Tag Archives: mandatory detention

The diversion of aid: Carr’s false comparisons

19 Dec

The Gillard government yesterday declared its intention to rob overseas aid of $375 million in order to help pay  the living expenses of asylum seekers who have arrived in Australia by boat.

The money will allegedly go towards supporting the resettlement of asylum seekers who have been released into the community on bridging visas. These asylum seekers need financial support because the government will not allow them to work while their claims are being processed.

They have been condemned to a marginal existence, receiving some 85% of the already meagre Newstart allowance, for some five years, the time it is estimated it will take authorities to process their asylum claims.

It’s not known if the money will also be used to fund off-shore detention centres, particularly the construction of new facilities on Nauru and Manus Island.

Foreign Minister Bob Carr claims this is no big deal, and cites the United States, Canada, Sweden and France as countries that already use overseas aid money for domestic purposes. However, none of those countries have a policy of indefinite and mandatory detention for asylum seekers.

In Sweden it is preferred that asylum seekers work while awaiting a decision on refugee status. In the US the maximum period an asylum seeker must wait before being allowed to work is five months. In most rich countries including Canada, asylum seekers are permitted to work within a matter of months.

However the countries cited by Carr spend their overseas aid money domestically, it is not on supporting asylum seekers for years while they await decisions on their status and are forbidden to work. It is not spent on supporting asylum seekers living in indefinite off-shore mandatory detention. Carr’s comparison of Australia’s asylum seeker policies with those of other countries is entirely false. We have nothing in common with any peer country.

The diverted money is intended for overseas aid and development. If it is to be spent overseas, that will be in our off-shore detention centres. Quite what development will be achieved in that instance is unclear. It’s also unclear how any development might be achieved domestically in denying asylum seekers the right to work, and forcing them into marginal existence paid for by the government for up to five years.

The Opposition, via its mouthpiece Julie Bishop, continue to confidently bray that they will “stop the boats.” As the Gillard government has implemented the most severe conditions we have yet seen, and still the boats arrive, it is difficult to imagine just how Mr Abbott will achieve this goal.

A brief history of the Coalition’s hostile encounters with the UN

17 Jul

March 28, 2005 – “Australia was facing a United Nations committee’s scrutiny for the first time in five years. The event went unreported back home and the verdict – handed down on March 12 – was the subject of only a few, scattered reports in the press.”

“Australia was rebuked for its treatment of migrants, Muslims, asylum seekers, refugees and Aborigines. In the eyes of the Geneva committee, the list of this country’s failures on the human rights front has only grown longer since the Howard Government came to office.”

The Coalition’s recent insistence that asylum seekers can only be sent to states that have signed the Refugee Convention is startling, given its history with the UN throughout the Howard government years. This history can be fairly described as hostile and bordering on the pugilistic, with then Foreign Minister Alexander Downer reacting to negative UN committee reports with this outburst:

  “We won’t cop it any longer. We are a democratically elected government in one of the most liberal and democratic countries you will find on Earth. And if a United Nations committee wants to play domestic politics here in Australia, then it will end up with a bloody nose.”

On Howard’s watch in 1998, Australia became the first Western nation to be issued with an “urgent action” notice following what the UN committee identified as a risk of “acute impairment” to native title rights. We were then found in breach of our obligations to the Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and again earned the dubious distinction of being the first Western nation to incur a breach finding.

John Howard reacted to UN criticisms thus: “Australian laws are made by Australian parliaments elected by the Australian people, not by UN committees.” Amnesty International confirmed his attitude with this observation, after a 2004 High Court ruling sanctioned mandatory detention:  “These findings show the limited impact that international human rights law has had to date on Australian law-making.”

As an indication of the Coalition attitude in 2001, Liberal Senator Ross Lightfoot referred to boat arrivals as “uninvited and repulsive peoples whose sordid list of behaviours included scuttling their own boats.” (Human Rights Watch Report, 2003).

In 2002, at the request of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs Mary Robinson, the Howard government agreed to allow Special Envoy Justice P.N. Bhagwati to assess the conditions of asylum seekers held in indefinite mandatory detention, with specific regard to the question of their human rights.

