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Tag Archives: asylum

Welcome to the asylum

Asylum:

  1. noun: refuge, sanctuary, shelter, safety, protection, security, immunity;

the protection granted by a nation to someone who has left their native country as a political refugee. “she applied for asylum and was granted refugee status” “we provide asylum for those too ill to care for themselves” “he appealed for political asylum”

  1. dated:

an institution offering shelter and support to people who are mentally ill. After watching last night’s Q&A I got an unexpected text from a friend. “The numbers are only worse under Labor for children in detention because Labor let more refugees in, right? Not that it is defendable” the message read. I had to give this some thought… Yes I suppose there were more ‘irregular entries’ from 2008 onward than there had been during the Howard years. By 2008 we were really just starting to feel the shockwaves of a series of genocides in which Australia had been complicit. The number of boat arrivals increased under Labor, and with it the number of children in detention. And I suppose a veritable tsunami of new boat arrivals from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka also came as a supply-boom for a fledgling private prison industry. Australia has not dealt properly with refugees since the 1970’s. The Fraser government achieved humanitarian outcomes for tens of thousands of refugees from indo-china, in accordance with our obligations under international law. Fraser, now 84, has cut ties with his former political party and now champions the cause of refugee advocacy. He was also the man behind the coup that took down the Australia’s first and only autonomous government. Go figure. I’d take Fraser for PM over any of the current crop (except perhaps Wilkie or Wong.) Stewart West, another octogenarian, served as Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs under Hawke. I heard West address a rally last year. He spoke passionately, recalling anecdotes of his work abroad, particularly in central and south America. What echoes in my minds ear still are these words: “In my day we didn’t have a problem with refugees arriving by boat. We flew them here.” West resigned shortly after Hawke introduced his policy of mandatory detention for unauthorised arrivals. A man of integrity. Hawke brought in mandatory detention. Keating privatised it. Howard offshored it. Rudd and Gillard tried to scale it back, proposing to settle clients in “third countries”. Abbott opposed this because it was Labor’s idea, and once in power imposed his final solution to the refugee problem by turning back the boats. This instantly improved his polling, which was dutifully reported in the Murdoch press and scored him countless cheap points among the brainwashed and brainless masses. One small problem with Abbott’s strategy is that according to every legal entity, everywhere, seeking asylum is a human right, and refoulement is illegal. Australia now stands in breach of countless articles of international law, and we haven’t actually done anything to fix the problem. We’ve done nothing to address the plight of undocumented, homeless, stateless people fleeing tyranny and persecution. What Abbott has done instead is given billions of taxpayer dollars to corporate thugs and enlisted the armed forces by executive order to make this someone else’s problem. Meanwhile we have a ‘budget emergency’. I’m only crying because it hurts to laugh. The boats have stopped coming now, or so we’re told, so I guess what we do with the rest of the irregulars in detention now is a matter for the Liberal party and their business interests to decide. (Tony Shepherd, President of the Business Council of Australia, is the former chairman of Transfield which operates the facility at Manus Island, a U.S. styled private prison. Serco and G4S have also held lucrative government tenders at various times to operate detention facilities, along with Greg Sheppard, who runs the private security firm Wilson Protective Services PNG Ltd. All Liberal Party donors.) The reaction to the human rights commission’s report into the forgotten children comes as no surprise. Investment by successive governments has boosted supply in a market which now has weakeneing demand. I imagine Abbott at this moment finds himself in quite a quandary. Clearly he hasn’t thought the game through; else he would have announced something by now. My guess is he probably never thought he’d get this far. I suppose a government so committed to old world ideas about what a ‘family unit’ looks like would find the problem even more perplexing. There are whole families in detention, we are told. In the example reluctantly proffered by Mr Turnbull the father is a suspected security risk, but his wife and 3 kids refuse to leave detention without him. I shudder to think what a pallid chord the thought of broken families must strike on Cory Bernardi and Eric Abetz’ god-fearing heart strings. One conservative maggot troll tweeted something along the lines of “shame on these conniving grifters for using their children as bargaining chips.” Meanwhile the same government which refused to spend $500m to guarantee the future of car manufacturing in Australia and save 100 000 jobs (sorry to labour the point), are happy to hand over $2bn to the private prison industry, which benefits the rest of us how, exactly? And where does Labor stand on this? Or is this another matter of ‘national security’ which has bi-partisan support? I cringe at the thought.

The facts about ‘boat people’ – The government and media are lying

“The facts about ‘boat people’ – The government and media are lying” is a title that perfectly sums up the emphasis in this guest post by Glenn Murray. This was first published on Glenn’s blog in October last year, but it is such a powerful exposé of the extent of the lies that we need to keep disseminating Glenn’s message. We would urge you all to share this widely. The lies can only be fully exposed if more people were aware of the truth.

Who are ‘boat people’?

‘Boat people’ are asylum seekers who arrive by boat, without a valid visa or any other appropriate authorisation. They’re seeking protection (asylum) because they fear persecution in/from the home country (torture, murder, illegal imprisonment, etc.).

Are ‘boat people’ doing something illegal?

No. Asylum seekers are NOT illegal. They’ve broken no laws at all. Under Article 14 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”

The terms, ‘illegal immigrants’, ‘illegals’, etc., are completely incorrect.

The 2012 UNHCR Guidelines on Detention explain it in plain English:

“Every person has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution, serious human rights violations and other serious harm. Seeking asylum is not, therefore, an unlawful act… In exercising the right to seek asylum, asylum-seekers are often forced to arrive at, or enter, a territory without prior authorisation. The position of asylum-seekers may thus differ fundamentally from that of ordinary migrants in that they may not be in a position to comply with the legal formalities for entry. They may, for example, be unable to obtain the necessary documentation in advance of their flight because of their fear of persecution and/or the urgency of their departure. These factors, as well as the fact that asylum-seekers have often experienced traumatic events, need to be taken into account in determining any restrictions on freedom of movement based on irregular entry or presence.” (p.12)

Is Australia obligated to help them?

Yes. Australia has a legal obligation to assist ‘boat people’ whether or not they follow our polite protocol. We signed an international law called the Refugee Convention.

Are most ‘illegal immigrants’ boat people?

No. According to the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection, in 2012-13, 25,091 asylum seekers arrived by boat, more than 8,308 arrived by plane, 2,813 visa overstayers were detected, 2,328 immigration clearances were refused at air and seaports, and 15,077 other ‘unlawful non-citizens were discovered in the community.

Percentage of illegal immigrants boat people

And according to the Advertiser, that doesn’t even include all the illegals who fly in and are caught in the first two weeks. Another 200,000 or so!

Do all asylum seekers arrive by boat?

No. Since 2003, only 42% of all asylum seekers have arrived by boat.

Percentage of asylum seekers who arrived by boat

In 2012-13, the rate was higher than that due to a spike in boat arrivals:

Percentage of boat people who arrived by boat in 2012-2013

But as you can see below, the number of boat arrivals tend to go up and down. In other words, history tells us it will go down again after the current spike.

Boat people arrivals since 1975

Are asylum seekers who arrive by boat treated the same as asylum seekers who arrive by plane?

No. Those arriving by plane aren’t detained. Plus, they can immediately apply for a protection visa, and are typically given a bridging visa while their application is processed. Boat people, on the other hand, are immediately moved to a detention centre, and they can’t immediately apply for a protection visa. Instead, they’re screened into a refugee status determination process to determine whether they’ll be allowed to apply.

What does ‘refugee’ mean?

