Tag Archives: Refugee

When politicians create scapegoats.

26 Jul

Humanity is therefore a graded and ranked status with many shades and tiers between ‘superhuman’ Western, white, heterosexual male at the one end and the non-human, the concentration camp inmates or the fleeing refugee at the other. Costa Douzinas

It began in 2001 when John Howard introduced into our politics the language of border control, illegals and queue jumpers with which to define asylum seekers arriving by boat. In the context of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Howard seized the opportunity to exploit a xenophobia unleashed by Pauline Hanson, and sought to create a bond amongst Australian voters by uniting us in fear of invasion by the boat-borne, allegedly diseased, allegedly potentially terrorist refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran.

The fabricated threat of invasion, together with Howard’s promise to protect the electorate from imagined perils, won him an election he looked set to lose.

What was absolutely necessary for Howard’s success, and what continues to be necessary to the present day, is the successful dehumanisation of boat borne asylum seekers by politicians. The humanity of asylum seekers must be negated so that their suffering appears both inauthentic and uninteresting to sections of the electorate perceived to control the re-election of governments. Primarily, they must be constructed as threats to the well-being of Australians, their lives stripped of experience and meaning. The implication of such treatment is that asylum seekers are less than human, and that seeking asylum is a criminal offence.

The theoretical underpinning of Howard’s political moves is explained by Douzinas thus:

The refugee is a representative of total otherness…This is the reason why the refugee is seen as such a threat…the terrifying absolute, total Other, the symbol of contamination that otherness may bring upon community and identity.

The asylum seeker, the ultimate foreign other, is employed as a scapegoat to strengthen the boundaries of the nation-state by uniting its citizens in a common rejection of the foreigner’s humanity in favour of maintaining the ideology of sovereignty. In raw terms, the suffering of boat borne asylum seekers is as nothing compared to Australia’s sovereignty which, it is claimed, is dangerously threatened by their arrival and their requests for sanctuary. Once this principle is established, the dehumanising process has begun.

It is hardly surprising that when such a principle is promoted by the country’s leaders, mistreatment of asylum seekers in detention centres occurs. Permission has been granted from the highest political level to act towards them as if they are less human than us, and less entitled to fundamental considerations Australians may take for granted, such as the human right to access to legal assistance, for example.  In other words, boat borne asylum seekers are denied the right to rights. There is not much more that can be done to dehumanise an individual than to deny her or him the right to rights.

They have been cast as an underclass, displaced persons without citizenship, stateless, belonging nowhere, anonymous. Indeed, to the state and its supporters, the stranger seeking asylum is assumed to be corrupt because of her very circumstances, regardless of how far out of her control those circumstances are.

It can be difficult to understand the situations that have caused asylum seekers to undertake life-threatening boat journeys rather than stay where they are. With no experience of prolonged terror, daily fear of death or torture, or the crushing despair of indefinite uncertainty, it’s not unusual for people to imagine they would do much better than asylum seekers, and show greater resilience and courage  in similar circumstances. This is an attitude politicians exploit, encouraging the electorate to position itself on the high moral ground that casts asylum seekers as inferior and weak. In reality, there are likely few among us who would voluntarily embark on those boat journeys that in themselves speak to us of courage, tenacity, a will to live and a determination many of us never have to seek and find in ourselves.

Politicians carry an enormous burden of responsibility for the mistreatment of asylum seekers by others. They have given permission, indeed they have actively encouraged a perception of asylum seekers that casts them as less worthy of care and concern than anyone else in our community. They have deliberately created a scapegoat. It is inevitable that the scapegoat will be treated horribly. They are now holding the scapegoat hostage as an act of “deterrence” to others desperate enough to risk their lives at sea.

It means nothing that most of the 47,000 boat arrivals assessed in the last five years have been found to be refugees. Australian politicians are happy to take people whose lives are already in trauma and turmoil, and exploit them even further to achieve their own dubious ends. PM Rudd and LOTO Abbott are upping the stakes. Their increasingly hard-line policies will result in asylum seekers being treated more badly than they have been to date, as the message filters through to the Australian public that these people do not matter. Their lives and their experiences are as nothing compared to the country’s allegedly precarious sovereignty, and the winning of government. They are nothing more,  in the constructed reality of Rudd and Abbott, than scapegoats, and a means to a political end.