Justice Bhagwati’s report, which can be read in full at the above link, contains this observation:

As noted above, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 7) and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, explicitly prohibit torture and all cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment. The human rights situation which Justice Bhagwati found in Woomera IRPC could, in many ways, be considered inhuman and degrading.

Australia signed the CAT treaty in 1985, and ratified in 1989.

Justice Bhagwati’s report was described by Howard government ministers as “fundamentally flawed,” “emotive” and lacking objectivity. The government received an advanced copy of the report, and had the opportunity to correct any “flaws” prior to its release. The Special Envoy was also accused of interfering in domestic policies.

A personal observation: I visited Woomera Detention Centre in 2002, just before Justice Bhagwati undertook his visit to Australian detention centres. It was entirely appropriate to react with emotion to the conditions in that place, and to the suffering of the children, women and men behind its razor wire. Indeed, the inability to feel disturbed by those conditions and the resultant human suffering, indicates the presence of sociopathic tendencies, an inability to accept those imprisoned there as human.

For a much more thorough analysis of the Coalition’s relations with the UN than I’ve provided, I strongly recommend “The Howard Government’s Record of Engagement with the International Human Rights System” by Sarah Joseph.

The series of events over the last decade and more rather gives lie to this extravagant claim: “The Opposition’s immigration spokesman Scott Morrison says the Coalition has always supported the UN Refugee Convention, and will continue to do so.”

The Opposition’s recent decision to refuse to allow asylum seekers to be sent to any country that hasn’t signed the Refugee Convention is wildly inconsistent with its attitude to the United Nations for the last fourteen years. When in government, the Coalition regarded the UN as toothless, and our obligations to the treaties we signed as irrelevant. These include the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as children were and still are kept in mandatory detention, with and without their parents.

These attitudes are not peculiar to the Opposition. The current government does not observe our obligations either.

Now Scott Morrison seems to be getting himself in something of a twist, having declared the Refugee Convention to be out of date and needing an overhaul, while simultaneously demanding the government observe the fundamental protections it offers in ensuring asylum seekers are sent to a signatory country.

Neither major party have anything to boast about when it comes to Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers. Both pander to the prejudice and xenophobia of voters they believe will give them government. Both claim they wish to avoid deaths at sea, but they apparently have little or no concern about asylum seekers dying anywhere else, as long as it’s out of our sight and mind.

This is a drastic failure of leadership on both parts. It’s been shown time and time again, that if people are given the opportunity to meet and know asylum seekers, even the most hardened attitudes can change dramatically. Leaders worth the title would grasp this, and take the opportunity to extend our hearts and minds rather than encourage their shrinkage for political gain. There are many things that can be described as despicable in politics, but surely up there at the top must be the demonisation of human beings, and exploitation of their suffering for domestic political gain.

A pox on both their houses.


The Malaysian solution, or why Gillard will never have my respect and trust

17 Jul

‘To shelter the other in one’s own land or home, to tolerate the presence of the land-less and homeless on the “ancestral soil” so jealously guarded, so meanly loved – is that a criteria of humanness? Unquestionably so.” Emmanuel Levinas.

In the Sydney Morning Herald today there’s an article revealing that in the last three months taxpayers have funded flights from the Christmas Island detention centre to the mainland totalling over $3 million. These chartered flights have transported asylum seekers from the over-crowded Christmas Island centre to other detention centres on the mainland.

Figures from Senate Estimates also reveal that for the 11 months to the end of May, health costs in detention centres exceed $95 million.

2010 Australian of the Year, psychiatrist Patrick McGorry, described Australia’s detention centres as “factories for producing mental illness and mental disorders.” In response, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said: “We believe mandatory detention is necessary for security reasons.”

And those security reasons are?

Asylum seekers who arrive by boat are security threats how?

Australia is the only country signatory to the UN Refugee Convention that detains asylum seekers until a decision is made on their application to be accepted as refugees. All other signatory countries allow community placement while the assessments are made. The only signatory country in the world that subjects asylum seekers to indefinite imprisonment in “factories producing mental illness and mental disorder” is Australia.

In Australia as in no other signatory country the asylum seeker, the ultimate foreign other, is co-opted as an imprisoned and criminalized scapegoat. This is intended to strengthen the boundaries of our nation state by uniting Australians not in recognition of our shared humanity with the stranger, but rather in a common rejection of the foreigners’ human rights and needs in the interests of maintaining a politically expedient ideology of sovereignty.