A refugee is a person who has fled their country because of a well-founded fear of persecution (torture, murder, illegal imprisonment, etc.).

Are all ‘boat people’ actually refugees?

9 out of every 10 ‘boat people’ are eventually found to be genuine refugees. They have a genuine reason to fear persecution in their own country (as assessed against the regulations set out in our Migration Act).

According to the Department of Immigration and Border Control, since 2008, 92% of all considered asylum cases relating to people arriving by boat were granted (p.30).

How many asylum seekers are judged refugees

As a graph:

How many boat people are actually refugees

But even if they weren’t, it still wouldn’t change Australia’s legal obligation. We are legally obliged to accept asylum seekers.

Are they ‘jumping the queue’?

No. There’s no such thing as a queue. Anyone who wants to claim asylum must leave their home country first. So all asylum seekers flee to other countries. Some overland, some by plane, some by boat. Some come to Australia, some go to other countries. This is the standard way to seek asylum. These people are called ‘onshore applicants’.

Sadly, a lot of refugees are very, very poor, so their only option is to travel overland to a neighbouring country. That’s why countries like Kenya and Ethiopia have huge refugee camps (because of trouble in neighbouring Somalia).

Sometimes refugees are resettled in a country other than the one they fled to. E.g. Someone might be resettled from a refugee camp to Australia. These people are called ‘offshore applicants’. This is something we voluntarily do to  supplement the standard ‘onshore’ process. Again, resettling refugees from refugee camps is a voluntary act. Australia does it to share the refugee load with other countries. Accepting asylum seekers who come directly to Australia is our legal obligation.

Unfortunately, Australia’s policy is that when we accept an onshore refugee (i.e. an asylum seeker who arrives in Australia by plane or boat), a place is deducted from the offshore program (i.e. there’s one less place for people being moved from refugee camps). No other country in the world does this. In other words, it’s policy that takes places from camp refugees, not ‘boat people’.

Are they still genuine refugees if they can afford boat passage?

Yes. The manner of an asylum seeker’s arrival isn’t what makes them a genuine refugee (or not). They’re judged to be a genuine refugee if they have a well-founded fear of persecution at home.

And although the poor are often the victims of persecution, middle-class and wealthy people are persecuted too. In fact, because these people tend to be well educated, they are often persecuted for speaking out against oppressive government regimes. So just because someone can afford (or scrape together the funds) to make it to Australia, that doesn’t mean they’re not a refugee.

And remember, 92% of boat people since 2009 have been found to be genuine refugees, as assessed against the regulations set out in our Migration Act.

But even if they weren’t, Australia’s legal obligation remains the same. We are legally obliged to accept asylum seekers and process their claims.

Are they still genuine refugees if they don’t look battered, bruised and hungry when they arrive?

Yes. The Refugee Convention doesn’t say they have to look battered, bruised and hungry. It says they have to have a well-founded fear of persecution at home.

Out of interest, here’s a photo of some Jewish refugees who fled to Australia at the end of World War II (courtesy of The Australian). They don’t look particularly battered, bruised and hungry.

Jewish refugees

Are they still genuine refugees if they come via another country (e.g. Indonesia)?

Yes. Although the Refugee Convention says they must come directly from a territory where their life or freedom is threatened (as opposed to ‘skipping through’ a country like Indonesia), the 2001 Geneva Expert Round Table organised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees concluded that:

Refugees are not required to have come directly from territories where their life or freedom was threatened…  Article 31(1) was intended to apply, and has been interpreted to apply, to persons who have briefly transited other countries or who are unable to find effective protection in the first country or countries to which they flee.” (p.2, 10b, 10c)

Because Indonesia hasn’t signed the Refugee Convention, they’re not obliged to protect asylum seekers. As a result, asylum seekers who arrive in Indonesia live in constant fear.

Are they still genuine refugees if they don’t just flee to the closest country? Aren’t they cherry-picking?

Yes, they are still genuine refugees. There’s no law that says refugees must flee to the nearest country. In most cases, this would simply land them in a poverty-stricken, dangerous refugee camp for years. Nor is there any rule that says refugees can’t flee by plane or choose their destination.

It seems odd to me that some Australians want to vilify these people for using commonsense and, in the process, reducing the load on the desperately poor countries that are actually being flooded by refugees.

Do they have passports to prove their identity? And do they burn their passports?

People (and the media) often get this confused. Boat people come by boat because they don’t an Australian visa, not because they don’t have ID. Many (perhaps most) do have passports and other identifying information, just don’t have an Australian visa.

There are reports of asylum seekers destroying their documents prior to interception by Australian Navy vessels. There are a number of reasons this could be happening: 1) As asylum seekers, they fear capture at home, so they have to destroy their real passports before they leave their home country; 2) They then use fake documents to leave their home country; and 3) They destroy these documents before arrival in Australia because they’re fake and don’t accurately represent their identity or situation, and would, therefore, impede their asylum case. I’ve also heard that people smugglers tell them to burn them as it will aid their asylum claim.

Some people smugglers also claim they sell fake passports and visas, which enable asylum seekers to fly into Australia, after which they’re advised to rip up their passports and claim asylum. But these asylum seekers often end up on dangerous boats anyway. No doubt this is another reason some boat people tear up their passports.

If they can afford boat passage, why don’t they just fly in?

Flying to Australia would definitely be cheaper and safer, and I’m sure all boat people would do it if they could. But the fact is that they have to get an appropriate visa first, and this isn’t always possible. The Australian embassies in Afghanistan and Iraq, for instance, don’t issue Australian visas. And that’s where 39% of our boat people since 2008 have come from!

What’s more, even when an embassy does issue visas (e.g. Sri Lanka, Iran & Pakistan, where 47% of our boat people have come from since 2008), the application process and requirements for an Australian visa are quite rigorous and time consuming. And if you’re fleeing for your life, you don’t usually have time to complete the application, have your documents certified and wait around for a visa to be approved.

No doubt there are also some boat people who destroy their passports. There are a few reasons this might happen: 1) As asylum seekers, they fear capture at home, so they have to destroy their real passports before they leave their home country; 2) They then use fake documents to leave their home country; and 3) They destroy these documents before arrival in Australia because they’re fake and don’t accurately represent their identity or situation, and would, therefore, impede their asylum case. I’ve also heard that people smugglers tell them to burn them as it will aid their asylum claim.

Do we get more asylum seekers than other countries?

No. In 2012, we ranked 20th overall, 29th per capita and 52nd relative to GDP. And remember approximately half of those people did NOT come by boat.

Do we get more asylum seekers than other countries

“Poor countries host vastly more displaced people than wealthier ones. While anti-refugee sentiment is heard loudest in industrialised countries, developing nations host 80 per cent of the world’s refugees.”

Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon

And again, no matter what our ranking, we’re still are legally obliged to accept asylum seekers.

Do harsh border protection laws deter ‘boat people’?

