We’ve signed the Convention, but…

21 Dec

I don’t know about anyone else but I’m beginning to feel righteously infuriated by the asylum seeker stand-off. The kind of righteous fury that would prompt one to smite the fools and political charlatans, if one only had smiting powers.

So far the best account of the current impasse I’ve read is this one by Robert Manne at The Drum this morning. Since then both Alexander Downer and Philip Ruddock have thrown in their two pence worth here in the SMH, with Ruddock claiming the Malaysia solution is still possible, while Downer advises Abbott to keep his nose out of negotiations at this stage, and let government and coalition teams handle them rather than leaders.

This latter piece of advice I heartily endorse. Abbott has not shown himself to have the slightest talent for negotiation. That unfortunate lack is exacerbated by an ingrained misogyny that makes negotiations with a woman especially problematic. Add to that the fact that this particular woman has the job he believes is his by divine right and clearly, including him at the table is going to get us precisely nowhere.

Abbott cannot be trusted to empty his head of personal grievances and focus on the much bigger issues at hand. That’s just one of the multitude of reasons why he should not be Leader of the Opposition, and especially why he should not be our next PM.

As for the Malaysia “solution.” Remind me, wasn’t it  only 800 most recent boat arrivals we were planning to send to that country?  Haven’t we just about reached that number?  So if we do pack 800 asylum seekers off to an uncertain future and accept 4000 refugees in exchange, what next?

Oh, and I forgot. We have to change the law first so we can put that “solution” into effect, thanks to Robert Manne’s enterprising nephew David, who took the government to the High Court and got the Malaysia “solution” kyboshed under our current legislation.

A small digression. There has been much brou ha ha about the use of the word “denier” in the climate change debate. Those who object claim it is an unmistakeable reference to Holocaust deniers. Yet nobody gives a hoot about the use of the word “solution” in the refugee debate, even though it immediately puts one in mind of Hitler’s genocidal “final solution.” To my mind “solution” is far more repulsively evocative than “deniers,” especially given that word’s confusing (and defusing) French meaning, that is, the thickness or otherwise of stockings.

What nobody will address is our responsibility as signatories to the UN Refugee Convention, and how that influences the decision by asylum seekers to attempt dangerous sea voyages. People only make these drastic attempts to get to us in the first place because we are known to be a country of asylum.

We make no stipulations about who can claim asylum, or the manner in which they gain entry to our country. These high falutin’ invitations to hospitality bear little resemblance to the reality, though since the last High Court decision those who arrive by boat are to be treated the same as those who arrive by plane, ending a truly despicable discriminatory practice based entirely on methods of transport.

The UN Convention clearly does not work for Australia anymore. We are turning ourselves inside out in our attempts to find ways to circumvent it, while still wishing to remain full signatories. The people suffering most as a consequence of our gyrations and manipulations are asylum seekers, who hear our invitation and accept it, only to either die on the way, or be treated abominably once they arrive.

I don’t imagine that our commitment to the UN Refugee Convention is going to be re-assessed anytime soon. So perhaps we should consider educating potential asylum seekers in our little ways. Yes, we have signed the Convention and you are absolutely entitled to believe that we are a country of asylum, and to attempt to come here requesting sanctuary. However, if you die in the attempt that is not our fault. Should you be successful and be granted refugee status, the fact that we are a country of asylum does not mean you will automatically be allowed to stay here and we reserve the right to send you to whatever country we can persuade to take you off our hands.

So do not think when you embark on your epic journeys, that you will be allowed to stay in this country in the event that you arrive. We do not like queue jumpers, and we prefer to give sanctuary to those we invite, not those who importunately demand it of us by just turning up.

No, we agree that none of this appears in the fine print of the UN Refugee Convention. Yes, we are quite likely engaging in misleading advertising. However, as there is nothing at all you can do about that, because we are powerful and you aren’t, we suggest you don’t come here in the first place.

You think we should reword our commitment to the UN Convention?  Meh, everybody who’s anybody knows that Convention means nothing.

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14 Responses to “We’ve signed the Convention, but…”

  1. Catching up December 21, 2011 at 2:27 pm #

    Could not have said it better.

    Mr. Abbott needs to be careful, he may find himself out on a limb, a limb that many more than the PM would be willing to use a saw on.


    • Jennifer Wilson December 22, 2011 at 7:20 am #

      Oh that’s what want for Xmas – Abbott a long way out on a fragile limb with people lining up to use their saws!


  2. Sam Jandwich December 21, 2011 at 3:02 pm #

    I am only old enough to remember the pre-Howard years through the rosy gloom of youth, but my perception is that Paul Keating, stickler for being caught up in details though he is, was instrumental in creating an openness and acceptance of difference, and for steering Australia towards responsible global citizenship.

