By Kerry Fressard
In the wake of two days of non-violent peaceful protest at Parliament, some sensationalist and hyperbolic media outlets have failed to address the issue behind the protests. That is, the bipartisan support for human rights abuses, sexual and physical assault, and trauma occurring in Australia’s offshore detention centres.
In order to refocus the discourse surrounding the protest it is important to focus on the issue at hand. Offshore detention is (intentionally) cruel, expensive, and does not effectively reduce suffering and loss of life.
Offshore detention is misguided as a deterrent. The argument put forward by the government is that detaining asylum seekers who attempt to come to Australia via boat on Manus Island, Christmas Island and Nauru saves lives and prevents suffering. As the government refuses to provide the public who elects them and pays their salary with information surrounding ‘on water’ matters we cannot say, or know, if it has been an effective deterrent. Furthermore, we certainly cannot make a strong case that it has in fact saved lives and reduced the suffering of asylum seekers. However, we can categorically confirm the abuse and torture of refugees and asylum seekers illegally held on offshore detention centres. Refugees have died in offshore detention, women have been sexually assaulted and raped, children have faced physical and emotional abuse, and a large proportion of those held in offshore detention suffer from emotional and psychological trauma as a result of their detainment. The suffering in offshore detention centres has been highlighted in the media, through Senate inquiries, in reports by NGOs and the United Nations Human Rights Commission, in accounts provided by doctors and teachers that have worked in the centres, and by the detainees themselves.
There are alternatives to the current policy of offshore detention. Community based processing is less harmful to asylum seekers and would cost a fraction of the $4-5 billion spent every year on offshore detention. Regional solutions such as processing refugees and asylum seekers before they attempt the journey by boat to Australia would most certainly act as a deterrent to risky boat journeys. Key to all alternatives is that they are timely, that asylum seekers are processed quickly so they can begin building their futures and moving on with their lives. It is important to ask why it is that these policies have not been implemented. Is it that the government and opposition are actually aiming to deter people fleeing war zones and persecution from seeking asylum in Australia at all? If so, I hope people reflect on the cruelty of such a move by politicians who consistently purport to be fighting to give people a fair go.
Significantly, the vast majority of the people being illegally detained offshore have been found to be refugees. These people deserve empathy and compassion and should be evacuated from the offshore detention centres immediately.
Media that does not address these issues and instead focuses on protester conduct is failing to report on the serious maltreatment and abuse of asylum seekers and refugees at the hands of Australian government policy. Surely, Australia’s inhumane treatment of people fleeing from persecution is more important than the appearance of protesters or exposes on the number of protests that the members of the group have previously participated in. Because of the wilful ignorance and failure to focus on crimes committed in offshore detention, such outlets are in some part complicit in the abuse of asylum seekers and refugees.
A key role of the fourth estate is to investigate and report on the actions of the political elite that act in our names. The main story to come out of the two days of protest at Parliament House is not whether we restrict public access to the building, nor it is the personal lives of the human rights advocates involved, but rather that there remains to be bipartisan support for the abuse and torture of refugees held illegally on Manus Island, Christmas Island and Nauru. The camps remain open, people’s lives hang in the balance, and their futures remain uncertain. Forget the spin, sensationalism and hyperbole, and let us focus on providing justice and freedom for refugees and asylum seekers.
Also by the author:
We Are Witnessing The Unravelling Of The Cruel Offshore Detention System (The Huffington Post)
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