No. There’s no evidence to suggest our harsh policies on ‘border protection’ reduce the number of boat people trying to get to Australia. Here’s a timeline showing when Australia introduced its harsh asylum seeker policies…

  • June 1989 – Prime Minister Hawke introduced changes that included mandatory deportation, and allowed for the recovery of funds from asylum seekers to pay for the costs of their detention and deportation. The number of boat people continued to increase after these changes were introduced.
  • December 1992 – Prime Minister Keating introduced limited mandatory detention.  The number of boat people remained unchanged afterwards.
  • April 1994 – Keating expanded mandatory detention. The number of boat people increased afterwards.
  • October 1999 – Prime Minister Howard introduced temporary visas (TPVs). Instead of getting a permanent protection visa, refugees were instead given only temporary protection (a 3 year protection visa). After that, their case would be reviewed. Also, their protection could be revoked if they left Australia during the 3 years, and it didn’t allow their families to settle in Australia. The number of boat people continued to increase afterwards.
  • September 2001 – Howard introduced the ‘Pacific Solution’. This involved offshore processing and detention, and turning back of boats. Again, some people claim this policy slowed the arrival of boats, but the data show the numbers were already dropping by the time he introduced the Pacific Solution. Plus, the introduction of the Pacific Solution (Sept 2001) coincided with the removal of the Taliban from power in Afghanistan (Oct 2001). Leading up to this point, Afghanistan had been one of our major sources of asylum seekers (17% in 2001-01). Also, from 2001 to 2002 there was a 45% drop in refugee numbers worldwide.
  • August 2012 – Prime Minister Gillard reintroduces the Pacific Solution. It didn’t slow the boats. In fact, the number of boat more than doubled.

It’s clear these hard-line policies can’t be claimed as deterrents. In all but 2 cases, the number of boat people increased afterwards. Once it remained unchanged, and once it was already going down before the policy was introduced. So if we’re to believe that Australia’s harsh policy has any significant impact on boat people numbers, we’d have to deduce it’s often an incentive!

Harsh Policies

How many ‘boat people’ resettle in Australia? Won’t we be over-run?

No we won’t be over-run. Not even close! For the 2012-13 period, Australia makes available 190,000 places for immigrants. During the same period, 4,949 ‘boat people’ were granted refugees status in Australia. So refugees who arrive by boat make up just 2.5% of all immigration.

Less than 3 percent of immigrants are refugees who arrived by boat

Let’s look at it another way. In 2012, only 4,949 boat people were granted refugee status in Australia. That’s one person per 4,718 Australians. You might just be able to see the thin line representing approved boat people in the graph below…

How many boat people resettle in Australia

Don’t boat people get more social security?

No. Asylum seekers aren’t entitled to the same welfare as citizens and permanent residents. They get Asylum Seeker Assistance (ASA), which covers basic living expenses, at a rate below Centrelink benefits.

Once an asylum seeker’s claim is processed, and they’re judged a refugee, they receive the same amount of social security as a citizen or permanent resident. They “apply for social security through Centrelink like everyone else and are assessed for the different payment options in the same way as everyone else. There are no separate Centrelink allowances that one can receive simply by virtue of being a refugee.” (http://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/f/myth-long.php#centrelink)

Unfortunately, the Australian government doesn’t allow asylum seekers to work. Nor does it allow refugees to work until they become permanent residents (which can take years). If they were allowed to work, the burden on our welfare system would be far less.

Doesn’t it cost a lot to keep asylum seekers detained?

Yes. That’s another reason why we should stop doing it. According to the Parliamentary Budget Office, it costs approx $225,000 to detain a person on Manus Island or Nauru. If they were were allowed to live in the general community (say, in specified rural areas in need of a population injection), it would cost only $35,000.

But aren’t they all Muslims who’ll want us to submit to Sharia law?

No. In 2012-13, only about half (57%) of asylum claims are were from Muslim boat people fleeing countries that follow strict Sharia law. That’s just 1.4% of all our immigrants. And remember, these people are fleeing those Sharia law countries!

Doesn’t Tony Abbott have a mandate to stop the boats?

Arguably. But he does NOT have a mandate to stop them by breaching international law. Some voters definitely agreed with the stop the boats policy, and Abbott won the election on the back of that policy. But he didn’t mention breaching international law during his campaign, so he does not have a mandate to do so.

Abbott decided to breach international law, not voters.

In fact, only 45.6% of Australians actually voted for Abbott. Yes, he still won the election on preferences, and yes, ‘stop the boats’ was AN election campaign, but there’s a big divide between claiming a mandate on an issue and assuming the majority of Australians support it. And that 45.6% includes people who voted for Abbott based on other factors, such as hating Rudd, hating Labor, being over Labor’s idiotic back-room bickering, and supporting any one of the LNP’s other policies.

Is Australia breaching international law?

Yes. We’re breaching all of the following (see below list for details):

  • UN Refugee Convention
  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)
  • International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS)
  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR)
  • United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
  • Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
  • United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)
  • International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR)
  • International Maritime Organization (IMO)
  • Australia’s Criminal Code (Commonwealth)

The UN Refugee Convention

The UN Refugee Convention requires that we must treat refugees at least as well as any other foreigner:

Except where this Convention contains more favourable provisions, a Contracting State shall accord to refugees the same treatment as is accorded to aliens generally” (Article 7, 1)

And that we must not send them anywhere where they’ll be unsafe or imprisoned:

No Contracting State shall expel or return (“refouler”) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” (Article 33, 1)

Importantly, it also says we must not penalise people who arrive without the appropriate visa or other paperwork:

The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence” (Article 31, 1)

It also says we must not detain them longer than is necessary for their asylum claims to be processed:

The Contracting States shall not apply to the movements of such refugees restrictions other than those which are necessary and such restrictions shall only be applied until their status in the country is regularized or they obtain admission into another country.” (Article 31, 2)

But by locking up asylum seekers in detention centres, we’re not treating them as we do other foreigners. Nor are we detaining them merely for the time necessary to assess their asylum claims. Instead, as a direct penalty for the way they arrived, we’re detaining them indefinitely in order to deter other asylum seekers from coming to Australia by boat. Not only are their movements being restricted, but the conditions of their imprisonment are terrible – another penalty and deterrent.

The UNHCR Guidelines are very clear on this:

Detention must not be arbitrary… Mandatory or automatic detention is arbitrary as it is not based on an examination of the necessity of the detention in the individual case… Detention that is imposed in order to deter future asylum-seekers, or to dissuade those who have commenced their claims from pursuing them is inconsistent with international norms. Furthermore, detention is not permitted as a punitive – for example, criminal – measure or a disciplinary sanction for irregular entry or presence in the country. Apart from constituting a penalty under Article 31 of the 1951 Convention, it may also amount to collective punishment in violation of international human rights law.” (pages 15 – 18)

Also, by pushing/towing asylum seeker boats back to Indonesian waters from Australian waters, we’re once again restricting their movements unnecessarily and penalizing them. We’re also returning them to a place where the lives and freedom of many would be threatened. Many asylum seekers are Shia Muslims who are fleeing persecution by Sunni Muslims in their home country. Indonesia is 88.2% Muslim, and the majority of those Muslims are Sunni. So Shia Muslims face persecution in Indonesia just as they faced at home.

The UNHCR has been very clear on this too, telling Australia, in April 2014, that:

There are obligations as a signatory to the 1951 Convention and the 1967 protocol, which say: if you intercept in your territorial waters, you should allow those in need of protection to have access to the asylum system”

This wasn’t our first warning either. The UN warned Australia about this breach in early January, 2014, too:

UNHCR would be concerned by any policy or practice that involved pushing asylum-seeker boats back at sea without a proper consideration of individual needs for protection… Any such approach would raise significant issues and potentially place Australia in breach of its obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention and other international law obligations.”

Incidentally, we’re further breaching our responsibilities by changing workplace safety laws to exempt Navy sailors from their obligation to take ‘reasonable care’ to ensure the safety of asylum-seekers. In doing so we’re indirectly penalising asylum seekers.

