Tag Archives: asylum seekers

Asylum Seekers: what it costs Australian governments to persecute stateless persons

12 Nov

 Asylum Seeker Three

 

The foreigner is the political precondition of the nation state… Costas Douzinas.

Australia, while remaining a signatory to the United Nations Convention relating to the status of refugees, long since gave up any pretence of observance of international human rights in favour of a nationalistic observance of state sovereign rights. State sovereignty permits governments the right to exclude persons the state deems unworthy of inclusion.

The power of the state to exclude is perhaps the fundamental state power.

Ideological, racial, economic and political factors are the criteria for deciding who is and is not included in the nation-state. As Hannah Arendt noted, statelessness is not a problem of geographical space, but of political space.

The stateless person has as their only descriptor the fact that they are human. Ironically, this strips them of their right to human rights, rights which are only available to them if they are citizens of a state. It is not enough to be human. One must also belong to a state in order to claim human rights. Arendt suggest that the only fundamental human right is the right to have rights. Asylum seekers who have a legitimate right to arrive by boat in Australia are stripped of the right to have rights once their vessel is intercepted by Australian authorities.

 

Stateless Persons UNHCR

Persons seeking asylum from persecution who attempt to access Australia by boat are singled out for exclusion, and though their method of arrival is perfectly legitimate under the Convention, they are criminalised and detained in off-shore camps. Detention camps on Nauru and Manus Island are all that is offered to de facto stateless persons, that is, refugees unable to claim the human rights afforded by citizenship. Persons detained in these camps are exempted from “normal” laws. The methods of addressing their plight are containment and repatriation, or resettlement in another country, rather than granting asylum and legal integration into the Australian nation.

This action against asylum seekers is justified as being in the “national interest,” an abstract concept in which the mystical “nation”  is prioritised over the interests of singular human beings who are dispossessed non-nationals, and therefore considered rightless.  The state is committed to protecting only legitimate members of the nation, the rights of asylum being in conflict with the rights of the state. There is in Australia no concept of offering sanctuary and refuge to those fleeing persecution who arrive by sea. Their loss of place in the world, their loss of belonging, has the effect of reducing them to physical objects, bereft of human dignity, because without rights one is not a person, one is not an agent in the public realm.

In reaction to this deliberate and systematic dehumanisation, asylum seekers held in detention camps on Manus and Nauru behave as did those held in mainland camps such Woomera and Baxter. They sew up their lips in a symbolic protest against the silencing of their voices. They harm their own bodies. They suffer depression and anxiety, and hopelessness. Their suffer the abjection of those who have ceased to belong to any state.

Asylum Seekers Two SMH photo

 

Sovereignty, like religion, is a constructed knowledge imbued with faux mysticism. The Abbott government’s “Operation Sovereign Borders” appeals to this pseudo-mysticism, offering citizens the opportunity to come together in unity, led by a concerned, fatherly government to protect our nation against the breaching of its borders by the unwanted, stateless foreigner. As Douzinas points out, there can be no nation state without the foreigner; one must have someone to protect oneself from in order to maintain the perceived power of sovereignty.

The asylum seeker is equally imbued with mysticism, of the most negative kind as the assumption is peddled that merely due to the fact of her search for asylum she is morally corrupt and corrupting. Her crime is breaching sovereign borders. She is used as a scapegoat to unite citizens and strengthen boundaries, ultimately supporting the ideology of sovereignty.

What we are doing in this country is wrong. The idea that we must treat people horrifically in order to discourage others from attempting sea journeys is morally corrupt. Action the state is legitimised to take against one group can be and will be extrapolated to other groups, when the state deems it in the national interest. When the fate of human lives is secondary to the rights of the state, we are all at risk.