On the politics of criminalising the persecuted

11 Apr

Both the ALP and LNP have, since the Howard government adopted Pauline Hanson’s racist rhetoric and made it politically mainstream again, steadily escalated the implementation of cruel and inhuman policies towards asylum seekers who arrive here by boat.

Hanson gave voice to a dark side of  Australian culture. Howard saw the votes in it, and legitimised its claims to entitlement. I don’t know if the voters who support the illegal punishment of those seeking asylum in great enough numbers for both major parties to capitulate to their demands, ever actually think about the human beings in whose mental destruction they are callously colluding. I doubt it.

Our politicians despicably wilful refusal to uphold our responsibilities to those seeking asylum, as we agreed to do when we signed and later ratified the UN Convention, makes a mockery of that Convention and our obligations to honour it. If we had any guts at all, we would withdraw. As it stands, by continuing to offer asylum to those fleeing persecution we issue an open invitation. We proclaim ourselves to the world as a site of sanctuary. When we are most definitely not, as it is defined by the Convention.

There has been no political leader in this country willing or able to contest the obscene politicisation of a global human tragedy. Even a prime minister with a vagina won’t do it, indeed, under her government things have become increasingly worse. Despite vagina, Prime Minister Gillard has fully embraced the discourse of the importunate other, taking every opportunity to reassure Australians that she will not permit “foreigners” to take our jobs. Despite vagina and anti misogynist rhetoric, Ms Gillard has presided over the vile and ongoing detention of women and children fleeing persecution.

Is it possible to be a feminist  today in Australia and lock up women and children fleeing persecution? There’s a question for Tony Jones and his all-girl Qanda. There’s a question for “All About Women.”

Every day some public figure in parliament or the media, refers to”illegals” and variations thereof, in their deliberate positioning of boat arrivals as criminals who must be dealt with far more severely than any other criminal. Even murderers know how long they are to be incarcerated. Boat arrivals do not.

Billions of tax payer dollars have been channelled towards these indefinite incarcerations, despite the irrefutable fact that the majority of boat arrivals are found to be refugees, and entitled to stay in this country. Those who are not are quite rightly sent back to where they came from. Unfortunately, some are wrongly sent back to where they came from, and when they arrive they are subjected to torture and death.

As long as there are votes in criminalising and dehumanising asylum seekers who arrive by boat, politicians will continue with these practices. This is one example of the evils of democracy. When the majority demand the torment of others in order that they may persuade themselves they are safe from threat, then the majority will have its way.

There is something fundamentally flawed, not to mention abhorrent, in the belief that the worse we treat those who arrive by boat, the more likely we are to discourage people from attempting the journey. We do not have the right to treat badly those who are only responding to our open invitation, and yet we continue to claim that right and to act on it.

I don’t know where this will end. Asylum seekers are not going away. Boats aren’t going to stop. I don’t know how much more cruelly we can treat boat arrivals, in the vain hope that desperate people will lose their desperation and stay where they are. The rich world must find decent ways to deal with the increasing encroachment of the persecuted on its privilege. We cannot continue to incarcerate them. We cannot continue to drive them out of their minds. We cannot continue to waste the resourcefulness and courage boat arrivals offer our society. We cannot continue to pour billions of dollars into brutalising women and children. We cannot continue capitulating to the ignorant fears of Australians who can’t be bothered thinking this through, and who just want someone to make it all go way and promise them they’ll be forever safe from difference.

We can’t, and we must not.

Morrison hammers another nail into decency’s coffin

28 Feb

Shadow Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s latest stinky brain fart that everyone should be warned when an asylum seeker is lodged in their neighbourhood is stomach churning on a number of levels, but perhaps the most alarming is that there are people living amongst us, and likely quite a few, who agree with him. Obviously it’s such people he’s seeking to engage with, and he will succeed.