What’s more, Article 16 of the Refugee Convention also stipulates that asylum seekers must have access to free legal assistance:

A refugee shall enjoy in the Contracting State in which he has his habitual residence the same treatment as a national in matters pertaining to access to the Courts, including legal assistance and exemption from cautio judicatum solvi

(“Cautio judicatum solvi” means payment of security for legal costs.) Sadly, however, our government now denies legal assistance to asylum seekers who arrive by boat.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)

Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) says that:

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.” (Emphasis added)

By arbitrarily detaining asylum seekers, we are violating their fundamental human rights.

Other human rights conventions

According to Julian Burnside QC, by “using arbitrary detention for asylum seekers, and subjecting people (including children) to conditions which put their physical and mental health at risk in order to persuade them to return to their homelands, and deter further people from seeking asylum in Australia”, we’re breaching the following international conventions:

What’s more, recently a Sudanese asylum seeker claimed he was deliberately burned by Australian Navy personnel. Yet despite being legally obligated to investigate the matter, the Australian government is investigating the ABC, for reporting the claims! Under the United Nations Convention against Torture, which we voluntarily signed, we agree to “ensure that its competent authorities proceed to a prompt and impartial investigation, wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed in any territory under its jurisdiction.” (Article 12, Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment).

We’re also breaching the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Article 2(2)), under which it is prohibited to detain someone on the basis of “race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”.

Australia was also strongly criticised by independent organisation, Human Rights Watch, in its 2014 World Report (p.292):

Successive governments have prioritized domestic politics over Australia’s international legal obligations to protect the rights of asylum seekers and refugees, many of who have escaped from appalling situations in places like Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. Too often, the government has attempted to demonize those trying to reach Australia by boat and has insisted that officials refer to all asylum seekers who do so as illegal maritime arrivals.”

Laws of the sea

The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) requires contracting states to:

ensure that necessary arrangements are made for distress communication and co-ordination…”

The 2012 Report of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers, interprets this to mean “Where assistance has been provided to persons in distress in a state’s SRR, that state has primary responsibility to ensure that coordination and cooperation occurs between governments, so that survivors are disembarked from the assisting ship and delivered to a place of safety. ” But Australian defence personnel are not helping asylum seekers disembark or otherwise reach safety. Instead, they’re leaving them to fend for themselves, hours offshore of Indonesia.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) requires contracting states to:

… promote the establishment, operation and maintenance of an adequate and effective search and rescue service regarding safety on and over the sea and, where circumstances so require, by way of mutual regional arrangements co-operate with neighbouring States for this purpose.”

But Australian defence personnel are not co-operating with Indonesia to ensure the safety of asylum seekers. Instead, they’re leaving them to fend for themselves, hours offshore of Indonesia.

The International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR) requires contracting states to:

… ensure that assistance be provided to any person in distress at sea … regardless of the nationality or status of such a person or the circumstances in which that person is found” and to “… provide for their initial medical or other needs, and deliver them to a place of safety.”

But Australian defence personnel are not delivering asylum seekers to a place of safety, they’re leaving them to fend for themselves, hours offshore of Indonesia.

What’s more, according to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), we’re also breaching:

  • Amendments to the SOLAS and SAR Conventions, which require contracting states to: “… arrange disembarkation as soon as reasonably practicable”; and
  • Guidelines on the Treatment of Persons Rescued at Sea, which state: “The government responsible for the SAR region in which survivors were recovered is responsible for providing a place of safety or ensuring that such a place of safety is provided,” where a ‘place of safety’ is defined as “… a location where rescue operations are considered to terminate, and where: the survivors’ safety or life is no longer threatened; basic human needs (such as food, shelter and medical needs) can be met; and transportation arrangements can be made for the survivors’ next or final destination.”
  • But Australian defence personnel are not arranging disembarkation of asylum seekers, nor providing or ensuring a place of safety, they’re leaving them to fend for themselves, hours offshore of Indonesia.

Australia’s Criminal Code (Commonwealth)

Julian Burnside QC also suggests we may be committing “a crime against humanity contrary to section 268.12 of the Criminal Code (Commonwealth)”:

Article 9 of the Covenant prohibits arbitrary detention, yet people sent to Nauru and Manus Island, by Australia at Australia’s expense, are being arbitrarily detained in disturbing conditions. The refugees without ASIO security clearances are also being arbitrarily detained. This then constitutes a crime against humanity, according to the Criminal Code in section 268.12.”

Summary

So here’s what the facts tell us:

  • ‘Boat people’ are not breaking any law, so they’re not ‘illegal’.
  • Australia has a legal obligation under international law to accept asylum seekers.
  • Less than half of all ‘illegal immigrants’ are ‘boat people’.
  • Only about half of all asylum seekers arrive by boat.
  • 92% of ‘boat people’ are genuine refugees; they have a genuine reason to fear persecution in their own country.
  • ‘Boat people’ are not jumping the queue.
  • They’re still genuine refugees if they can afford boat passage.
  • They’re still genuine refugees if they come via Indonesia.
  • 51 other countries get proportionally more asylum seekers than Australia (relative to GDP).
  • ‘Soft’ border protection laws did NOT cause an influx of ‘boat people.
  • Refugees who came by boat make up only 2.5% of all of Australia’s immigrants.
  • Only 1.4% of all our immigrants are Muslim boat people from countries that follow strict Sharia law. And they’re fleeing those Sharia law countries!
  • Abbott does NOT have a mandate to stop the boats by breaching international law.
  • Australia is breaching international law by detaining boat people unnecessarily and turning them away (e.g. sending them to Indonesia).

In other words, ‘boat people’ are a small issue to Australians. They’re not doing anything wrong, and they hardly make a ripple in our overall immigration intake. We only think they’re a big issue is because the government makes them a big issue, and the media happily plays along because it’s a big story.

In reality, the only people to whom the whole ‘boat people’ issue is a big issue are boat people themselves. And, sadly, the smokescreen created by the government is very effectively obscuring that fact.

Why don’t most people know this stuff?

The fact that most people don’t know this stuff is testament to the dishonesty of our politicians and the brainwashing by or media.

This isn’t a conspiracy theory. It’s all fact on public record. Look it up. It’s another instance of the government and media distracting voters from real issues by pointing the finger and finding a common enemy.

That’s why the Coalition built its 2013 election campaign on the ‘Stop the Boats’ line. And why they changed the name of the immigration department from “The Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship” to “The Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection”. And why they even changed the processing label applied to asylum seeker boat arrivals from “Irregular Maritime Arrivals” to “Illegal Maritime Arrivals”.

None of this is accidental.

Am I suggesting we should open our borders up completely?

No. I’m saying we should separate our onshore and offshore refugee quotas, so boat people don’t take places of resettled camp refugees. And we shouldn’t be using ‘population’ issues as an excuse to turn ‘boat people’ away. If there are population issues (which I don’t believe there are), curtail regular immigration. At least then the people being turned away will merely be inconvenienced. They won’t be killed, tortured or wrongfully imprisoned.

What can we do about it?

If you feel strongly about this issue (and any other problems being caused by the Abbott government), make sure you write to your local politicians and to Abbott and co. Tell them what you think, and demand they stop.

Beyond that, I think we need a Constitutional Convention. And when we get it, we need to change the system to a vote-for-policies system. No politicians, no parties… And tighter regulation on corporations. I’ll be blogging about my thoughts on this soon, so make sure you subscribe to my blog.