Is it really in the interests of the citizens of this country that so many billions of taxpayer dollars are eaten up in the pursuit and detention of a relatively few people who arrive here by boat, in the pursuit of the maintenance of our sovereign borders? No, it isn’t. It is, however, in the political interests of both major parties. The cost to the taxpayer of pursuing these political interests is obscene, and it is rising, as this graph from The Conversation shows:

 

The Conversation

 

The major parties continue to persecute stateless persons seeking asylum and refuge, solely because of their method of arrival. Australia moves further and further away from the undertakings we made when we signed and later ratified the Refugee Convention. Human beings suffer appallingly in concentration camps, out of sight and out of mind. The matter of the future of stateless persons is a massive global problem, and one that will continue to increase. Australian governments have long thought it is a problem that they can continue to outsource to countries far less capable than are we of providing the possibility of a decent life to those who by no fault of their own, are dispossessed of the lives they once had. This cannot go on. In all conscience, it cannot go on.

Abbott’s only claim to fame: persecuting the utterly helpless.

1 Apr

As far as I can tell, the Abbott government’s proudest achievement in its first one hundred days has been its ongoing persecution of asylum seekers arriving by boat. It has also been its most costly, and I refer you to this excellent ABC fact-checked site titled Operation Sovereign Borders: the first six months for a breakdown of the billions the government has committed to spending to maintain its “stop the boats” policy, and the mandatory detention of asylum seekers already apprehended.

What the government never admits is that “stopping the boats” is not something it can conceivably cease – as long as there are asylum seekers there will be attempts to access this country by boat.  Surveillance, interception and transfer of asylum seekers to lifeboats (which we must keep on purchasing anew as we never get them back) has no foreseeable end. Stopping the boats arriving on Australian shores is an immensely costly business, and open-ended.

Some weeks ago, the Guardian revealed that the Department of Immigration and Border Protection had inadvertently released the personal details of one-third of asylum seekers currently in Australia, possibly putting them at great risk if they return or are returned to their countries of origin. The result of this data breach is that asylum seekers may now legally claim refugee status in Australia solely on the grounds of sur place. 

Eighty-three asylum seekers detained at Villawood Detention Centre have launched this action, and the directions hearing challenging the government over the data breach is due to be heard on Friday.

The DIBP have advised the Villawood asylum seekers that they are to be transferred to the remote Curtin Detention Centre in Western Australia on Thursday, the day before their directional hearing.

Last week, Scott Morrison announced that all taxpayer-funded legal aid to asylum seekers who arrive by boat would be terminated. One of the consequences of this decision is that there are no longer any free telephone interpreter services available to boat arrivals. Plaintiffs transferred from Villawood to Curtin the day before the directional hearing of their claims, will be unable to freely access interpreters to communicate with their lawyers.

According to the UNHCR, asylum seekers are entitled to legal services and to deprive them of access is a denial of justice.

This is just one of the recent examples of the Abbott government’s unrelenting persecution of boat arrivals.

There is something monstrously pitiful about a government that has as its greatest achievement the persecution of a small group of utterly helpless people. Such persecution is the hallmark of the bully: attacking those who have no possible avenue of escape, or of fighting back, and then boasting of your  achievement.

Abbott and Morrison continue to bring the full weight of their contemptible authority to bear on asylum seekers who arrive by boat, and no expense is spared in the scapegoating and persecution of this group of human beings.

You may not particularly care about asylum seekers and their fate. But every one of us should care a great deal about the characters of the men who govern us when their greatest satisfaction comes from persecuting and ultimately defeating, even to the death, a human group who are amongst the most vulnerable on earth. Such men are dangerous. Such men do not deserve to govern us. Such men will not stop at one group of human beings. When this group ceases to serve their purpose, they will seek out another, equally helpless, equally unable to fight back, because bullies can only feel good when they make others feel terribly bad.

Bullies and bigots. Australia, 2014.

 

Turnbull, Transfield, The New Democracy Foundation, & the vicious ingratitude of artists

11 Mar

In the last two days Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, and former Chairman of the Sydney Biennale and Transfield Executive Director, Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, have provided the Australian public with an unusually revealing insight into what the ruling class expect from the artists they support.

Belgiorno-Nettis is an investor in the Transfield company recently awarded a $1.2 billion contract to provide “Garrison and Welfare” services to the Australian government’s detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru, commented on earlier by No Place for Sheep here.  It seems that wherever one goes, from the St James Ethic’s Centre, to the Black Dog Institute, to the Business Council of Australia, to the New Democracy Foundation (see below) to the arts, one encounters a director of Transfield.

