Prior to being removed as prime minister in 2010, Kevin Rudd promised that his government would not be “lurching to the right” on refugees. At the time, he had already implemented policies that included locking up children and reopening the detention centre on Christmas Island. He had also arbitrarily frozen visa applications for all Tamil and Hazara refugees.
Rudd has now announced that his government won’t be “lurching to the left”. But how much further to the right can it go?
Labor is seeking to redefine what a refugee is, with a review of the rules being the precursor to a harsher processing regime. Those who arrive without papers – whether they were lost, stolen or jettisoned on the journey – will face years in what are in effect concentration camps.
Furthermore, the government is reportedly attempting to strike deals with a number of countries to deport people to the very places from which they fled.
Rudd aims to gain support for the punitive measures by promising, as he has many times before, to “get kids out of detention”. Those promises have been made since 2007 and have never been acted upon.
The racism emanating from the new-look government is epitomised by Bob Carr’s unsubstantiated assertion that many refugees who arrive by boat are “economic migrants”. Since the application of the “no advantage test” in August of last year, more than 20,000 asylum seekers have not had access to the refugee status determination process (as it’s officially called), meaning that Carr’s claims have not even been tested.
Sara Davies, a senior research fellow in International Relations at Griffith University on Radio National stated: “What we do know from the budget committees … is that the Department of Immigration’s own statistics show that 94 percent of refugees that were processed were found to be genuine refugees. That’s actually a 4 percent increase from the previous year.”
The foreign minister wants the Refugee Review Tribunal to reject more refugees. To this end, his department is preparing “up to date” information on the political situation in the countries from which refugee applicants come. This will be used to deny approval to refugees who supposedly have “no genuine fear of persecution”.
Rudd backed Carr, saying, “A whole bunch of people who seek to come to Australia are economic migrants who are seeking to comport themselves as refugees.”
What Carr and Rudd refuse to acknowledge is that people flee from many forms of oppression that have significant economic impacts. The move to block Australia’s borders will particularly affect refugees from Iran, Iraq, Palestine and Syria, where there can be multiple reasons for fleeing, including political persecution, sexual discrimination, war and occupation.
It is no crime to seek asylum, but both the major parties, along with many in the capitalist press, are treating those who arrive by boat as criminals. As a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, Australia is obliged to accept and resettle refugees, regardless of how they arrive.
Changing the definition of who is a refugee won’t stop people fleeing from danger. And preparing the ground to send even more people back to where they came from will only guarantee that even more are persecuted.
Department blocks info on deaths in detention
The Department of Immigration has refused to allow critical information to members of the public that would shed light on the deaths and other incidents that have occurred under the regime of mandatory detention.
The Global Mail, an independent web-based news resource, has been tracking and logging incidents in detention since 2009.The idea is for members of the public to pursue these incidents and bring them to light via the Freedom of Information Act. However, this is not as straightforward as it should be.
After seeking information on the 14 deaths that have occurred in detention in the last five years, Red Flag received a letter stating that the department was refusing to grant access to the information on a “practical refusal” basis. Ours was one of more than 100 requests that were refused on the same basis.
The department claimed that to provide any information relating to the deaths would “substantially and unreasonably divert the resources of the department from its other operations”. Perhaps the act should be renamed the Freedom of Information (but only if the department can be bothered) Act.
The logs still paint a damning picture of mandatory detention over the last five years even without additional information: 14 deaths in detention; 19 children tried to starve themselves; 28 children were born in detention; 336 actual self-harm incidents; 551 times self-harm threatened; and 874 serious accidents and injuries.
These numbers don’t include deaths at sea. In total there are more than 1678 deaths associated with Australia’s asylum seeker regime. Many others have taken their own life after being released, unable to cope with the trauma they’ve carried with them and the horrors of detention. These numbers are not counted.