Like many Australians, the Asylum Seeker debate has been on my mind since yesterday’s release of the Houston Committee report. To make matters worse, this morning I somehow found myself in the midst of a Twitter debate on Australian Asylum Seeker policy. So, just to get it off my chest, I would like to discuss how inhumane and shortsighted Australians are being in the way in which they deal with Asylum Seekers.
To start, here is a question. What does it say about a country, that when it finds out a person from another country is so desperate, unhappy and threatened by their lot in life that they are willingly to risk life, limb and a fortune to escape it; the country’s response is not to try and improve the persons predicament, but to try and make that person’s prospects of escape so atrocious they will give up and stay in the hell hole they were trying to flee? I would say that such a response is utterly disgusting. And, yet, this is exactly what Australia is doing. People from all over the world are fleeing their countries because of economic hardship, environmental devastation, natural disasters, religious intolerance, ethnic strife, war, government repression, and a myriad of other abominable reasons and calamities. Many of these people are attempting to get into Australia, a country they see as a beacon of hope in an area of the world full of despair. And, in response, the approach undertaken by the Australian Government has been one of deterrence. Apart from the Greens (who have other idealistic and ridiculous ideas), the entire political establishment in Australia has bought into the idea of deterrence. This has led to: off-shore processing, Temporary Protection Visas, Towing boats back to where they came from, even further off-shore processing, mandatory detention, and refugee swaps (etc.). All good policies for stopping people coming here, I’m sure, but what is their intention? Are they about alleviating the economic, political or environmental reasons that are causing people to flee their homes? Are they about providing security and peace of mind to desperate people? Of course not. They have caused hunger strikes, riots, suicides, mental illness and self-harm. They are not about easing hardship or showing respect. They are about inflicting pain. They are about making Australia less desirable than the refugee’s current situation. They are about removing that beacon of hope. They are, quite frankly, inhumane.
A justification I have often found in debates over Asylum Seekers to justify such action, is that Australians are “not responsible” for other peoples hardships. Australia did not cause the problems in those countries, they say, and therefore have no legal obligation to attend to other people’s woes. To a certain extent, I agree. However, I believe Australia has a moral obligation to help. Not only because these refugees are our fellow man, but because the history of humanity is dotted with examples of outside assistance, and many of us would not be here if this was not so. The Americans would have found their Revolution a damn sight harder without French involvement. The Haitians and the victims of the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami would be in an even worse mire than they are now without international support. And, who knows what would have become of most of Europe in WW1 without the involvement of Britain, the United States and even Australia? These are all examples of outsiders helping when they were not required to (especially in the last case, where Australia was half a world away). However, in many cases, these interventions have proven an incalculable boon to all and sundry. So, how can Australia measure the real effects of their help? How do they know that by allowing refugees to languish in their personal hells, they aren’t any worse than those who would have left Western Europe to demise under the Germans? It is not always apparent. And, furthermore, if there were a horrific natural disaster or war in Australia’s future, would it not also want similar assistance? How can Australia expect such assistance in the bad times, when it has proven itself so selfish in the good times? This is indeed shortsighted.
The policy of “deterrence” is about systematically and purposefully making an escape route so intolerable that people are forced to stay in the predicament from which they want to flee. It is a policy of systematically turning Australia into a less desirable place than the place which has already given them so much grief, a place from which they were prepared to brave death to escape. It is about removing hope from those that are already so desperate. It allows Australians to live in the fantasy that they are still good people, despite the fact that their country is deliberately causing suffering rather than attempting to alleviate it. And, to cap it all off, it removes Australians from the long line of selfless acts that have allowed the human race to prosper. It removes any incentives or motivation for others to help Australia in the future. It is inhumane and short sighted. It puts Australia front and centre in the worldwide race to the bottom. To quote one of the few times Spider Man’s was profound (although the idea is stolen from the bible); to whom much is given, much is expected.
Originally posted @ Sakalabujan Magazine