Ten artists withdrew their work from the Biennale because the event was heavily sponsored by Transfield, and the ten considered themselves to be benefiting from profits gained from the exploitation of human misery. Transfield was a co-founder of the Biennale some 41 years ago, but has only become problematic since it was awarded the government contracts for Nauru, and most recently Manus.

Turnbull described the artists as being “viciously ungrateful” to their benefactor.

On Radio National’s Books and Arts program today, Belgiorno-Nettis expressed his revulsion at the allegedly personal nature of the attacks on him and his family by “radical protestors” against the Manus and Nauru prisons, and when asked by presenter Michael Cathcart what he thought about the boycotting artists returning to the Biennale now Transfield was no longer involved, stated that as far as he was concerned they weren’t welcome back. They had, he insisted, used “guerilla tactics” against him.

The Transfield Executive Director’s explanation of his position was disappointingly self-indulgent. His outrage at being personally “insulted” is more than a trifle ironic, given the depths of misery and torment suffered by those legally seeking refuge from persecution, who are illegally imprisoned in the tropical hell holes (“garrisons”) overseen by Transfield.

Here is the letter written by the artists explaining their position. I can find nothing insulting to Belgiorno-Nettis or his family, and given Transfield’s withdrawal I see no reason at all why the artists should not now participate.

Neither can I find anything “viciously ungrateful” in the text of this letter.

Turnbull and Belgiorno-Nettis are as one in their contemptuous attitude to artists who disagree with both government policies, and the corporate support of those policies for profit.

Whether you agree or disagree with the stand taken by the ten artists, what the saga has revealed is the attitude of the ruling class to artists it supports. Both the Turnbull & Belgiorno-Nettis outrage at the audacity of artists supported by the establishment who defy that establishment is extraordinary, and the threat, loyally promoted by their middle class emulators, that now corporate sponsorship will become dangerously problematic because of this rebellion, is utterly predictable.

That the establishment’s reaction to robust critique of its policies and actions is outrage at the manner in which the challenge was mounted, and outrage that artists should have the nerve to bite the hand that feeds them, says everything about the lack of spine and imagination in the ruling class. The expectation that artists ought to be “grateful” to the degree that they keep their mouths shut when faced with intolerable and inhuman cruelty  shows a complete lack of understanding of what art is about, though I’m certain both Turnbull & Belgiorno-Nettis have art on their walls, and perceive themselves as cultured.

Belgiorno-Nettis is also the founder of The New Democracy Foundation, whose mission is to forge a new path to democracy through a “better system.” Lucy Turnbull, wife of Malcolm, is also a  member of this Foundation, along with other recognisable names. The Foundation’s mission statement:  The new Democracy Foundation is an independent, non-partisan research organisation aiming to identify improvements to our democratic process. We aim to replace the adversarial with the deliberative, and move out of the “continuous campaign” cycle.

It seems to me that the ten artists were peacefully exercising their democratic right to protest injustice with the most powerful means at their disposal – their work. According to Belgiorno-Nettis’ founder’s message, his New Democracy Foundation supports the right of people to express their opinions, and then for those opinions to be argued, Athenian fashion:  The Athenians called their discussion group The Council: 500 men [sic] selected by lot; 50 from each of the 10 tribes.  In this way the Council was a mirror of the population at large: a mini-public.  No one person, or tribe, could bully any other, because they were all equally represented. The Council’s job was to propose the laws for city, after which another discussion group, called the Assembly, would then meet and vote.  Any man [sic] could attend the Assembly and speak and then after all the arguments for and against, a vote would be taken, and that would become the law. They called this system Demokratia – meaning rule of the people.

Of course, trying to avoid dirty money must be an almost impossible task. However, the direct nature of the link between Transfield and the vile conditions in which those legally seeking asylum in this country are held is impossible to ignore. Australian politicians have singled out a group of people who they have determined are not deserving of decent, humane treatment. The group singled out is one whose members are almost entirely fleeing persecution of the most extreme kind. They are not criminals. They have committed no illegal act. They have requested protection from their persecutors. In response, they have been indefinitely detained, attacked, wounded and in one case, murdered, in extremely hostile and isolated conditions.

