I keep trying to summarise the last six months in Australian border politics for people outside Australia but all I can come up with is: I feel an intense sense of panic that something is happening that will be looked back on by almost everyone, once enough time has passed, as shocking passive acceptance of great evil. And the same people who do this now will try and smooth it over and create a narrative of inexorable progress that exonerates them from reflection, will say then, like they say now, “well, they didn’t know any better at the time” or “nobody knew what was really happening” and there won’t even be anything to point to to say we did, we did, we knew, or at least we knew there was something to know and chose not to investigate… People are being handed back to their torturers, people are being murdered, killing themselves, people are being disappeared by the Government before they can testify about these things. Please find out about what is happening to asylum seekers coming to Australia, please talk about it, please protest your local Australian embassy, please boycott Australia, please hassle Australians you meet about it, p l e a s e
Thank you for writing this. Would you be willing to recommend articles/books/websites/etc for someone who is mostly ignorant about Australian politics but wants to know more?
Most of the links in this post at least make reference to torture, murder, suicide, self-harm, sexual violence, genocide, every other terrible thing you can imagine, because this is what our policy does to people.
Obviously Australian politics is extremely multifaceted so I’m going to focus on the specific issue I was talking about, which is asylum seekers. I always recommend that people support and get their news from refugee-led organisations such as riserefugee. I also recommend following Tamil Fightback. The XBorder Operational Matters blog is primarily maintained by non-refugee academics in Sydney, but contains a lot of really informative analysis and commentary. Relatively reliable news and commentary on this issue can be found at New Matilda, Overland Journal, the ABC, and SBS.
Key events in the last six months include the murder of an Iranian man named Reza Berati in Australian offshore immigration detention in Papua New Guinea and the handover of Tamil asylum seekers to Sri Lankan authorities. I’m not aware of any simple material giving a potted history of what has lead up to this point in Australian border history but we are working on it. There’s an NYT article that covers some of it for an American audience.
Basically, Australia refuses to accept the claims to asylum of anyone who arrives by boat. For many years the norm was indefinite human warehousing of people in detention centres, without being charged with any crime or hearing anything about their claims, for years on end. You can read a very good comic about it here. The government has opened up more and more of these detention centres offshore, in external Australian territories like Christmas Island, or in other countries like Nauru or Papua New Guinea that have few options but to do as Australia says. All offshore detention is carried out by secretive private operators. The effect of this is to reduce people’s access to legal and community support, make everything less transparent, and make the government appear less responsible for what goes on there. (You can read more about this in Antony Loewenstein’s book Profits of Doom.) Earlier this year, asylum seekers on Manus Island detention centre, off the coast of PNG, were attacked by angry locals. One man, Reza Berati, was killed and many others were seriously injured. There’s no way the Department of Immigration didn’t have warning, but they did nothing. After this, a number of staffers resigned in disgust. One, Liz Thompson, used to work as a migration agent, but said “I would not go back because there is no process, nothing for me to do, no process to assist people with - it’s fake. …It’s not designed as a processing facility, it’s designed as an experiment in the active creation of horror to deter people from trying in the first place.”
The situation has now escalated to the government refusing to properly process any claims at all or even allow boats to land. Most recently, a number of Tamil refugees have been handed back to the military responsible for torturing them. This is called refoulment and it’s illegal under international law. They are now facing criminal prosecution for leaving the country without a permit. 150 others are currently being held under the deck of a boat with no natural light while their future is debated in the courts.
There is also a Border Crossing Observatory report on deaths at the Australian border since the year 2000. The bulk of them are from ships sinking and being actively ignored by the Australian Navy, people being killed once they were deported, and suicide. There is a very, very high rate of suicide among people who fear they may be deported. Recently a group of mothers in Christmas Island immigration detention attempted suicide because they felt their children would have a better chance at life without them. Prime Minister Tony Abbott labeled this “emotional blackmail”. Earlier this year, a Tamil man who had been waiting on the outcome of his claim, Leo Seemanpillai, committed suicide by self-immolation. His family was not allowed to attend the funeral because the Department feared they might want to stay.
These policies, with slight tweaks, are basically supported by both major parties in Australia so we can’t rely on voting out the party that supports them. One of the things those of us who oppose this are trying is a BDS style campaign, drawing inspiration from the Palestinian BDS campaign against Israeli occupation. We would really appreciate it if you could spread this information as much as possible. It will take a concerted global effort to end the Australian government’s inhumane actions.