The government of Australia has one of the worst records in the world for its treatment of asylum seekers and refugees. They are held indefinitely in off-shore detention centres, prisoners in a limbo land, an example to other asylum seekers that life in Australian detention centres is worse than any hell they have fled.
In a deal with Papua New Guinea, thousands have been held on Manus Island and Nauru. The only way out is to return to the country from which they fled, where they will face persecution and possibly death; being accepted by a third country; or settled in generally hostile local communities where there are no jobs, little support and where they are permanently separated from their families.
Under a “stop the boats policy”, asylum seekers have been locked up in such remote off-shore detention centres — the “Pacific Solution,” with no chance of settlement in Australia.
Australian Prime Minister, former merchant banker, Malcolm Turnbull, told Donald Trump in a leaked phone call early 2017, “It is not because they are bad people. It is because, in order to stop people smugglers, we had to deprive them of the product. So we said, if you try to come to Australia by boat, even if we think you are the best person in the world, even if you are a Nobel prize-winning genius, we will not let you in.”
The policy has succeeded as far as Australia’s politicians are concerned. Asylum seekers no longer arrive by boat.
The policy, introduced in 2001 by a right wing Liberal/National Party coalition government, revoked, then re-instated, is supported by the Labor opposition.
Detainees are beaten by guards and police and vilified by ministers of the Australian Government and sections of the media. Incarceration exacts a horrendous mental and physical toll. There is self-harm, chronic depression, suicide, even murder.
The Australian government refused a New Zealand offer to take 150 of the detainees from Manus — because at some time in the future, as New Zealand citizens, they could have right of access to Australia.
Peter Dutton, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection said, “At this point in time it’s the wrong decision to send people to New Zealand because you will start the boats.”
The treatment of refugees has been condemned by the United Nations, members of the Australian medical profession and thousands of ordinary Australians who have demonstrated throughout the country from metropolitan cities to country towns.
Phil Glendenning, President of the Refugee Council of Australia, and Member of the Order of Australia, said, “The Australian Government has had five years to develop a sustainable resolution to a problem of its own making.” He called for the government to, “guarantee peace for the detainees — the majority of whom are recognised as refugees — and for the surrounding community.
“The Australian Government-run centre on Manus Island has been plagued by murder, suicides and self-harm, with conditions deteriorating in recent months, leading to an acute physical and mental health crisis.”
Actor Russell Crowe dubbed the centre “a nation’s shame” and “disgraceful,” saying the men had lived in fear and despair.
In November of this year some 500 asylum seekers, many of them refugees, were forcibly removed from the Manus Island detention centre to nearby facilities.
Their accommodation had been raized, water and power cut off, and bins used to collect rainwater smashed. Despite determined peaceful resistance the asylum seekers were removed by police. Some were beaten.
Imran Mohammad, a 23-year-old Rohingya from Myanmar, kept a blog during the four years he has been a prisoner on Manus. Prior to the forced re-location he wrote, “Six men who were full of life have died because of this endless pain. They would still be alive if they had been taken to safety.”
“There will be no activities, gym or education facilities in the new accommodation and there is nowhere to go, except one supermarket, and nothing to do. It simply means that we will be stuck in prison indefinitely, a prison designed to inflict more psychological damage. The doors will be open but the fear of being attacked will keep us inside the four walls.”
“It feels as though we could be stuck in limbo for years again and not knowing anything about our future will rob us of any strength we have left… “
“I am one of many stateless Rohingya refugees in detention on Manus Island and the fear we have endured for most of our lives is still with us.”
Behrouz Boochani, an ethnic Kurd, is a journalist and an Iranian refugee held on Manus since August 2014. Over a prolonged period he kept a journal that was published in The Guardian newspaper. Following the forced removal he wrote, “This issue must be understood as the annihilation of human beings … it is a long history, a comprehensive history, it is intertwined with its [Australia’s] colonial history.”
Socialist Voice comment
The mandatory detention policy was introduced in 1994 by the Labour government and massively expanded under Howard. The aim was to punish people with imprisonment in order to discourage other refugees.
We fully support the demands of the Australia refugee solidarity movement:
- Close down and evacuate the offshore Manus Island and Nauru camps (#EvacuateNow)
- Bring all the refugees in the camps to Australia (#BringThemHere)
- Mandatory detention must end
We also support the demand that Australia accept New Zealand’s offer to resettle 150+ refugees.