The ALP has well-exceeded the barbarity of Coalition asylum seeker policies. What once seemed so shocking now appears comparatively tame. Morrison has to dig deep to compete. The sad reality for our country is that both major parties believe that hostility towards asylum seekers and refugees is a vote winner, and there’s enough of those votes in play to make this race to the bottom worth their while.

Morrison’s statements are propaganda. There is little point in engaging with their content, except to suggest replacing the term asylum seekers with Jews, or Muslims, or women, or even privileged white males and see how it sounds. His message is that for current political purposes, asylum seekers are the group which will be scapegoated. Scapegoating is employed as a legitimate political strategy. There is no difference between what Morrison is doing, and the early propaganda of the Third Reich. Call Godwin’s Law if you like, but sometimes it really is the only appropriate analogy.

The only hope we have is that there are enough thoughtful women and men in both major parties to loudly protest this unrelenting moral decline on the part of their leaders. The  sickening willingness of so many politicians to remain silent in the face of this vile othering is contemptible.

How can we hurt you? Let us count the ways…

26 Nov

Politicians from both major parties have set themselves quite a challenge to come up with a deterrent that will persuade asylum seekers that traveling to Australia by boat will result in them facing a situation worse than that they’ve fled. Potential refugees are clearly undeterred by the prospect of life threatening boat journeys: the desire to escape their circumstances is stronger than the very real threat of dying at sea.

It is a comment on the profound emotional, psychological and moral stupidity of leading politicians that they seem on the whole to be incapable of getting their heads around this core reality.

According to Amnesty International

The Australian Migration Act sets out the laws regulating migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in Australia. The Act incorporates the UN Refugee Convention and defines a refugee as anyone who:

 owing to well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.

The people our politicians wish to “deter”, many of whom will be granted refugee status anyway, are fleeing circumstances of such gravity that there is no “deterrent” a self-satisfied, self-interested Westerner can impose that will make the slightest difference to their will to live, and the risks they will take to make a life for themselves and their families. In any sane world, these courageous qualities would be appreciated and the people demonstrating them encouraged and welcomed as the kind of citizens who can be expected to enrich a country.

But we are a conflicted country when it comes to the stranger. On the one hand we are signatory to the UN Refugee Convention which in its introduction clearly states:

 The Convention further stipulates that, subject to specific exceptions, refu-
gees should not be penalized for their illegal entry or stay. This recognizes
that the seeking of asylum can require refugees to breach immigration rules.
Prohibited penalties might include being charged with immigration or crim-
inal offences relating to the seeking of asylum, or being arbitrarily detained
purely on the basis of seeking asylum.
 
Finally, the Convention lays down basic minimum standards for the treat-
ment of refugees, without prejudice to States granting more favourable treat-
ment. Such rights include access to the courts, to primary education, to work,
and the provision for documentation, including a refugee travel document in
passport form.

We need go no further than the Introduction to find examples of how many of these conditions we continue to quite cheerfully breach. The latest is the Gillard government’s refusal to allow those granted refugee status who are released into the community the opportunity to work, a refusal that in itself can be described as “persecution” or as causing “serious harm.”

 In the Guide to Refugee Law in Australia Chapter Four offers the following criteria for assessing persecution, or serious harm:

SERIOUS HARM

Under s.91R(1)(b) of the Act, persecution must involve “serious harm to the person. It provides:

For the purposes of the application of this Act and the regulations to a particular person, Article 1A(2) of the Refugees Convention as amended by the Refugees Protocol does not apply in relation to persecution for one or more of the reasons mentioned in that Article unless: 

(b)  the persecution involves serious harm to the person …  

Subsection (2) sets out a non-exhaustive list of the type and level of harm that will meet the serious harm test. It lists the following as instances of “serious harm:

 (a)  a threat to the persons life or liberty;15 

(b)  significant physical harassment of the person; 

(c)  significant physical ill-treatment of the person; 

(d)  significant economic hardship that threatens the persons capacity to subsist;16 

(e)  denial of access to basic services, where the denial threatens the person’s capacity to subsist; 

(f)  denial of capacity to earn a livelihood of any kind, where the denial threatens the persons capacity to subsist.17 

Persecution necessarily involves two elements: serious harm and a failure on the part of the state to afford adequate protection.