Julia Gillard has gone further than even John Howard in her proposed treatment of asylum seekers. She wants to send them “to the back of the queue” in Malaysia. No other Australian politician has proposed the trade in vulnerable human beings that Gillard is engaged in organizing.

The refugees from Malaysia we will resettle in exchange for the 800 boat arrivals Gillard plans to transport to that country have not “queued” in order to be granted visas to live here. They have applied for re settlement along with thousand of others, and they have been selected not based on a position they hold in a non existent queue, but on their suitability as citizens.

Does Australia select refugees on the basis of how long they have been in camps? No, it doesn’t.

Yet Gillard continues to misinform and mislead the Australian people on the matter of a mythical “queue” because it is politically expedient for her to do so. The fact that it is a lie is as irrelevant to her as it is to Alan Jones, and it serves both their purposes to continue to feed this lie to the public. To the PM and shock jocks alike, the stranger seeking asylum via the boat is assumed to be morally corrupt, a criminal and possibly a terrorist, by virtue only of the dire circumstances in which he or she finds themselves in their homeland. This is utter nonsense.

In the moral world of Gillard and the shock jocks, having the gumption to get yourself out of a high risk situation by entering into another high risk situation, all in the pursuit of life, liberty and safety, makes you a criminal and possibly a terrorist. The fact that you manage to get enough money together to pay for your dangerous boat journey is only further evidence that you should be hanged by the neck when you get here, metaphorically speaking.

Imprisoning boat arrivals is a dishonest, cruel, wicked and discriminatory practice. It does nothing to improve our society, and does everything to morally and ethically damage us. It does nothing to assist the thousands of refugees in camps around the world.

“He said to me: ‘You are an animal. We will deal with you like an animal.” Guard to asylum seeker detained in Villawood Detention Centre.

Julia Gillard is engaged in a process of dehumanizing both the boat arrivals and the Australian electorate. Our attitude to those seeking asylum is a measure of our humanness, just as Levinas claims. Our political leaders should care about our collective and individual capacity for humanness because no society can thrive and survive without this quality.

“We are not animals! We have eyes like you, we have hands like you! We are not criminals!” Thirteen-year-old male detainee.

The very thing the Gillard government does not want acknowledged is that the people in detention are in any way like us. If the humanity we have in common with asylum seekers is recognized, indefinite mandatory detention would become intolerable. The demonization of boat arrivals is a morally repugnant practice, and one which Gillard fully endorses. Politicians have always sought to demonize and scapegoat human groups in the pursuit of their own political interests, and she is no exception.

We drive these people mad through the use of  indefinite mandatory detention. Then, when they act out their mad despair, we punish them for it. Now Julia Gillard like Pontius Pilate, has decided to wash her hands of the fate of the boat people and send them to Malaysia, a non-signatory country where we will have no control over what happens to them. Indeed, singling out a particular group for some kind of “special” UN protection is likely to make them even more vulnerable to attack and discrimination in a country where there are tens of thousands of displaced people, all of whom are struggling for survival in an environment that is hostile to them.

What Gillard is doing makes the Howard government’s off-shore policies look reasonable. Many refugee advocates now prefer the Pacific solution to Gillard’s Malaysian plans. That Julia Gillard should have brought us to such a choice!

I should respect this woman? I should support her? I should trust her?

I should be a proud feminist because Gillard is our first female PM?

The Malaysian solution is a bloody disgrace to this country. Nothing Gillard achieves in other areas will do anything to mitigate the immorality and inhuman cruelty of her plan. Neither will anything mitigate her continued support of indefinite mandatory detention while refugee claims are being processed. Gillard continues this, despite everything we know after ten years of the practice about how it damages and destroys the human beings we incarcerate.

2002: UN condemns Australia on refugees. 2011: UN condemns Australia on refugees.