    A watershed moment for me was (I think…) during the time of the “Pacific solution” when John Howard began describing the UN as some sort of oppositional force which had no right to meddle in domestic affairs. Er, but aren’t we a member of the UN, and an intrinsic part of the global community? And it seems to me that ever since the discovery of base populism as a political force we have actually degraded our ability to deal with complex international issues, as we are now in a position where we can no longer appeal to notions contained in things like UN frameworks to facilitate our negotiations with other countries over such issues.

    Robert Manne’s proposal seems sensible at first glance but I think it is a bit defeatist, as it is essentially following the limitations of the status quo, and is still failing to answer the question of what the effect will be on those who are cooped up in detention for three years, or on those who decide not to get onto boats. What are they going to do? Issues such as this require the international community to come together to develop a coordinated response from start to finish. Assuming we can’t prevent civil wars such as those in Sri Lanka or Sudan (and needless to say refugees mobilised as a result of wars of our own making should be considered the responsibility of the countries initiating the action), agencies like the UNHCR need to be empowered to arrange to somehow accommodate refugees in more humane conditions, whether in their country of origin or elsewhere, and to compel recalcitrant wealthy countries like Australia to accept larger numbers for resettlement, and always with an eye to their voluntary repatriation if the situation in their own country calms down.

    Increasing our refugee intake to 20,000 may be a good start, but as long as inequality and conflict exist, national-level policies on refugees will continue to be nothing but reactionary, and to challenge the ethical and institutional bases of all the things we hold to be most valuable in our own lives.


    • Jennifer Wilson December 22, 2011 at 7:23 am #

      I think Marilyn is right when she says we’re trying to find ways to break the law, not uphold it. Precisely my point on the Convention – I am sorry that Manne has resorted to total pragmatism but I understand why he’s done that. I don’t know who is going to fight for the law though.


  3. Marilyn December 21, 2011 at 6:30 pm #

    Increasing our voluntary refugee intake, paying for queue jumpers in fact, won’t change a thing because every day people all over the world are forced to seek asylum. the UNHCR website says 8 per minute, that is 11,200 per day so even if we wasted $60,000 each to import 20,000 refugees who have no legal right to come here that would be less than 2 days of asylum seekers.

    So that would be $1.2 billion for a voluntary scheme while pushing away the only people who have the right to ask for our help.

    And the media fucking prattling about stalemates is driving me crazy – they are talking about a stalemate over breaking the law, not upholding it.

    Because an accident happens in Indonesia, for which we have zero responsiblity, they suddenly jump up and down about breaking our law as if breaking our law will stop one accident in Indonesia.

    Sort of like changing our driving laws because people are killed on the Chinese roads.


    The only reason we are pissed off with people on boats is because we think Indonesia is our country and can warehouse refugees there forever and a day.

    There is this small trifle of we do it so Indonesia will deport people for us because our courts won’t let us send home Afghans and Sri Lankans to be killed, funny about that.

    And there is this trifling little thing called the law of the sea.

    L&C 122 Senate Monday, 8 February 2010
    which you sighted this boat but surely you are able to tell me at what point you believed, or
    you were given direction, that it was not your responsibility anymore.
    Mr Carmody—It is a bit hard to talk about responsibility. Ultimately Border Protection
    Command can only intercept vessels on the contiguous zone around Australia, which is about
    20 nautical miles around Australian territory.:

    See that? Not our right to stop anyone unless they are here and when they are here we cannot just push them away.

    it’s our law we are talking about.

    And Robert Manne caving into law breaking is just ridiculous.

    We have to force the morons to uphold the law, not bow down because it might be easier.


    • Jennifer Wilson December 22, 2011 at 7:19 am #

      As someone said the other day the minute we see boat arrivals as a “problem” we’ve crossed over to the right. The boat arrivals aren’t the “problem” – the bloody world is the problem.


      • Catching up December 22, 2011 at 7:36 am #

        Could not agree more. Today it is common to blame the victims in all spheres. It is easier, one then does not have to address the problem.

        Some talk about pull factors, as to say somehow asylums seekers go not exist until we let them know how wonderful our country is.

        Sadly this is not true. Asylum seekers are just that, people fleeing danger.


  4. Julia December 21, 2011 at 7:49 pm #

    Maybe the reason why the Convention is so easily ignored, may well have something to do with the fact that the U.N. is not actually a democratic organisation. The delegates & others are appointed by their respective governments…but not by the people those govts purport to represent. When was the last time you got to vote for “our” UN representative?
    Where is there even one country where the citizens elect their delegate?

