Prime Minister Kevin Rudd yesterday confirmed a deal that will see asylum seekers sent to Papua New Guinea for assessment. If found to be genuine refugees they will be settled in PNG, with no prospect of ever being settled in Australia. I’m not sure if this announcement would have been less shocking if it had been delivered by Tony Abbott. I am opposed to this deal for the following reasons:
This arrangement outsources our ethical and legal responsibilities as a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees, which gives every human being the right to seek asylum. Most Australians are fortunate to not really understand the importance of this right. What would you say if your next door neighbour asked you to pay his annual taxes for the next 50 years in exchange for the veggies from his garden?
This deal further de-humanises the human beings who seek asylum in Australia. Have you ever heard a politician or media outlet refer to a drowned asylum seeker by using their name? This is important, because as long as we consider asylum seekers as other than human, we will care less and vote accordingly. (This is why you will never see me use the term “boat people” to describe asylum seekers who arrive by sea.)
This is an attack on people smuggling, not a solution for asylum seekers. Kevin Rudd has used his considerable influence to launch an attack against people smugglers, which is another important issue to be tackled. But he has done so at the expense of many genuine refugees, Australia’s responsibilities under the UN Refugee Convention, and actual human lives.
More than anything, this is a strategy to win your vote. The Labor Party is in trouble, even though it gained a bit of ground with last month’s leadership spill. Kevin Rudd has used this critical issue to bank on the fact that most Australians are mostly uninformed, a little bit racist, and very fearful of the people who show up on our beaches (thanks for that one, Australian media). Kevin Rudd is counting on the fact that we see these people as “queue jumpers” rather than genuinely desperate people.
When Bob Carr took the opportunity to talk to Lateline hours after the leadership spill to describe asylum seekers as mostly “economic migrants”, it was a disturbing sign of things to come. If this is truly the case, why are 9 out of 10 asylum seekers determined to be legitimate refugees?
We are being lied to. I doubt that any of us would put up with this kind of dishonesty from our partners, so why do we allow the leaders of our country to say such things unchallenged? The good news is that each of us has the power to do something about it.
Please keep reading. Make a really informed vote in September and base your decision on the issues that are most important. I don’t pretend that this will be easy because our politicians are hardly even talking about their policies – they’re more interested in distracting us from their policies. But read anyway. Pretend you’re buying a new car or choosing an insurance policy. Will you just choose the product with the shiniest packaging?
I say this as somebody who no longer knows what to do with her own vote, so I’m not trying to drum up support for a particular party here. I just know that this asylum seeker crisis deserves my care and compassion, and at least as much consideration as my other concerns like climate change policy.
There are lots of people writing really intelligent commentary about this decision and the impact it will have on all of us, but especially the desperate people who seek legal asylum for reasons beyond their control. I’m going to keep adding to this post as time goes on, as I’m sure that the discussion is only going to get more comprehensive.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) on the difference between asylum seekers and refugees. It’s pretty simple – asylum seekers are people whose refugee claims have not yet been determined.
Julian Burnside’s excellent article You’ve been misled on boat people: Here are the facts. This article is an excellent starting point for people who don’t know much about the asylum seeker issue, but also for the rest of us.
Amnesty International strongly condemns yesterday’s appalling announcement by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd that he will now refuse to resettle asylum seekers who arrive by boat in Australia. “Mark this day in history as the day Australia decided to turn its back on the world’s most vulnerable people, closed the door and threw away the key”.
Alison Gerard, Senior Lecturer in Justice Studies at Charles Sturt University says this: “Like other proposals put forward by this government, it is likely to be robustly contested in court as a breach of basic human rights. Internationally, it stands out as one of the most reactive and punitive asylum seeker policies, lacking in both compassion and a sophisticated understanding of migration in the Asia Pacific.”
Jon Stanhope, Christmas Island administrator, asks the Australian government: How many must die for us to show compassion?
As usual, some of the best commentary is only 140 characters long.
* Time to start working on a new National Anthem, I guess.