What do you think? Please comment…

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue. Please add a comment below, so we can chat about it.

You can follow Glenn on Twitter, Google+, or Facebook.

The Ugly Australians

When one analyses the government’s general performance thus far, it is easy to form the impression that they are so focused on, and beating their chests about, stopping the boats, they haven’t noticed that the current polling puts them out of office in 2016.

sri lankan

Sri Lankan asylum seekers (Image by transcurrents.com)

A disturbing feature for the Coalition is that these polls override the government’s boats’ policy and renders its treatment of refugees irrelevant. Scott Morrison’s brutal statements via video which were produced as a deterrent for those in detention reflect not just his vicious and malevolent approach but reveal a dark and sinister government intent not just on stopping boats but also applying mental torture as well.

His refusal last week to confirm the presence of two boats allegedly containing 203 Tamils being intercepted by the Australian Customs is further evidence that he and the government have lost any sense of morality and think that stopping the boats is all they need to win the next election. How wrong these ugly Australians are.

In the video Morrison warns asylum seekers: “If you choose not to go home then you will spend a very, very long time here and so I urge you to think carefully about that decision and make a decision to get on with the rest of your life.” This is tough, uncompromising talk indeed and bullying by any other language.

When asked about the recent boat interceptions he said, “A boat hasn’t arrived — let’s be quite clear.” This approach by Morrison was utter arrogance to say the least. All subsequent attempts to seek answers from other members of the government were greeted with their robotic, pathetic mantra, ‘we don’t comment on operational and water matters.’

customs

Customs helicopter (Image by australianaviation.com.au)

The arrogance of this minister is mind-boggling. Not only is the level of secrecy unprecedented since the Second World War, it is counter-productive. Well we remember John Howard’s 2004 election campaign slogan which began with, “Who do you trust….”  Somehow that slogan must have helped him and the Coalition across the line then, but they wouldn’t want to try it today.

A recent Essential poll found that while the most trust we have today is with the High Court of Australia followed closely by the ABC, the level of trust we have for political parties is at the bottom of the survey at only 2%. And that is precisely where they deserve to be. Labor, despite their appalling coalescence with the current boats policy, were at least upfront with what was happening with boat arrivals and reported it regularly. Such trust and honesty toward the Australian electorate did not work to their advantage. That, sadly, says more about the duplicity and collective ignominy of the electorate than it does about Labor’s honesty.

But now, Scott Morrison has finally released at least part of the story about the boats’ interception and one suspects he will be beating his chest with delight. We can only hope his actions in this matter and that of this government will come back to haunt them both.

We can only hope there will be international repercussions over this unprecedented abuse of human rights. Tony Abbott’s much repeated claim that the government has always acted in a manner consistent with its international obligations is no longer trustworthy and masks a dark victory reminiscent of John Howard’s Tampa.

Abbott must be feeling very smug. His three word election slogans have prevailed. That, of course, is no comfort to the 41 asylum seekers returned to Sri Lanka who will now, most likely, face arrest and charges for leaving Sri Lanka from other than an official port. And what of the remaining 153 who have remained on board Australian vessels? Will it be Nauru or Manus and another opportunity for Morrison to show his video?

At the time of writing, the High Court, that institution Australians trust above all else, has just granted an interim injunction preventing any further transfer of asylum seekers by Australian Customs. This ugly story is yet to play out.

No doubt Abbott’s 37 spin doctors employed to manage his media performances will feed the Murdoch press with all the misinformation they can tap out on their keyboards. We can only hope it won’t work.

When the real stories begin to emerge from Sri Lanka, as they no doubt will, can we also hope the collective conscience of the nation will be sufficiently stirred from its disgraceful ambivalence? Perhaps not.

shorten

Bill Shorten (Image by news.com.au)

We have to remember that Scott Morrison has 97 spin doctors and they also have Murdoch in their stable. So we can anticipate that, for the time being, with a hapless and complicit Labor and an ineffectual Greens and PUP, we will see continued human rights abuses. Doubtless the ABC, Fairfax and The Guardian will continue to investigate this outrageous act of moral bankruptcy but will anyone be willing to listen?

 

 

Back where you came from

Image by ahmadiyyapost.blogspot.com

Image by ahmadiyyapost.blogspot.com

Someone gave me some good advice when I was a single woman: when you’re out on a date with a man, take note of how he treats the waitress. Because one day that’s how he’ll treat you. I couldn’t help but think of this advice, strangely enough, when I tried to digest the disturbing news that Abbott’s government has almost certainly handed Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers back to the government they were fleeing from. Because it occurred to me that Australian voters really should heed this same advice when it comes to the way Abbott treats the most desperate and vulnerable amongst us.

No doubt many Australians would read this and think smugly to themselves, ‘no, I’m Australian. My government would never treat me like they treat an asylum seeker. They’re not from here and I am, so that gives me certain privileges that the asylum seekers don’t have rights to’. But this is clearly naïve.

You think Australians have rights. Sure we do. But asylum seekers have rights too. They’re called human rights and Abbott completely disregards them. Australia has signed up to the UNHCR Refugee Convention, but from the behaviour of the Abbott government over the last 9 months, I wonder why the UNHCR still accepts Australia as a signatory to this international agreement. Yes, we think of ourselves as a first world country. But what first world country would violate human rights and demean the weak and defensive amongst us in order to win political points? How callous does the government have to be before Australian citizens start to show a rational level of concern about the people in charge of this country?

Still not convinced that Australian voters should be worried? Still think vulnerable Australians automatically rank higher in the government’s concern than desperate people fleeing from persecution and violence? What if, just like a first date, a political party is on their best behaviour for a short time? It may last the election campaign. But just like in a new relationship, once the honeymoon period is over and you get to know the real government, their true character can’t be ignored.

The cracks started appearing in Abbott’s best behaviour on the first day of his new government. And there was nothing but red flags in the delivery of his budget. Look, for example, at the way Abbott is treating young Australians. If his welfare policy is accepted by the new Senate, people under 30 who don’t have a job will be denied even the most basic level of Newstart assistance. And it’s not like Abbott’s government haven’t considered the ramifications of this policy change. They know that young people who aren’t getting any Newstart allowance for six out of every 12 months will find themselves broke and homeless. They know that thousands of Australians are going to need emergency relief of the most basic kind – they’ve already increased the emergency relief budget for this very reason. And what about the disabled? Abbott wants people with periodic mental illness to be denied a disability pension because their disability isn’t ‘permanent’. Yet they must know it will be impossible for these people to get a job. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that these Australians will soon be as desperate to survive as Tamil asylum seekers who’ve chosen to risk their life on a leaky boat rather than risk staying where they are.

The handing of Tamil asylum seekers back to the government they were fleeing from should be a lesson for all Australians about a government that wants to put people back in their place. A government that wants to tell us all to go back where we came from. A government who knows that the unemployed young adults from poor families will have the least chance of surviving for six months without Newstart, whilst the rich will be cushioned by their inborn safety net of privilege. But that’s the point of the Abbott government isn’t it? To put us all back in our place. To kick the ladder of social mobility out from under us. To punish the poor and to rub their nose in their misfortune.

