the ones whose parents were, luckily, not killed by the Taliban or bombed out of house and home after their sons and daughters had left.
No amount of compo will change the fact that the Manus refugees were singled out because they chose boats instead of planes after July 2013. Those who arrived by plane pre-Abbott endured a shorter stint in camps and got back on their feet more easily. They were more able to support their mothers, brothers, sisters, wives and children. The “not drowning” argument doesn’t wash. Boats still come but are turned back or captured before they reach Australian waters.
“Safe transit countries” like Indonesia are overflowing with people. The immigration detention camps there are horrifying, too.
The compo is a distraction. It was a cynical settlement. It doesn’t compensate the men for their lost health, their abuse, their near death experiences, death of friends nor for isolation torture. $35K each is merely an expression of Australian Border Force culpability. We used these men as deterrents.
Bottom line, any vulnerable Australians (whether in Don Dale or at the mercy of another government institution) can expect similar treatment if we shrug off this event as a one-off.
People can be disempowered in so many ways in an information age.
Scared for their own jobs, SBS decided to imply that the remaining men elected to leave in buses today. The vision of beatings with sticks were dismissed as misattributed or not real or somehow less than persuasive. The Manus refugees have in fact lost free choice and self determination. They are back inside fenced compounds with security guards watching over them and or protecting them from machete armed raskols. Who cares that the crates are newly fitted?
The truth is, the violent ouster of the men across the past two days was in contempt of PNG court. Men like Behrouz Boochani were held in handcuffs without charge. There was undue force. The rule of law has not been respected. The next court date was for December.
As a Labor Party member, I’m not supposed to say “Shame on you” to Shorten and his ineffectual Shadow Cabinet. But I will. They let the xenophobia grow by failing to stand up to One Nation and LNP racism. The unions have only recently spoken out about Manus. Many old lefties still fear that their wages will be undercut by refugees. Even though they have seen the government grow its own budget in order to find $10 billion to squitter away on detention. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
The alternative for Labor is … quite a few more electoral routs like Northcote. And it serves them right. Because racist fascism will affect the safety and well-being of my kids as much as any time I spend online or any culinary shortcuts I dare take around their FODMAP allergies.
Intercepting refugees in Malaysia and Indonesia will prevent some unanticipated arrivals. But swift and humane solutions would also include simply accepting people and providing them with orientation and the means manage in their new countries. There is plenty of positive work in supplying the supports the newcomers need. We don’t need to insist on unnecessary suffering. As an unadulterated leftie, I’d argue that we can afford to help everyone if we tax our own 1 per cent properly.
But we can argue about that one when Manus is over.
These men may deserve millions in compo each but they also deserve fresh starts in nothing less than safe third countries. No machetes. No racism. No fear. They have shown what they are made of and I salute them.
Nothing can distract the burgeoning community of refugee advocates from that.
This picture is enough to wake up Australia and show how a cruel politician like Peter Dutton is using Australian people for his own political benefit. pic.twitter.com/vpLH5G9Jrz
— Behrouz Boochani (@BehrouzBoochani) November 23, 2017