An asylum seeker who is granted refugee status is presumably potentially eligible to become a citizen of this country. We are creating potential citizens whose first experiences in our country have been entirely negative. This does not and cannot augur well for us in the long term.

The amount of financial support offered to refugees who arrive by boat is inadequate to feed, clothe and house them. Denying them the right to work will further dehumanise them. In its cruel and ignorant pursuit of a “deterrent,” the Gillard government has hopefully reached the end of the road in terms of punishment it can inflict for arriving by boat.

This is punishment we voluntarily undertook not to inflict in our role as signatory to the UN Refugee Convention. Our parliament has demonstrated its utter contempt for the UN Convention, while simultaneously bidding for and winning a seat on the Security Council.

There is no moral or ethical dimension to current asylum seeker policy. As many have pointed out, this is a policy and a discourse entirely bereft of values. The question is, can a democracy continue to be a democracy if its political discourse is bereft of values?

Deterrence has never worked. It never will work. If we don’t want people arriving by boat and seeking asylum, we have no alternative but to remove ourselves as signatories to the UN Refugee Convention. The invitation we extend as signatories to this Convention is precisely what asylum seekers respond to, and they have every legal and moral right to expect they will be accepted in this country no matter how they arrive. That is what we have voluntarily agreed to do: unconditionally accept asylum seekers no matter how they arrive. If this is not what we intend, there is an urgent  moral imperative to withdraw the invitation, not to find increasingly cruel methods of punishment for those who accept it.

In implementing an impotent and dehumanising policy of magical thinking called “deterrence,” our parliament has made mockery of us all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Go Back” Series Two: human misery on prime time television with ads

2 Sep

I just watched two episodes of “Go Back to Where You Came From.” As with the first series, I again feel conflicted about the dire circumstances of refugees and asylum seekers being turned into spectacle for comfortable Westerners such as myself to gape at, and indulge in an emotional reaction of one kind or another from the safety of my couch.

It also offers an opportunity to camp on the high moral ground along with Allen Asher, Imogen Birley and Catherine Deveney.  Because even though I think Asher, Deveney and Birley’s positions are right and good and honest, and echo many of my own, we do get to occupy the morally superior position, a nice warm place to be, and that does give us the chance to look down on the likes of Peter Reith, Angry Anderson and Michael Smith who, initially at least, act like total crap.

I have to say I’m a bit bloody sick of this good and evil dichotomy. It’s all getting a bit George W Bush.

A justification for the co-opting of human misery to prime time television (complete with advertisements, I’ll get back to that) would be if three male participants whose minds were changed by their up close and personal encounters with fear, terror, hunger, thirst, illness and misery endured by millions every day were to become a voice for asylum seekers for longer than the interest in the television series lasts. Then much may be achieved, as they change the opinions of their bigoted followers and deprive the rabid xenophobes of a voice and leaders.

I’m mindful that since the first series of Go Back, things have got so much worse for boat arrivals. Clearly, whatever the personal epiphanies experienced by those participants, they’ve stayed personal, because our politicians have only got worse.

The first series hasn’t changed a thing for the better. And here we are again, gasping with outrage and emotion in between our dinner and the bedtime Milo.

Peter Reith, Angry Anderson and Michael Smith all have public platforms they could use to undo some of the damage they’ve already done to the public perception of asylum seekers who arrive here by boat. In particular, Reith was John Howard’s architect of the infamous Children Overboard affair. During that time,  asylum seekers were demonized as never before, and the mud the Howard government slung at them has stuck. It seems to me that the least Reith could do to compensate for what he now describes as a “stuff up,” is apologise for his part in that deadly “stuff up” and admit they were terribly, wickedly wrong about the children, women and men they exploited to stay in power.