I hope Australians are starting to learn this lesson about the Abbott government. I hope they look at the way this government treats asylum seekers and they understand that these poor desperate souls are the canary-in-the-mine-test-of-character that provides all the insight they need into the true values of the Abbott government. And I hope that when they think of the asylum seekers being turned away from Australia, they don’t feel satisfied that Abbott is succeeding in turning back the boats. That they don’t think he’s doing something good for the country and good for them. Even if Australians can’t, on the whole, feel empathy for asylum seekers, I hope they can at least have the emotional intelligence to be worried about themselves. Especially those who know what it is like to be poor and who want to make, or have made, a better life for themselves and their children. I hope they look at the Abbott government and wonder what their futures would be like if they were forced to go back to where they came from. Abbott is trying to exclude whole sections of the community, to define them as less than citizens and to send them back to the misery they came from – just like the asylum seekers. Through his ideological budget, and every decision he has made since becoming Prime Minister of Australia, Abbott is already proving that he will decide who belongs to our community and the manner in which they belong. My question is, are people worried about how he treats the waitress?

Dear citizens of Australia

Image from theheraldsun.com.au

Image from theheraldsun.com.au

In this guest post Fionn Quinlan makes a passionate plea to those people who fell for any of the propaganda that enticed them to vote for the Coalition. It’s OK of course to vote for the Coalition – or any party you wish to – but as Fionn points out; your vote could be put to better use in future if you recognised the consequences of it.

Dear citizens of Australia,

I am writing to inform you/us that we’re quickly becoming, or rather already have become, an international laughing stock. An in-joke for the majority world; the other 7 something billion outside of our 20 something million are coming to think of us as the big fat country with too much, that’s giving too little, that isn’t able to look outside of its self-imposed exile, unwilling to step from its soap box to see the world for what it is; a web like community made up of billions of small but vitally significant links. It’s no longer those who are politically conscious that are aware of the disgrace of the group of humans that have been granted power to make overbearing decisions on behalf of our nation, it’s the majority. So, before I try and vent and release the deep scar that is being created due to recent and not so recent happenings, I must assure you that I am indeed what some may call True Blue, as it is, of course, a subjective term. Yes, I too have loved the smell of gum leaves since I was in a pram, I love a sunburnt country, I’ve been around the world a couple of times or maybe more, I say g’day and how’s it goin’, and I still call Australia home. But to be completely honest, it’s really beginning to hurt. Like that awkward hurt you can’t quite put a finger on, and if you try and explain to ya mates down the pub, they begin to look at ya funny.

I’ve waited months to attempt to compose this letter. I was waiting for a time when my emotions weren’t running too high due to one thing or another our current government has perpetuated, implemented, slashed, withdrawn, torn down, disrupted, damaged or simply ignored. Every week – near on every day – I have been confronted with another daunting disgrace. So I’ll try and ease into it a little and go easy on the hard data and “facts” and just try to keep it “real”.

To begin with, I want to know how it is we let ourselves be led by such a group? I like to think that to a large extent it has a good deal to do with a caustic mix of social conditions and what some call the manufacturing of consent. However, I would love for you to ask yourself ‘why’. Have you taken the opportunity to look at alternatives? Have you dedicated even a small amount of time or effort to comprehending policies that are due to be implemented and begun to fathom their diverse effects on not just yourself, but all those around you? Or did you just take for gospel the words of one of the many media outlets controlled by a minute few? Did you stop to question whether or not these people may not only not have your best interest at heart, but in fact the whole system is rigged to favour them, and that within this rigged system you’re merely a pawn in their game? I know, it’s a very hard pill to swallow. In fact you’re quite likely to ignore this entire piece and likely anyone for that matter who may be deemed a voice of dissent. Or any one of the many voices that is forcing you to stretch your manufactured paradigm more than it’s been programmed to stretch.

I’m really struggling to put succinctly what it is that so frustrates me about our current position. But it’s something to do with our lack of Stoic behaviour (you know, the great philosophers of old, the ones who could see beyond wealth and material privilege). Our inability to see that we’re sitting on a literal and metaphorical gold mine and still complaining about it. Our inability to see that the policies being put in place are not only deleterious to us, but are to the whole planet.

“Oh come on, that’s alright, isn’t it?” Sure. So long as you get your long weekends, and the mining trucks get their petrol for a few cents cheaper, the boat people are being kept out and there’s little to no real societal change. Because who likes change anyway? Especially when we’ve got it so good? Who cares if someone who has English as a second, third, fourth language or in fact can’t speak it at all can’t get into your country? So what? It’s likely they don’t deserve to be here. That’s the beauty of an international meritocracy, isn’t it? The people who are wealthy and have all the power have got there because they deserve it and that’s how globalised liberal-democracy works. So, I’ve thrown eloquence out the window; I feel like screaming, but that’s not going to help anyone or anything. This of course part of the problem. Unless I’m the mainstream news or the pretty/wealthy majority (who is of course a minority) there’s a fair chance nobody will hear what you or I have to say. But please, Mr and Mrs Australia, put down that newspaper, and stop watching that mind warping excrement on television. It’s become obvious to me that you’re unaware of the harm being done to our world and country. Take the opportunity to look outside your paradise. Try and stop believing the lies. Ween yourself off the crack that is modern, conservative, comfortable, mainstream life and live.

The fact we’re one of the most urbanised nations on the planet speaks volumes about us. We’ve all this space yet we prefer to be insular, we’ve been forced into cities to work jobs we hate so we can buy things we don’t need. Yet people keep buying into it.

All I ask is that you see this letter for what it is; a letter from someone who sees the destruction wrought by this somnambulist society trying desperately to control you. Take your head from the sand and begin to demand more. You deserve it. We all do. Soon you’ll see that the vast majority of what you’ve been told is highly processed faeces sold up stream, and that what you have been lead to believe is not the truth.

Yours most sincerely

Fionn Napier Quinlan

An unedited version of this article can be found on Fionn’s blog the Paradigm Stretch.

Protesting for protesting sake?

Image courtesy of smh.com.au

Image courtesy of smh.com.au

Tracie Aylmer attended the Villawood protest yesterday. Tracie is a migration agent and solicitor who comes into regular contact with asylum seekers. In this guest post she expresses her disappointed at the behaviour of many of the protesters whose behaviour, she laments, did nothing for the cause of those in detention.

I have only been to two protests in my entire life.

The first protest was a few weeks ago – the March In March. It was so well organised, that people respected not only themselves, but others and the police. There were no arrests, even with the tens of thousands of people who marched with me.

The second was yesterday – on 5 April 2014 – at Villawood Detention Centre.

Before I go into detail in relation to my experiences of the asylum seeker protest, I think I should explain who the asylum seekers are. I am in constant contact with the Hazara community. They are peaceful, gentle and very respectful members of our community. They do not like to fight, which is why so many are tortured and/or die at the hands of the Taliban in areas such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. They actually refuse to fight back!

My contacts in the Hazara community saw the video (now made private) that was recorded yesterday. Their direct response, and I am quoting, is “it is not good”. They were very disappointed that so many people were behaving as they were in that video.

Due to these very lovely people, who have accepted me with open arms into their community, I respect everything they do and say. They are very gentle, and do not believe that people should be deliberately trying to become arrested in their name.

I cannot say how asylum seekers in Villawood Detention Centre would have reacted to the fact that people were arrested in their name, but if they are anything like my contacts in the Hazara community they would have felt ashamed.

Being vocal would have helped them realise that there are people outside of Villawood Detention Centre who do care for them, but ignoring police direction and going so far as to kick and punch police officers for doing their job goes above and beyond.

I believe some police officers do create ‘ultra vires’ moments. There’s little doubt of that – particularly considering why ICAC was formed.

But, the directive to move the asylum seekers came from far higher than the authority given to the police officers who were there yesterday. They obeyed orders. They did not make the orders. The buses were going to leave anyway. No matter what.