27 May

Mandatory Detention

Australia, 2002: The United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs. Mary Robinson, requested Justice P.N. Bhagwati, Regional Advisor for Asia and the Pacific, to visit and report on the treatment of asylum seekers in detention in Australia in 2002, specifically focussing on the Woomera IRPC in South Australia. This report focused on ‘…the human rights issues related to the conditions of detention and the treatment of persons in the immigration facilities…’ (Bhagwati, 2008). Under ‘General Impression’ the first paragraph of the report reads as follows:

Justice Bhagwati was considerably distressed by what he saw and heard in Woomera. He met men, women and children who had been in detention for several months, some of them even for one or two years. They were prisoners without having committed any offence. Their only fault was that they had left their native home and sought to find refuge or a better life on the Australian soil. In virtual prison-like conditions in the detention centre, they lived initially in the hope that soon their incarceration will come to an end, but with the passage of time, the hope gave way to despair…He felt that he was in front of a great human tragedy. He saw young boys and girls, who instead of breathing the fresh air of freedom, were confined behind spiked iron bars…these children were growing up in an environment which affected their physical and mental growth and many of them were traumatised and led to harm themselves in utter despair.

Australia 2011: Change the names, dates and detention centres.

filipspagnoli wordpress.com

A DECADE OF COMPLETE FAILURE ON THE PART OF ALL POLITICAL PARTIES 

Rioting and deaths in detention: anyone could see that coming so why don’t the politicians?

30 Mar
A bunch of Razor Wire atop a chain link fence

Image via Wikipedia

Guest blog today by Dr Stewart Hase

A Refugee Crisis in the Camps: Now Who Could Have Predicted That?

The media treat it as something of a surprise that the ungrateful inmates of our refugee camps are rioting and committing suicide. But it does make for great headlines and, let’s face it, that’s mainstream journalism these days: the ‘gotcha’ rather than real investigation. Well, it is no surprise to psychologists who, had government taken the time to seek some good advice, could have easily predicted these events. In fact, if a research psychologist had wanted to design an experiment confirming the negative impact of incarcerating people, they could have done no better than the politicians and bureaucrats with the fiasco they have invented. The experiment has it all: desperate people; close confinement; razor wire; remote locations; removal of dignity an extended but variable process that engenders hopelessness; an unnatural existence; and overcrowding.

It has been long known in psychology that even relatively innocuous forms of incarceration cause psychological problems: an abnormal situation creates abnormal behaviour in and of itself. We know that guards become abusive towards inmates when they are in this unique position of power. The abuse of the powerless is not restricted to psychopaths or other similarly inadequate personalities. Mr and Mrs Average are quite capable of abnormal cruelty when given the opportunity. We see this in wartime, concentration camps, prisons and the now defunct (thankfully) psychiatric hospitals of the first half of the twentieth-century.

Any first year psychology student knows that you cannot expect people to behave normally when they are placed in abnormal situations. And we could expect people to riot when they are placed in a threatening situation. We can expect people to kill themselves or develop psychoses when their disbelief turns to despair turns to hopelessness. We can expect to see children rapidly wither on the vine when normality is stripped from them: they have few defences to protect themselves.

Successive Australian governments have failed the compassion test, as have we, the Australian people for not urging a humanitarian approach to this problem. This does not mean allowing illegal entry to our country. It does not mean opening our doors. But it does mean having a process for dealing with the problem that is in keeping with the mores of a twenty-first century civil society rather than those of the dark ages: a society that bases its decisions on evidence rather than false and convenient belief. I wonder if we are ready yet and is there a politician out there that is prepared to rise above the sorcery that is popularism?


Dr Stewart Hase

 

Dr Stewart Hase is a registered psychologist and has a doctorate in organisational behaviour as well as a BA, Diploma ofPsychology, and a Master of Arts (Hons) in psychology.

Stewart blogs at http://stewarthase.blogspot.com/

Politicians’ racist refugee policies revealed yet again.

28 Feb

by Pigeon Poo via flickr

 

In his interview on ABC radio’s Counterpoint on February 28, former immigration minister Philip Ruddock unintentionally revealed the racist platform on which the coalition’s asylum seeker policies, like the government’s, uneasily sit.

When asked why asylum seekers who arrive by plane are not held in detention, he explained that they usually have a place to stay, and so there’s no need to go to the expense of detaining them while their claims are being processed.

