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We need to focus on justice for refugees, not ignore it

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:

People ask us why we protested in parliament for refugees. We ask, why didn’t you? (The Guardian)

We Are Witnessing The Unravelling Of The Cruel Offshore Detention System (The Huffington Post)


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  1. bobrafto

    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 ABC and the Guardian consistently exposed abuses and they may as well have pissed in the wind for their trouble.

    Soon there will be a new ‘news content officer’ at the ABC who will decide what goes to air and you can bet anything adversarial against the LNP govt, will be canned.

  2. Michael Taylor

    Thanks, Kerry. A great read.

  3. Michael Taylor

    You’re not wrong, Bob. A friend of mine – a newsreader with the ABC – quit (took early retirement) in protest a couple of years ago when staff were told to go easy on the Abbott government.

  4. Barry Thompson.

    Excellent article Kerry.

    You hit the nail on the head when you questioned if the Government and the opposition are aiming to deter people from seeking asylum in Australia at all.

  5. Harquebus

    We also need to address the causes for people fleeing in boats.

  6. corvus boreus

    Would it be ageist to suggest that, since children are usually the most blameless and vulnerable amongst those seeking refuge, we allocate placements prioritising their welfare?
    Would it be sexist to suggest that, since female equality is, at best, a distant aspiration in many of the nations from which these refugees originate, that we could then prioritise refuge and resettlement for the women amongst them?

    Such ‘lifeboat-based allocation’ policy makes moral sense to me, and might just help pluck a few conscience strings and elicit a little more sympathy amongst the general public.

  7. Adrianne Haddow

    Harquebus, I am in total agreement…. but as long as the USA acts as the world’s pit bull, and this excuse of an Australian government acts as its backup little dog, this wave of asylum seekers and criminal behaviour against humanity will continue and increase.

    Given our obstinate denial of the ravages of climate change on low lying countries, the wave of refugees is only set to increase before we all go under.

    Murdoch’s financial interests in oil companies, and the fact that he sold his Australian citizenship a long time ago, should squash his over-large presence in the Australian media.
    But thanks to his membership in our real government, the unelected IPA, he has managed to set the narrative of fear, suspicion and hate against the people his business interests displace.

    The latest from independent media in the US is the ‘invasion’ of Somalia.

    The US and its allies sold us the domino theory in the 70’s. Country after country in the developing world would fall to the evils of communism if we didn’t support their wars in Vietnam and Laos. They look to have achieved their own domino theory in their destruction of governments in the Middle East and Africa.

    Evil, greedy bastards, the lot of them.

  8. Terry2

    It does seem that the parliamentary invasion and super-glue tactic was a PR disaster for the refugee cause BUT the banner draped from the parliament was a great visual image.

    Most of the media commentators have focused on the parliamentary invasion and completely overlooked the plight of the detainees on Manus and Nauru, most of whom have now been in detention for over four years.

    The tragedy is that those currently being assessed for resettlement in the USA are likely to be found to be mentally and psychologically damaged and may be rejected on that basis. We can anticipate that there will be significant damages awarded to these people once their legal actions for unlawful imprisonment ultimately get to the courts.

    No matter which way you cut it, we have been detaining people unlawfully – even unlawful under PNG law as regards Manus – and we have used every device to exclude these people from a legal and equitable resolution to their plight. Ultimately these folk will have their day in court and our political game playing on both sides of politics will be held up to scrutiny and our national shame .

  9. auntyuta

    Keeping people in detention, as though they were criminals, is an abuse of human rights. But none of our politicians are willing to make a fuss about it. Some say, to interrupt their talk for half an hour is a crime. But they wont talk about the issue at hand. It just does not concern them that totally innocent people are lingering in detention. How come they cannot show any guilt about it that this treatment goes on indefinitely? In their view it is the right kind of treatment? Really? How can it be right if it goes against human rights?
    I think every one who does not protest against this treatment is totally and absolutely selfish. possibly because of being scared to lose some of their ‘privileges’!

  10. LOVO

    One wonders when they enter through those pearly gates of Trumps ‘America’ if their roll of political pawns is just beginning!!
    Another shameful part of our shameful history….not in my name.

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