This government cannot ‘stop the boats’. That much is obvious, even if we now don’t hear about it. So what makes anyone on that day think they can ‘stop the buses’? Especially those officers that were there yesterday.

The police asked for people to move to the footpath. Considering the footpath is quite large, it sounded like a reasonable request. People could have been just as vocal on the footpath, as they were on the road. It didn’t matter where, as long as the people were vocal.

The police then said to the mothers for asylum seekers group that if people did not move onto the footpath, there would be every reason for the police to move people to the end of the street. Since the mothers were there to say goodbye to their long time friends (the asylum seekers), people should have listened to the mothers. The mothers were gentle and caring ladies, who deserved respect. They were near tears, as the connections formed were bonding. They saw the writing on the wall – the buses were going to leave anyway, and this was their last chance to say goodbye.

As it happened, no one was moved to the end of the street. Everyone stayed where they were.

People started speaking about their experiences. One of the mothers told about her experiences. Everyone was quiet and respectful for each person on the microphone. Then, a police officer wanted to talk. He was drowned out by protesters chanting the same chant over and over.

A short time later, a man came up to us and told us that people should have a right to be on the street if they wished. He said the protest was proper and people also had a right to talk. One of the mothers then asked “so why wasn’t the police officer then allowed to talk?”. We both then decided to ignore him.

Shortly after this, and after a few hours of being there, I had to leave for personal reasons. A police officer escorted me to my vehicle. He was kindly and respectful, as I showed respect. He said he was only doing his job, as told by higher authorities. I said I was only there for the asylum seekers.

I was not there at the period of time when the protesters and police clashed. I am grateful that I wasn’t. This was not what I signed up for. I wanted to show the asylum seekers I was there for them. Instead, I had a protester tell me that I was selfish. I was told that I shouldn’t be there for me. It made me wonder – who was I there for, then? Because I certainly wasn’t there for the protesters!

Protesting in order to create ugly clashes with the police does nothing for the cause. It only shows those who vote LNP what they want to hear about asylum seekers – that perhaps they should be feared after all. Showing lack of respect for the police also shows lack of respect for the asylum seekers. They would not want people being injured or arrested in their name. It would make them feel guilty.

So to all the people who showed up to protest, and were in that video kicking, screaming and punching the police, who were you actually protesting for? If the asylum seekers don’t want to see this sort of thing going on, then is it really worth being arrested? Isn’t this the sort of mob mentality that the LNP are notorious for?

Isn’t this the sort of thing that the LNP staunch supporters would want to see?

Perhaps if we all calmed down and became as respectful as the asylum seekers, then all our protests would have the same tinge as one of the most successful protests in Australia in decades – the March In March.

Do you want the Abbott Government to increase the severity of the treatment of asylum seekers?

In my recent article You are a disgrace to our nation I began by announcing that:

I was appalled at the results of the recent poll reported in the Sydney Morning Herald that revealed, for whatever reason, most people want the Abbott Government to treat asylum seekers more harshly than the disgustingly inhumane levels they currently do. It was noted, disturbingly, that:

A strong majority of Australians, 60 per cent, also want the Abbott government to “increase the severity of the treatment of asylum seekers.”

I further commented that:

It is obviously not good enough that the:

Manus Island’s detention centre has been described as cruel, inhuman, degrading and violating prohibitions against torture in a detailed report by Amnesty International.

The most extraordinary claim in Amnesty’s report is that drinking water in the largest compound . . . is limited to less than half a litre a day.

“A dozen bottles a day for nearly 500 men, according to the staff who supply them, or less than a single 500ml bottle per person, an amount that is clearly insufficient, especially given the heat and humidity.”

Or that an:

. . . independent body of psychiatrists, psychologists, GPs and other medical professionals and advocates gave advice to the government about the serious mental health impacts of offshore processing and long term detention.

The living conditions in the facility are hot, extremely cramped and poorly ventilated. There is no privacy. The conditions in one dormitory were so bad that Amnesty International considers the accommodation of asylum seekers there a violation of the prohibition on torture and other ill-treatment. ”P Dorm” is a World War II building with a low, curved, metal roof. It sleeps 112 men on bunk beds arranged with no space between. There were no windows, and two standing fans. As a result, the smell is overwhelmingly bad and the heat is stifling. Asylum seekers reported finding snakes in the room and flooding when it rained.

As the week progressed, we witnessed a string of unnecessary humiliations.

The men spend several hours each day queuing for meals, toilets and showers in the tropical heat and pouring rain, with no shade or shelter. Staff refer to them by their boat ID, not their names. Almost all are denied shoes. Most have had their possessions confiscated by people smugglers or staff on Christmas Island.

The article attracted outrage on two fronts.

Not surprisingly, and firstly, most readers were outraged that fellow Australians could not only harbour such senseless hate, but openly express their desire for the Abbott Government to increase the severity of their already harsh and despicable treatment of asylum seekers.

But equal dashings of outrage targeted the method of the poll itself and the anticipated outcome for those conducting the poll. It was arguably designed to stir up trouble. And that, it did. The demographic of the poll also came under question. None could be provided, which again leads one to question the motive of the poll. Some reader of The AIMN investigated a little deeper and came up with the evidence that the method employed in this particular poll is a method generally referred to as ‘push polling’. For those not familiar with the method:

A push poll is an interactive marketing technique, most commonly employed during political campaigning, in which an individual or organization attempts to influence or alter the view of voters under the guise of conducting a poll.

I don’t think for one moment that this particular poll was politically motivated, but I am concerned that the government could no doubt be buoyed – or maybe even politically motivated – by the results of these sort of polls, especially when the said results are promoted freely and widely in the mainstream media. Put simply, the results of these polls, whether conducted under questionable methods or not, send the wrong message to the government. The results might have been different if more rigorous testing methods were used, however, this is inconsequential.

Well the mainstream media has had their turn with that poll and now it’s time for the independent and social media to have their turn. So we are asking the same question and we want the government to know what we think.

Social and independent media embraces a wide demographic. We are people of all ages and locations and importantly, do not generally subscribe to the mainstream media. As such, as far as the Abbott Government is concerned, we are ignored. They don’t know what we – to use a simple word – think.

We need to be heard. We must tell them that their treatment of asylum seekers is harsh. We can’t let them believe the results of the polls blasted all over the mainstream media and we can tell them via the simple yes/no poll below. As you can see there are no tricky questions or any push polling.

Cast your vote.

[polldaddy poll=7766196]

Asylum Seekers: Let’s Pretend

Guest post by Doug Evans 

Let’s pretend.

Let’s play a little game of make believe. At the moment it seems that everyone is talking about Australia’s enormous intractable problem of asylum seekers and how to deal with them. But this is in large measure a function of the last decade of policy history in this area. What if we could roll it all back and construct exactly the asylum seeker policy we believe we should have. What would its main features be? Here is my attempt.