The intrusion of advertising in Go Back revealed the show for what it really is: entertainment. Just when we got really involved with someone’s suffering and the whole damn disgraceful fucking situation, there’s an ad for a new car, food, furniture, whatever the hell they’re selling now, to remind us that it’s only television! It’s not our real life! Our real life is cars, food, furniture, whatever the hell else and this documentary is merely a distraction from what actually matters. An intense emotional experience brought to you by Toyota, and a bunch of people who’ll never ever own one.

I would love to believe that these series will bring about change. I would love to believe that enough minds will be changed as a consequence of viewing them. But I don’t. Which leads me to wonder what is this series really about? What is its purpose?

And what are its ethics?

Abbott’s religiosity is no basis for policy

11 Jul

A couple of days ago on July 10, Tony Abbott took part in a radio interview that the Australian headlined: Abbott slams boatpeople as unChristian

“Asked on ABC Perth radio why his attitude to asylum-seekers was unchristian, the Opposition Leader responded: “I don’t think it’s a very Christian thing to come in by the back door rather than the front door…But I think the people we accept should be coming the right way and not the wrong way…If you pay a people-smuggler, if you jump the queue, if you take yourself and your family on a leaky boat, that’s doing the wrong thing, not the right thing, and we shouldn’t encourage it.”

Abbott doesn’t answer the question about his perceived lack of Christian charity towards those in need. Instead he attempts to blame Muslim asylum seekers for acting in a manner he believes is unChristian. Abbott does this as if people who are not Christian are at grievous fault for being not Christian. That failure taints every action they take in their lives, it seems, and they should be held accountable, mostly by being excluded.

Presumably Abbott is aware that the majority of boat arrivals are Muslim. Presumably Abbott is aware that the largest Islamic democracy in the world is our neighbour, Indonesia. Dog whistling? Following Scott Morrison’s anti Muslim strategy?

Morrison sees votes in anti-Muslim strategy. The opposition immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, urged the shadow cabinet to capitalise on the electorate’s growing concerns about “Muslim immigration”, “Muslims in Australia” and the “inability” of Muslim migrants to integrate… Lenore Taylor, Sydney Morning Herald, February 17 2011.

Oh, yes, most boat arrivals aren’t Christian, unlike Scott Morrison who is a member of the Assemblies of God Pentecostal Church. Not all Christians cultivate an aura of entitlement, privilege and absolute rightness, but too many Christian politicians in Australia today seem to hold those beliefs about themselves. Not all Christians consider other faiths to be lesser faiths, but too many Christian politicians seem to hold those views.

Abbott might as well have accused the asylum seekers of being unAustralian. Either way, what is on display is Abbott’s inability to envisage cultures other than his own as legitimate and equal, and his inclination to judge those cultures in terms of his own limited experience. Abbott’s lack of sophistication coupled with his religiosity, are not qualities we look for in a leader.

However, they do in part explain why Abbott seems arrogantly convinced that he can bully the Indonesians into letting him send back the boats. The Indonesians had a nickname for former Liberal Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock They called him “the minister with no ears” because he harangued them but didn’t listen. Is it Abbott’s aim to inherit this title as he perpetuates the disrespect for a culture he doesn’t care to understand?

Abbott also believes he has the right to bully the navy into towing back boats, in spite of considerable advice as to the undesirable possibilities of taking that course, both in terms of life threatening risks to asylum seekers and navy personnel, as well as disruption to our relations with Indonesia.  “He will not be able to have a constructive relationship with Indonesia and tow boats back,” Philip Coorey quotes an official as remarking, in his recent National Times piece. How much of Abbott’s arrogance in this matter is fuelled by a sense of Catholic Christian superiority to a Muslim nation?

Describing asylum seekers as “unChristian” is an example of how Abbott frames Australian politics through the prism of that Catholic Christianity. Is he capable of making a separation between his religious beliefs and his job as a politician? Increasingly the answer seems to be no, he’s not.

Neither does Abbott speak for all Christians, many of whom are deeply involved in the refugee cause, and would likely distance themselves from his arbitrary judgments.

