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Those Seeking Refuge Are Not Gum On Our Shoes

Posted on June 20th, by Amy Galea in News Australia. Comments Off on Those Seeking Refuge Are Not Gum On Our Shoes

Internationally condemned and politically charged, Australia’s treatment of refugees is nothing to be proud of. Image courtesy of The Daily Telegraph.

How desperate would you have to be to take a needle and thread and sew your lips together in protest? Or set yourself on fire?

This week it was reported that the UN refugee agency demonstrated “alarm” at the “sharp deterioration” of Australia’s standard of protection for asylum seekers and refugees arriving by boat. Not only that, but the decrease in public support for asylum in Australia was described by Rick Towle, the agency’s regional representative as: “increasingly negative and, at times, mean- spirited”.

So, not only is Australia responsible for not keeping with international law regarding the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees- but we speak about these people as if they were gum we need to scrape off the bottom of our shoes.

The timing of the report coincides with the beginning of Refugee week for 2013, which the Refugee Council of Australia named the theme to be ‘Restoring Hope’.  Australian Human Rights Commission President, Professor Gillian Triggs had this to say:

“This theme is a powerful reminder that refugees who flee to places like Australia embark on journeys that are fueled not only by fear and desperation, but also by hope – a hope to find a country that will offer them protection from persecution, a hope for a safe life for themselves and for their children.”

Just last month, Australian asylum- seeker policy was ripped apart by an Amnesty International report into the global state of human rights. The report dubbed the reintroduction of offshore processing and treatment of refugee children to be of heightened concern and there was a clear warning by Amnesty International Director, Claire Mallinson:

“We’ve set up new bad policies like the no-advantage policy, we’re processing people offshore, we’ve got over a thousand children in detention now, and we know what it means for those children…We’ve got lots of evidence over the years of what mandatory detention, particularly in offshore places, does to people, and there’s already evidence of children self-harming as well as adults self-harming.”

Currently there are almost 2000 asylum-seeker children being held in detention, despite the aim for detention centers to be child- free by June 2011. There is clearly a problem when children are being made an example of in efforts to try and deter others seeking asylum by boat in the future. Despite the fact that around 90% of asylum seekers who come by boat are deemed to be refugees. And despite the fact that it is not illegal to seek asylum by boat.

Placing people in prison- like accommodation where they do not have access to adequate medical treatment, education and social activity perpetuates the thought that they are being punished for a crime no one is even sure they have committed. The fact is- off shore processing doesn’t work. It didn’t work in the Howard government, and it hasn’t worked since its reintroduction. Triggs expressed concern of the Commission:

“The Commission has also raised serious concerns about the Australian Government’s transfer of asylum seekers to third countries, and about the current ‘freeze’ on processing of refugee claims…In our view, all people who arrive in Australia seeking protection should have their refugee claims assessed in Australia as promptly as possible.”

Usually the mantra, “decisions are made by those who show up” holds true in Australia- however it doesn’t seem to be the case here. With media and advocacy groups being locked out  of the detention centers on Manus and Nauru Island, petitions and protests seemingly going unheard, one can only wonder what the future is for these vulnerable people. Particularly when burying their dead doesn’t even seem to be on the agenda.

How many times are we going to get this wrong before we get it right?

For those who’ve come across the seas:

We’ve boundless plains to share;
With courage let us all combine
To Advance Australia Fair.

If you missed it- Four Corners covered as much as they could of Nauru and Manus Island detention centers, without actually being let in. And if you have a spare hour check out this video presented by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres:



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