Tag Archives: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

The high cost of obstinacy

22 Aug

Guest post today by Gerard Oosterman, artist, farmer and blogger

The treasury informs us that 2.4 billion has been spent on detaining boat people since 2000. This has worked out at $100,000 per boat arrival. I wonder how long this stupid waste of money will be allowed to continue.

The tide in favour on off shore detention has been turning, and ever so slowly there now appears the realization that if not from a humanitarian but from a financial point of view, we might be better off to swallow our pride or blind obstinacy and simply do what the rest of the world has been doing for many years. That is, dealing with a difficult problem that presents itself directly on most of their doorsteps, on a never-ending and daily basis.

After all, not many countries have the luxury of submissive sovereign nations such as PNG and Nauru, or excised islands close by, where refugees can be sent and left to slowly languish while awaiting the assessment of their refugee status.

In the meantime, there are serious concerns expressed daily about the treatment of asylum seekers in detention. This treatment results in hundreds of cases of self harm, mental break-downs, riots and the involvement of the Australian Federal Police. These events ring alarm bells worldwide especially at the UNHCR.

No matter what we do to try to dissuade the boat people, they will continue to undertake dangerous voyages to escape their circumstances and find a better life for themselves and their children. They have little or nothing to lose.

So what is this deep fear that Australia has about boat people who, no matter what, will continue to arrive at our doorstep? Are they armed? Do they threaten Us? Do they come with murderous intent, do they come to rape and pillage? The general and not unreasonable assumption is that many more will arrive  if we let our guard down. That might well be true. So what?  Australia happily takes in more than a hundred thousand migrants in a year. If a thousand boat people a week arrive on our shores, what is the problem with that?

If we reduced our normal intake of migrants by fifty thousand we would still not increase the overall number. Consider that fifty thousand migrants from ‘normal’ channels are those that are in less urgent need than boat arrivals, then why not give priority to asylum seekers? Consider how our image would change overnight.

Currently, we are viewed with horror by many world-wide as images and have been since the Tampa. Then there are the terrible sights of refugees burning and self harming, and those terrible drownings at Christmas Island. Sometimes, the footage resembles Guantanamo Bay, where prisoners are also languishing after many years.

The advantage of age is the luxury of hindsight. I remember still a similar
fear of refugees and new-comers in the late fifties and sixties. The ‘reffos’ and Italians and Greeks were knife pullers and worse, garlic eaters. They would catch trains or buses while speaking strange languages. That fear for Southern Europeans later changed into a fear for the boat people from Vietnam. They would allegedly bring exotic diseases, and they wore funny hats.

All of those fears were unfounded. Can you imagine Australia without the huge benefits from all those brave enough to risk dangerous journeys to come here?
We would all still be slurping milk-shakes, eating meat pies with lamingtons for dessert, and thronging around the six o’clock swill pubs. Those killer Sundays, they were deadly quiet with just the stray dogs about,scratching their fleas at deserted suburban rail-stations. Instead, we have a lively and varied society.

We still seem to harbour similar fears against the Afghans, Burmese or Iraqis, again based on ignorance, prejudice and an unwillingness to change.

Why do we allow fear to compete so sadly with compassion?

Come on Aussies. Open your hearts. Take the risk and deal with those
unfortunate boat arrivals as best as we can. Deal with the problem with honesty and do it in Australia. Show the world we care and have compassion. We are the largest
and least densely population country in the world. Not just a country but a
complete continent with the smallest population.  Let’s also have the
largest hearts.

Gerard blogs at  Oosterman Treats Blog

It’s confirmed: Abbot and Gillard have got it wrong

16 Aug

Today’s Nielsen poll revealed some interesting information about Australian attitudes to asylum seekers, and the hard-line off-shore processing policies pushed by both major parties.

According to the poll, 53% of us believe that boat arrivals should be processed  in Australia, not off-shore. This puts Abbott and Gillard out of step with the majority of the electorate as they both pursue their expulsion plans, either to Malaysia or Nauru.