    Yet right around the planet there are plenty of govts that don’t listen very well to their peoples. So the appointee is not there for you or me but to speak on behalf of a bunch of jumped up trough-feeders.
    Thus, it’s Oz with asylum seekers, the tip of the iceberg…and USA with its brand new Detain & Disappear Forever With No Judicial Oversight” laws aimed squarely at its own citizens…and UK cutting benefits with a razor that leaves thousands of disabled sick and bleeding. And Egyptian prisons with their suites of torture chambers, and a visit by ex British PM leading a group of arms dealers, shortly after Mubarek quit.

    The United Nations Human Rights Charter is a brilliant document…valuable to each of us too.
    So too are its other documents, expanding on the basic Covenants. Some could use a bit of work true yet most is good stuff.
    And sure there’s a lot of greedy bastards out there talking the talk while doing the opposite. And the U.N. is a toothless tiger while meglamaniacs are feted by Corporate Greed. Nor is it likely to change much until it really does represent the people instead of serving government politickings.

    Yet the U.N. has another role. That of being a powerful symbol of an Idea..

    The Idea of all humans having inalienable rights, set out on paper, spread right round the planet, & every year more & more humans learn of & understand the Idea. Instead of the “shut up/don’t rock the boat” of the older generations, more & more humans saying “hang about, I have a Right too”

    And that’s where the trouble starts….

    …..as we are seeing all over the world.

    [was going to add more but have lost my train of thought…and need a caffeine fix.]

    Will happily lend Abbot a saw…lol


    • Jennifer Wilson December 22, 2011 at 7:17 am #

      I would like to see the UN with more teeth and international law and covenants actually mean something. Just how that could ever happen is another story. My son worked for the UN in refugee camps in Tanzania. The stories he told – it’s an organization like many others, with corruption rampant at every level and somehow managing to employ some people on the ground who do their best in a very difficult environment.

      But the Refugee Convention seriously needs examination.


  5. paul walter December 21, 2011 at 8:45 pm #

    “Dark as its done..” SBS revisited “Go Back to Where You Came From” by David Corlett last night, along with a depressing repeat of a doctors experiences treating our own home-grown refugees, the aborigines, outback.
    So, as Julia suggests, there’s not much cause for celebration, probably the opposite, short of a lot of grief. And there’s no need for it, most rational people know of these things and know there are better and cheaper ways of dealing with global suffering, but the “one percent” wont allow for the unblocking of the humanitarian log jam and you wonder,”why”??


  6. Rebecca S. Randall December 21, 2011 at 10:01 pm #

    Just thought I’d share a little anecdote I’ve picked up along the way.

    I work in an electronics store, and one of the security guards we had for a few weeks was a charming guy who was born in Turkey and had lived in Iraq. His passion in life was justice, and he’d been a police officer in Iraq. He and his parents and sister fled Iraq about two years ago, by securing visas and legging it on a plane. He’d picked up English very quickly, and was taking advanced english classes and studying for the QLD police academy at the same time. He loved Aussie colloquialisms and he loved to say G’day to everyone who walked through the door.
    But boat people actually made him a bit angry. We talked about it one day after some customer stuffed a protest flyer in our charity bin. As far as old mate was concerned, it cheapened everything his family went through to get out. He saw some terrible things as a police officer, and at one point firefighter, in the Iraq War. But in retrospect, I suspect he and his family were better off than your average working class Iraqi family.

    This doesn’t really have anything to do with my perspective on refugees, but I always thought he was fascinating. And I know he wasn’t just making shit up: SBS actually did a brief story about him (but I can’t remember which show it was) because QLD police recruiters randomly came up to him in the street to offer him a volunteer position.


    • Jennifer Wilson December 22, 2011 at 7:13 am #

      I’m not surprised to read your story, Rebecca, as I’ve heard similar attitudes from people who’ve had experiences like your acquaintance. I can understand it – they did “the right thing” and it’s hard to see others apparently “getting away with it.” Especially when that’s a prevalent community attitude anyway.

      It doesn’t change my attitude to refugees either. I think everybody’s circumstances are very different – the security guard was in a position to get visas and escape – so many aren’t.


  7. paul walter December 22, 2011 at 1:53 am #

    No doubt about it Rebecca, blind spots are intriguing things. The blindspots are obvious to detached observers (us). Yet, if you asked these people if they had blindspots, they would probably be initially baffled.
    But yes, I think people generally sense right and wrong, even off a low base. Like kiddies caught with their fingers in the sweeties jar.


  8. Marilyn December 23, 2011 at 2:56 am #

    Now we know that the Indonesians have had a gutful, the corrupt cops are putting refugees onto boats and our only response is to punish the refugees.

    The survivors the pretend to care about are locked 12 in a room in a prison built by us.


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