The company responsible for these “garrisons” and the “welfare” of those imprisoned, is Transfield. Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, as an investor in the company, makes money from the cruel injustice wrought upon asylum seekers by Australian politicians.

I’m hard-pressed to think of a situation more deserving of protest by artists, and anybody else.

The fundamental reason people seek asylum in Australia: because we tell them they can.

19 Feb

Both the ALP and LNP governments have, for more than a decade now, chosen to ignore the fundamental reason why people seek asylum in this country: we are signatories to the UNHCR Refugee Convention, and as such, we currently offer asylum to anyone who seeks it, no matter what their method of arrival.

Instead of withdrawing from this Convention, the “honest” thing to do as apparently we no longer consider it to have any validity whatsoever,  the current Australian government has issued a comic book, explaining to potential refugees why they should not come to this country in the belief that we will honour our commitment, because, quite simply we will not.

We will not speedily assess their claims for refugee status in Australia. We will, in fact, transport them to hideous off-shore processing centres where they will languish in indefinite detention with no certainty at all about their futures, and if that is not enough, they will be subject to violence resulting in serious injury and death from sources that as yet remain unidentified, because we do not adequately protect them.

This is what we do, instead of honouring the obligations we undertook when we first signed the UNHCR Convention in 1951, then ratified it in 1967.

We are despicable. Our politicians have made us a despicable, lying, obfuscating nation without the courage to withdraw from a commitment we have no intention of honouring. Australia enjoys the kudos of being a civilised signatory to the UNHCR Convention. At the same time, Australia has no intention of honouring our voluntarily undertaken commitments to that Convention.

This is our primary shame. Our hypocrisy. Our disgrace.

And both the ALP and the LNP have brought us to this.

The Ministry of Degradation

23 Jan

Operation Soverereign BordersThe history of treatment of asylum seekers who arrive by boat in Australia is a grim one, and both major parties have employed increasing degradation as a means to control, punish, and “deter” those who seek refuge here.

Even if one accepts the false narrative created by both the LNP and ALP that asylum seekers are “illegals” who are committing a criminal act in arriving by boat, this does still not explain or justify their degradation. If boat arrivals have indeed committed a crime, why aren’t they dealt with by our legal system, as is every other person accused of a crime in this country?

In a recent poll, a majority of Australians apparently feel asylum seekers are not treated harshly enough. Obviously the major parties are responding to the electorate’s need for gratification and reassurance through the degradation of a group who are despised by many voters. This can be seen as a chicken and egg situation: politicians post Pauline Hanson realised the advantages of pleasing xenophobic punters, and have since been at great pains to adjust their policies accordingly.

No matter what views one holds on asylum seekers, demanding their increasing degradation is to take a dangerous trip to the dark side. Any government willing to instigate and maintain those degradations ought to give rise to alarm. Whether it’s boat arrivals or the degrading treatment of bike riders in Queensland, any government that opts for degradation as a means of control is a government that has truly lost its way.

The Ministry of Degradation, currently overseen by Degradation Minister Scott Morrison, has been in existence for over a decade, and both major parties bear responsibility for its increasingly despicable treatment of asylum seekers. Railing against this Ministry achieves nothing. Speeches about every individual’s right to human dignity have achieved nothing. Appeals to compassion have achieved nothing. Still politicians drag us ever further along the dark road of degradation as an acceptable means of protecting our society. It isn’t. It never will be.

The only possible course of action is to persist with the contestation of the Ministry’s narrative, with facts, reason and unrelenting determination. It is not acceptable for our country’s government to treat asylum seekers who arrive by boat in a degrading manner. If the government believes asylum seekers have broken our laws, the government must employ our legal system to seek redress, not impose arbitrary punishment in the form of  deliberately degrading practices.

I don’t expect my government to contribute to the destruction of the civilised society we struggle to create and maintain. I expect my government to lead and assist us in this project. We can do a whole lot better with our asylum seeker policies. But as long as we have a government committed to the degradation and destruction of others as demanded by the vengeful, we can’t flourish. Degradation can’t be contained. It contaminates everyone.