It could be speculated that the responsibility for this unexpected surge of public compassion towards boat arrivals lies with Gillard’s Malaysia solution. While many of us could apparently come at Nauru, Malaysia is a step too far, given the uncertainty asylum seekers will face there. The concept of expelling children to that country is also highly unpalatable, and likely to be contested by the UNHCR.

There’s a nice irony in imagining that Gillard might actually have done herself no favours with her Malaysia deal, when the government’s intention was to win support from an Australian public they perceived as demanding they demonstrate increasing toughness in their treatment of boat arrivals.

Perhaps instead they’ve managed to sicken enough of us with their conservative, bullying rhetoric, and the tide has begun to turn. One can only hope. The sight of federal police armed to the teeth, in training on Christmas Island to push boat arrivals onto planes bound for Malaysia, was not edifying. All this violence and threat against a handful of unarmed people asking for asylum?

Maybe we just didn’t need to see Julia chucking a Tampa. 

At this stage, there’s little the government can do, having committed to the Malaysia solution and facing a court battle next week. This poll, like so many others recently, can’t be encouraging.

60% of us also believe that those found to be refugees should be granted permanent protection in Australia.

With so many big issues facing us, one has to wonder yet again what the government stands to gain with its theatrics over boat arrivals, especially when asylum seekers arriving by plane are treated quite differently. There’s no legal justification for this difference, and there’s no rational necessity for it either. It’s politics.

This latest poll casts concrete doubt on the government’s judgement in this matter. They’ve outdone the Howard government in their ferocity towards boat arrivals, and it just might be starting to backfire, particularly as the boats aren’t stopping.

The answer is so simple. Initial detention for health and identity checks, release into the community while claims are assessed, re-settlement or return if the claims aren’t substantiated. It’s not rocket science. It’s humane, it’s responsible, it’s common sense, it’s legal. Why, then, do Abbott and Gillard have to make it so hard?

Why the Malaysia Solution could be a lose lose for Gillard

25 Jul

For a government phobic about “queue jumpers”, and a Prime Minister who said only a few weeks ago that the Malaysian solution would send boat arrivals to the “back of the queue,” they’ve certainly done a serious back flip today.

The 800 asylum seekers Australia is sending to Malaysia will be entitled to work, to health care and to education. None of these benefits are available to the almost 100,000 refugees already in that country, many of whom have been there for years.

Far from being sent to the back of a mythical queue, the 800 will be in a highly privileged position in the Malaysian system. Indeed, in theory they will be better off than the refugees held in indefinite mandatory detention in Australia as they will be allowed to live and work in the community while awaiting re-settlement.

There is of course no way of guaranteeing that the 800 will receive the preferential treatment both governments assure us will be afforded them. Once they are in the community they are at the mercy of a vigilante system that has demonstrated its hostility and aggression towards even those who carry the UNHCR cards that identify them as refugees. The 800 will be taking their chances on the streets, just like the other refugees. Singled out for preferential treatment, they may be even more vulnerable, and neither government has yet come up with a concrete plan to protect them.

Desperate people might well consider it’s worth the risk and get on boats anyway, especially if they believe they will be eligible for benefits like work, health care and education in Malaysia.

Even knowing that mandatory detention awaited them has not deterred asylum seekers from making the dangerous voyage to Australia: why then should they be deterred from persisting in their efforts to find a new life by the comparatively benign prospect of spending a few years in Malaysia, where they believe they’ll live a relatively normal existence while awaiting re-settlement?

The government’s efforts to “stop the boats” have today become farcical. Not that we needed one, but here’s another reason to mistrust the Gillard government’s judgement and integrity. If the 800 asylum seekers are treated badly in Malaysia, the deal will be like an albatross around the government’s neck, and place the opposition on fairly unassailable high moral ground. The “at least we know they wouldn’t be caned in Nauru,” sort of moral ground.