The Counterpoint interviewer didn’t point out that there are boat arrivals who have family already in the community, and could very easily stay with them while their refugee claims are being processed. Just like the plane people.

Instead, they are held in indefinite mandatory detention. There is no mandatory detention for the airborne.

What is the difference between the waterborne asylum seekers and airborne? Most of the waterborne come from the Middle East.

The Coalition’s refugee policies are allegedly built on giving preference to deserving as opposed to undeserving asylum seekers, that is, they allegedly favour accepting those who are in most need.

This doesn’t include boat people because they have enough money to pay their way, and they take refugees places from those without the means to do that.

Ruddock doesn’t have the same attitude to asylum seekers who arrive by plane. Unlike boat arrivals they have visas, he says, and have been “vetted.”

However, they still take places from those refugees without the means to get visas, and without the means to pay airfares.

The Counterpoint interviewer neglected to point that out, as well.

There is no apparent reason  to treat waterborne and airborne asylum seekers differently. As the former are without visas, it is sensible to detain them for an appropriate period while they undergo health and identity checks. They can then be released into the community, as are the plane arrivals.

The punitive criminalizing of boat arrivals makes no sense in any terms other than racist. It’s very likely that they have fled more difficult circumstances than those who arrived by plane, from countries where it is still possible to obtain visas and engage in regular travel.

Indeed, plane arrivals are more likely to be making immigration choices, as opposed to seeking asylum.

Circumstances in Iraq, for example, are horrific. SBS Dateline, Sunday February 27 ran a piece called Nation of Tears that eloquently portrayed the life Iraqis have to live.

As a member of the Coalition of the Willing who illegally invaded that country, we bear our share of responsibility for the on going chaos and death. Yet we imprison those who flee that nightmare, while allowing those who arrive from functioning countries,with visas, to live free while their refugee claims are assessed.

This hardly sounds like a policy of attending to the most in need.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult for the coalition and the government to deny their inherent racism. No matter how hard they try it keeps on erupting, as it will when it’s so deeply ingrained.

If Chris Bowen and Scott Morrison have an explanation as to why there is such on going discrimination between asylum seekers arriving by boat and plane, why don’t they reveal it, and put paid to the inevitable allegations of racism against themselves and their parties?

How to stop the boats

18 Feb

Three children wounded by US bombs in Nangrahar Province, Afghanistan

 

I‘ve said it before and brought down a load of trouble on myself, but I’ll say it again.

Australia is entirely responsible for boat arrivals. Doesn’t matter which political party’s in ascendency.

Because we are signatories to the UN refugee convention, we are known in  the world as a country that accepts asylum seekers for refugee assessment and resettlement.

Domestic law supports  the Convention. Australia invites anyone anywhere to claim asylum here, and seek refugee status.

No one who does this is acting illegally, no matter how they arrive, and whether they have papers or not.

Therefore, they come. Of course they do. Wouldn’t you in their place?

They have done nothing more than accept our invitation.

God help them.

Reading the comments on various articles the last few days, I’m pretty sickened by the overwhelming number of callous posts, blaming the asylum seekers for coming here in the first place, and blaming the government for not stopping the boats.

The answer is simple. We withdraw from the Convention, which we are not upholding anyway, and we change domestic law.

We then cease to be a country known for accepting asylum seekers, and asylum seekers will not endanger their lives trying to get here.

To continue to issue the invitation, and then to treat  those who accept it as sub humans, reveals a worrying sadistic streak in the Australian psyche. Clearly, we are not in the least hospitable towards those arriving in boats, yet we keep on inviting them.

Why?

If we aren’t prepared to withdraw from the Convention and change domestic law, then we obviously are  prepared to keep on extending the invitation.

Basic rules of human decency require that we treat those we’ve invited with hospitality and respect. We’re inviting them into our home.

What kind of host holds the guests in mandatory detention?

If nothing else, can we at least be honest about what we’re doing? Can we at least come clean about our two faced duplicitous position? Can we at least own up to the fact that we’re solely responsible for the situation, and not the asylum seekers?

They don’t know we don’t mean what we say.

It’s time to make a decision. It’s not rocket science. Get in or get out. But stop pissing about complaining, and tormenting our invited guests while we’re at it.

Of course, then we’d have to find somebody else to despise.

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