Whatever the problems are with boat arrivals (most of which are caused by Australia’s treatment of them) they will not be solved through invoking Tony Abbott’s Catholic Christianity and Scott Morrison’s fundamentalist terror of Muslims.  Indeed, neither have any place in the debate. We urgently need decent policy, not religious prejudice and personal superstition.

In his last solo Qanda appearance in April 2010, Tony Abbott was asked the question “When it comes to asylum seekers, what would Jesus do?”

TONY ABBOTT: Well, Jesus wouldn’t have put his hand up to lead the Liberal Party, I suspect. Or the Labor Party, for that matter.

TONY JONES: Okay. But someone who believes in principles that he espoused did do that, so it’s a legitimate question.

TONY ABBOTT: Yeah. Don’t forget Jesus drove the traders from the temple as well. Now, I mean, you know…

TONY JONES: What’s the point of that?

TONY ABBOTT: The point is…

TONY JONES: What’s the analogy?

TONY ABBOTT: …Jesus didn’t say yes to everyone. I mean Jesus knew that there was a place for everything and it is not necessarily everyone’s place to come to Australia.

TONY JONES: It’s quite an interesting analogy because, as you know, and a whip was used on that occasion to drive people out of the temple. You know, if that’s the analogy you’re choosing, should we take it at face value?

TONY ABBOTT: No. No. I’m just saying that, look, Jesus was the best man who ever lived but that doesn’t mean that he said yes to everyone, that he was permissive to everything, and this idea that Jesus would say to every person who wanted to come to Australia, “Fine”, the door is open, I just don’t think is necessarily right.”

“Jesus didn’t say yes to everyone.” And Tony Abbott of course knows to whom Jesus would say yes in 2012. This is old-fashioned Sunday School rhetoric. This is drivel. Tony Abbott is a man showing all the signs of being out of his depth. Give him a slogan, put a funny hat on his head, get him making pies, yes he can do all that. But the serious business of leadership? Of policy? Of decent public discussion?

Jesus is reputed to have driven moneylenders from the temple, and he did it violently. The analogy Abbott makes between usurers and asylum seekers is both despicable and revealing. Jesus acted because he believed the moneylenders were defiling a sacred place where they had no right to be plying their sordid trade. The story is an example of Jesus’ righteous anger, and his desire to protect his beloved father’s house from the contamination of profane activities. Jesus wanted the temple kept pure and to this end, he drove the impure out.

How interesting, then, that a Christian should choose this particular analogy to explain why not everybody who wants to come to Australia may do so, in particular those of other faiths who arrive seeking asylum by boat. Dog whistling again? Capitalising on concerns about a presumed Muslim inability to integrate into a country Abbott wants to think of as unspoiled and Christian?

“Jesus didn’t say yes to everyone. I mean Jesus knew that there was a place for everything and it is not necessarily everyone’s place to come to Australia.”

There is no place for religiosity in the asylum seeker debate or anywhere else in our politics. There’s especially no place for a future Prime Minister who believes he knows what Jesus would do, and makes policy accordingly. Jesus is irrelevant in the asylum seeker impasse, as are Tony Abbott’s projections of what Jesus might think.

Having said that I can’t help but feel if Jesus was around now, he might well stride into parliament with a stock whip and kick some arse.

On desperation

30 Jun

While politicians of various bents have found it expedient to weep in the Parliament these last days, what is absent in the asylum seeker policy brawl is an indication that the majority of them have any understanding at all of the desperation that drives the global movements of refugees.

And it is a global movement and we must eventually accept that we are not the only developed country stateless peoples look to for refuge, and indeed, we are so un-beleagured as to make us the laughing stock of nations whose borders are crossed by thousands of asylum seekers every week.

What I’m about to write about desperation may be unsettling, and may act as a trigger for some people. It is my experience of desperation, and it’s an experience that gives me the authority to speak on the topic.

As a young girl, from the age of about seven, I lived in very dangerous circumstances. I was beaten with hose pipes, fishing rods and my stepfather’s bare hands. I was tied up, always after I’d been ordered to remove my clothes. On many occasions until I was fifteen, I was threatened with death by this man who wielded a loaded gun that he fired into cushions. I was regularely absent from school because of my injuries.