Asylum Seekers not treated harshly enough, say vengeful Australians.

9 Jan

TONY ABBOTT ASYLUM SEEKERS PRESSERAccording to a poll reported in The Age yesterday, 60 per cent of Australians surveyed want asylum seekers arriving by boat treated more harshly.

59 per cent of those surveyed oppose government welfare for refugees.

Although there is a strong perception that boat arrivals are not ‘genuine refugees,’ in fact 99.7 per cent of asylum seekers from Afghanistan held on Christmas Island were assessed as refugees, as were a further 96 – 98 per cent from Iraq, Iran, and Burma.

The efforts of both major parties to reframe asylum seekers as illegal and threats to the country’s sovereignty, appear to have succeeded.

The chilling reality is that the majority of boat arrivals are fleeing conditions so severe that they are willing to undertake such a journey rather than remain in a country where they are at great risk, yet the majority of Australians, if the poll is to be believed, wish to see them further tormented when they arrive here.

Apparently the majority of Australians have a crippling lack of imagination coupled with a complete lack of desire to consider circumstances that drive others to flee their homes and beg for refuge at the other side of the world. Worse, they want asylum seekers treated more harshly than they already are when they arrive, a desire that borders on the psychopathic.

I suppose it is still possible to deal out harsher treatments, but people might die and that would be awkward.

The argument is frequently made that our treatment of asylum seekers is ‘inhumane.’ Asylum seekers are human beings, just like us, and because of that are entitled to as much consideration as we afford ourselves. This argument is obviously falling on deaf ears. According to the poll results, the majority of Australians lack any concept of a common humanity from which notions of equality and rights  spring.

Actually, it’s worse than that. They also want to harshly punish the suffering for bringing their suffering here.

My impulse is to beat such people around the head with a stick until they beg for mercy and flee, seeking refuge from my persecution. Of course that would achieve nothing, but it’s a gratifying fantasy. The minds of those so opposed to decent consideration of refugees’ circumstances are unlikely to be changed by any intervention, kind or unkind. However, the good news is 68 per cent of the 60 percent of Australians hostile to refugees are over 70 years of age, so they’ll hopefully cark, or become too demented to vote, and be replaced by saner minds.

Challenging such entrenched ignorance and lack of imagination is a formidable task, and those who undertake it haven’t made many inroads so far, though not from lack of effort.  Asylum seekers are now treated more harshly than they were nearly two decades ago. It was possible then for anyone who was prepared to jump through bureaucratic hoops to visit detention centres. This is no longer the case, and asylum seekers are almost entirely isolated off-shore, from those who would otherwise give support and assistance. This is still not sufficient for vengeful Australians. That their water is ridiculously rationed is not sufficient. That their medical care is below decent standards is not sufficient. That the children are imprisoned, that the latrines are foul, that many have no shoes, that we force them to suffer in high temperatures while offering no relief, that they live in an emotional and psychological limbo sure to destroy what their original persecutors didn’t manage to destroy, no, none of this is sufficient. Our vengeful Aussie majority want them treated even more harshly, which to my mind can only be putting them to death. Painfully.

I don’t think there’s any point anymore in speeches about our inhumanity to other humans. Frankly, not enough of us give enough of a shit about our common humanity, and the quaint notion that if you cut us we bleed just like you.

What, then,  is to be done?

Immigration Minister Morrison instructs his staff to lie

20 Oct

In this article in The Age today, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison orders his staff to publicly refer to asylum seekers as “illegal” arrivals , “detainees,” and “illegal maritime arrivals.”

As seeking asylum in Australia is not an illegal, criminal act, no matter how potential refugees arrive, Morrison is in effect instructing his staff to lie to the public.

Describing asylum seekers in the above terms criminalises innocent people, and this false criminalisation is then used to justify the Coalition’s treatment of them.

There can be little more offensive in a workplace than a boss ordering his staff to lie to the public. That a government minister should take this action is serious cause for alarm.

That this same minister is also a very public Christian should give even more pause for thought.

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