Australia’s shame

The Australian Government hates refugees and asylum seekers.

There can be no other way of interpreting the increasingly harsh stance of the Australian Government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott towards refugees and asylum seekers. Although state sanctioned contempt for refugees in Australia is hardly new – and to some extent is indulged in by Labor as well – the degree to which that contempt has been allowed to turn into a xenophobic paranoia has caught many by surprise.

United Nations reprimands are not working. The Government simply shrugs them off or even rebukes the United Nations for having the temerity to try. Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are barred from any coverage of the issue – they cannot interview detainees, cannot photograph conditions inside the detention centres. The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton, like his predecessor Scott Morrison, seems to think that refugees and asylum seekers are almost like a sort of invasive plant species.

To me, these camps are almost a light form of a concentration camp. The water supply is erratic. The temperatures on these tropical islands is almost unbearable. Shelter is inadequate. And then there is the mental health of the detainees, some of whom have been subject to violence by guards, fellow detainees or come from backgrounds which involved significant violence such as fleeing the Taliban in Afghanistan. Of course they don’t have documentation on them, since there would have been nowhere in Afghanistan to obtain it, and if there was, it is odds on that the Taliban is watching. The refugees would not have any money to purchase an airline ticket and any money they did have was probably handed over to people smugglers for a trip on a boat that might sink.

And yet Australia calls itself a first world country.

First world countries do not criminalize the reporting of child abuse or otherwise actively seek to discourage it, regardless of whether it is at one of these detention centres on Manus Island or Nauru or anywhere else. First world countries would actively seek to ensure better conditions for the young, the vulnerable and the sick. IF they are serious, they would be seeking to address the issues that made these people want to flee their countries of origin in the first place. I see no such attempt to do so by Australia. Real first world countries also show more compassion for refugees and detainees. They acknowledge the difference between refugees and immigrants.

New Zealand is in danger of following Australia down this dangerous xenophobic path. Understanding how and why refugees become so, would go a long way towards eradicating xenophobia from the mainstream of society. Unfortunately there will always be a small minority who refuse to differentiate between refugees and immigrants, who think that anyone who does not conform to their tunnel vision of ethnic diversity should be on the next plane back to where they came from.


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