I was first raped when I was ten. These rapes continued at regular intervals until I was fifteen. I cannot talk about these rapes more than to state their occurrence.

My stepfather was a doctor, and he performed various medical procedures on me in the surgery that was attached to our house. I cannot talk about these.

He also photographed me, posed and naked from the age of ten.

There’s nothing to be gained for either me or my readers in attempting descriptions of these events, and I am barely able to write this much. I am trembling. I am sweating. I am weeping. My heartbeat is loud and irregular. I feel nauseous. My body hurts everywhere. The pain in my head is appalling.

During those years  I told at least seven adults what was happening to me. Every one of them sent me back.  Every time I arrived home I was beaten, tied up, threatened with death if I did it again, and raped. I never stopped telling people, even though I knew the next telling might cost me my life.  In retrospect this seems to me something of a miracle. I love my young self, I love her with all of my heart, for her determination to help herself survive, for her willingness to risk death in the attempt to have her life.

So what does this have to do with asylum seekers? As Judith Lewis Herman wrote in the introduction to her book “Trauma and Recovery: From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror:”

This is a book about restoring connections…it is a book about commonalities: between rape survivors and combat veterans, between battered women and political prisoners, between the survivors of vast concentration camps created by tyrants who rule nations and the survivors of small, hidden concentration camps created by tyrants who rule their homes…

One of the things we have in common, those of us who survive the small, hidden concentration camps, and those of us who survive political terror, is our experience of desperation. Desperate to escape. Desperate to live. Desperate to experience the ordinary. Desperate to feel we can sleep safely in our beds at night, whether we fear the invasion of soldiers, or the stealthy night time visits of the rapacious stepfather. Desperate to be allowed to eat and drink. Desperate to live like a human being, untrammelled by the kind of primitive terror that reduces everything to a question of day to day survival.

The will, not just to live but to live a decent life, is inexpressibly powerful. Death can seem preferable to suffering the tyrannies of the imposed will of another, tyrannies that strip one of all integrity. This much I know. I know it with the full authority of my experience, and my survival.

One does not have to suffer in order to appreciate desperation. One does not have to experience prolonged terror and coercive methods of control. What is required for understanding is emotional intelligence and imagination. The majority of our politicians would seem to be seriously lacking both. Instead they appear to be, in the words of philosopher Martha Nussbaum  …people whose imaginations are blunted, who simply refuse the acknowledgement of humanity.

The odious tears of the sentimental who weep for the cameras yet support policies that will condemn the desperate to even more desperation, are deeply offensive to me as a survivor.  Your emotions count for less than nothing, when deterrence is your only answer to desperation.

The leaders of this country are behaving as did those adults who sent me back to the dangerous hell that was my home. I do not think those people were evil. I think they didn’t want to become involved. I think they were incapable of imagining the circumstances I was attempting to escape. I think they wanted more than anything to maintain the equilibrium of their lives, and I was a child who could disturb that forever. They moved me on, out of their sight and mind. They were cowards.

The concept of a human right to ask for help and protection seems barely to exist in our world. Such requests are viewed as impositions, and those who make them, importunate. The implication of our treatment of asylum seekers is that they are sub-human, and that seeking asylum is a criminal offence. We deny any recognition of a priori suffering, and instead focus on maintaining an abstract construct of national sovereignty.

Those who denied me asylum did so to maintain their domestic sovereignty. They could not let me in, for fear of the ruptures dealing with my suffering would provoke.

I can never forget desperation. I can call it up in an instant. When I see it in another I have to respond. Try as I might, I find it very difficult not to despise those who wilfully close their ears and eyes and hearts to desperation. I have even wished it on them, that they walk a mile in the shoes of the desperate and know what it is to be turned away, when all you are asking is help to conduct a decent life.

Thank you for reading this. I give the last word to Emmanuel Levinas:

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, so meanly loved – is that a criteria of humanness? Unquestionably so. 

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