  1. ONSHORE PROCESSING
  • I think all processing of refugee/asylum applications should be carried out onshore. 80 or 90% of Australia’s asylum seekers arrive by plane with valid papers, usually a tourist visa and simply overstay before applying for asylum. They are processed onshore why not the rest? Australia is the only industrialized country in the world (out of some 44 countries) to have offshore detention centres. Why is that?
  • Onshore processing is cheaper. The way we do it now is very expensive. The cost of re-establishing offshore processing on Nauru alone has been estimated at $2billion over 4 years. Budget papers reveal the cost of Australia’s immigration detention system was estimated at $800 million in 2011-12. With approximately 7,000 people in detention, it cost Australians $110,000 per asylum seeker in detention in 2011-12, and in 2012 the overall cost rose suddenly some 500 million. Now with Rudd’s NG solution the price per asylum seeker has suddenly skyrocketed. Who knows how much it will cost from now on?
  • Onshore processing would be a large step towards ensuring that Australia (currently a member of the UN Security Council) meets its UN obligations in respect of refugees and asylum seekers. Although offshore processing is not in itself a contravention of these obligations we are obliged to provide adequate safeguards including the provision of humane living conditions and an effective regime for the prompt processing of refugee claims. It has been argued that neither of these exists on either Nauru or Manus Island.
  1. DETENTION

Australia’s system of mandatory detention of asylum seekers without time limits has been found on numerous occasions to breach Australia’s international obligations not to subject anyone to arbitrary detention.

  • I think all asylum seekers should be detained for processing at a centrally located processing centre or centres in Canberra or wherever the relevant Federal bureaucracy is located.  This/these facilities need to be secure but not behind barbed wire. There are many less intimidating and stigmatizing options to barbed wire fences. A central location and high profile is important for both symbolic and practical reasons of access.
  • I think they should be held there for no longer than two weeks; just long enough to complete the initial application and to have any health or support needs assessed. After that time they should be moved to regional refugee centres centrally located in one or more of the State Capitals where they will have assigned caseworkers to whom they should report regularly while awaiting a decision on whether their application for asylum is to be granted or not.
  • I think that if an applicant has family or close friends in Australia they should be able to choose to live with them while their application is being processed.
  • I think that if it is assessed that an asylum seeker’s application will take more than four months to determine, the applicant should be entitled to work.
  • I think they should be offered free housing, but should provide for them selves if they have enough money. Emergency medical and dental procedures and prescriptions should be provided for minimal cost. All asylum seeker children should receive the same medical coverage as Australian children.
  • I think that the Regional refugee centres should provide accommodation for the asylum seekers along with childcare, recreation facilities and a central reception office.
  • I think that asylum seekers should be required to visit the reception office regularly to receive their allowance, news on their application and for need and risk assessment.
  • I think that their caseworkers should make these assessments and refer clients for medical care, counselling and other services.
  • I think that in the regional reception centres residents should be free to come and go as they please.
  • I think that all asylum seekers awaiting a decision should be encouraged to participate in some form of organized activity such as English lessons if they are not working.
  • I think although there may be special cases, in general it should be for an applicant to decide whether or not to speak to the press.

How am I doing so far? Does it sound like a lot of impractical hippy rubbish that only a Greens supporter with no idea of what it takes to govern, could dream up? I’m afraid there’s quite a bit more in similar vein about the categorization of asylum seekers, treatment of those whose applications have been rejected and their rights to appeal negative assessments, but I’ve already used too much space.

Luckily I don’t have to write it all down. You can all look for yourself. I have a little surprise for you. I’m not making it up. What I’ve described so far is the way they do this in Sweden. Apparently they were so naïve as to just go ahead and try to do the right thing rather than waiting for the focus groups and party strategists to tell them what they could get away with without losing votes in the marginals. It’s all written in a paper that you can find it at Fabian.org along with the footnotes and the author’s credentials.

Of course Sweden is not Australia and as is well known they have their own problems with xenophobia, racism and the rise of fascism not unrelated to immigration and refugee intake at the moment. Grant Mitchell, the very well qualified author of the paper I’ve been plagiarizing has some very interesting things to say about the differences and similarities between the two countries. But I have a few comparative figures of my own.

In 2010 Sweden received about 30,000 asylum seekers. In 2010 Sweden’s population was 9.18 million. That is one asylum seeker for every 306 Swedish citizens. In 2010 Australia’s population was 20.85 million and it received in total 8250 applications for asylum. About half of these were the boat arrivals that get our politicians so hot and bothered. Looking at total numbers only we find that is one asylum seeker for every 2527 Australian citizens.

The number of Swedish asylum seekers in 2010 was about 8.5 times greater per capita than in Australia. However in 2010 Sweden held most applicants for asylum in mandatory detention for no longer than 14 days. In 2010 Australia held them for an average of 224 days. In the same year France, approx 49,000 asylum seekers (one for every 1260 French citizens) held them for an average of 10.7 days and Canada, roughly 22,000 asylum seekers (roughly one for every 1500 Canadian citizens) held them for an average of 8 days.

The numbers, both total and boat arrivals have shifted since 2010. 2012 saw 17,202 Australian arrivals by sea. This year’s figure looks set to be even higher. However numbers are increasing elsewhere also and the comparisons remain valid although totals and ratios have shifted.  Why is it that in Sweden, indeed nearly everywhere else in the developed world the numbers of arrivals are much larger but the problem seems to be smaller?

In 2007 Labor had the real possibility of separating itself from the coalition on this issue and doing what is right. Instead it chose to engage in a pissing contest with them to see which party could convince a severely misled electorate that they could be the meanest to a tiny group of the world’s most vulnerable people. I support the commonly expressed view that since little Johnny the Rat pulled his Tampa number on Kim Beasley and caused him to lose the ‘unloseable’ election, the ALP has lacked the courage to confront the ever-present undercurrent of racism that flows in so many Australians.

Could it be that the Rudd/Gillard governments have got themselves into this appalling mess because they didn’t have the courage to confront a relatively small number of shock jock fuelled racists primarily in Sydney’s western suburbs by telling them a few simple truths?

Like, for example:

  • Persecuting asylum seekers who arrive (perfectly legally) by boat will make no difference to the number of burkas and brown and black faces that alarm you by living and working in your neighbourhood. Irregular boat arrivals are a small percentage of Australia’s total asylum seeker applications and nearly all of them are genuine refugees fleeing persecution as opposed to the large majority of arrivals by air where nearly all of them are found to be not genuine.
  • Numbers of asylum seekers arriving in Australia are tiny both in total and on a per capita basis.  Australia ranks in the mid forties in the rank ordering of favoured destinations for asylum seekers.

And so on. You all know the script.

Now it is clear that the MSM has complicated the dissemination of this message with its constant negative messaging so the blame for the woefully low level of awareness of asylum seeker realities is not entirely with the government. Overall I think the Rudd/Gillard governments have done a passably good job in difficult circumstances and I agree with Paul Strangio that history will probably judge them (particularly Gillard) better than their current critics on the other side of the ‘House’ and in the MSM.

However the mess they have created around the issue that AA nominates, asylum seekers, is all their own doing. The virtually indistinguishable policies of both the major parties on this issue are a stain on Australia’s history. It did not have to be so. I hope the above demonstrates this.

What causes good and intelligent people, some of whom even aspire to make Australia a fairer, more just place, to conceive and enact such discriminatory, cruel legislation?

A final note:

The failure of the Rudd/Gillard governments to put in place a principled, economically defensible and workable asylum seeker policy is worthy of discussion but what really alarms me is the unexamined, unquestioning, tacit acceptance of this and other substantial policy glitches made by these Labor governments by so many that post on the altogether too ‘relaxed and comfortable’ centre-left sites that dot the fifth estate. In difficult times critical examination of the entire political landscape is a necessary pre-requisite to understanding what is happening to us. Consistently overlooking the not insubstantial failings of one of the three major features in our political landscape (Labor, Coalition, MSM) is not helpful to promoting understanding and perhaps appropriate action.

 

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