And if things go well for the 800 asylum seekers transported to Malaysia, there’s every reason to expect the boats will continue to arrive. After all, living in the community in Malaysia with health care, education and work sounds a whole lot better than war, terror, and persecution, or indefinite detention in an Australian hell hole far away from anywhere. Then the opposition will occupy the political high ground because “she hasn’t stopped the boats, has she and look how much it’s costing the taxpayer.”

Whichever way you look at it, there’s a strong possibility it’s going to be a lose lose situation for the Gillard government.






You watched the Australian cows – now watch what they do to human beings in Malaysia

10 Jun




They cane refugees there don’t they? But wait! Gillard and the U.N. can stop them! Yeah!!!

Gillard and the UN have triumphed over the domestic laws of a sovereign state!! Watch and learn, punters! Watch and learn!

Oh, the feminists must be soooo proud of our first female PM!


Gillard continues to pretend that the UN matters

10 Jun

It should be obvious to everyone by now that  being a signatory to a United Nations convention doesn’t mean anything in real terms.

Unless the UN is about to start hauling recalcitrant signatory countries before an international court, the conventions aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.

Especially in a country that doesn’t have a bill of rights in the first place.

As proof of this, since 2002 the UNHCR has been castigating Australia about our treatment of asylum seekers. That’s ten years of being publicly reprimanded for our disregard of the Refugee Convention, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We breached these conventions ostensibly in the interests of protecting our totally unthreatened sovereignty. In reality it was done in the interests of self serving careerist, and immoral politicians.

Have we taken any notice? Have we been shamed? Who is there among us that really gives a stuff what the UN thinks of us?

John Howard started it by complaining that UN committees critical of his government’s stand on indigenous affairs and refugees were unfairly treating democratically elected governments. Howard didn’t acknowledge that the purpose of the UN was to look out for democratic governments that are also disregarding of human rights, as if such institutions couldn’t possibly exist:

Those who had argued before the UN that mandatory sentencing laws or native-title legislation were racially based were wrong, and it was absurd to let a foreign group decide such issues from afar. ‘ I mean, can’t these things be resolved by Australians in Australia and not us having to dance attendance on the views of committees that are a long way from Australia,’ Mr Howard said.

Things have gone down hill from there.

In a breathtaking act of hypocrisy, the Gillard government now expects us to believe that the UN has some control over Malaysia. Although the Gillard government continues to ignore the UN’s complaints about our treatment of asylum seekers, she simultaneously seeks its support to sell her Malaysian solution.

You can’t have it both ways. If you don’t give a damn about the UN’s opinions on our breaches of the conventions, you can’t then claim that their approval of the Malaysian solution carries any weight at all, let alone makes such an agreement safe and sound.

The UN conventions mean nothing. They are entirely dependent on signatory countries implementing the undertakings. Nobody really gives a stuff about a bad report from a body that has no legs and teeth. This is a post UN world. Catch up, Gillard. We see right through your spin.

Gillard’s choice: which kids will she send to the camps?

6 Jun

The Gillard government’s deal with Malaysia on asylum seekers has taken yet another turn. Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has now conceded that he will decide whether or not to send unaccompanied children to the camps on a “case by case” basis.

Just what will be the criteria for these choices? How will the Minister assess which of the unaccompanied children (in his legal care as their guardian) he will send to the Malaysian camps?

Does Bowen have a conflict of interest in this situation? As the children’s guardian, should he not be putting their welfare before his duty to Gillard? Isn’t the well being of these children his first responsibility? How would we deal with any other legal guardian who subjected their charges to unacceptable risks?

In these camps unaccompanied children are at risk of physical, sexual, psychological, and emotional abuse; exploitation, inadequate nutrition, and loss of the childhood to which the UNHCR Convention claims all children are entitled.

What are the criteria the Gillard government will use to judge which unaccompanied child is “suitable” to be subjected to the perils and abuses of a Malaysian camp, and which unaccompanied child is not?

If we are to observe the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which we are, as usual, signatory, we cannot send any unaccompanied child to Malaysia.

And the Minister’s suitability to continue as guardian to unaccompanied refugee children needs to be urgently addressed.

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