Here I go again – writing another blog post on Australia’s treatment of asylum-seekers. What can I say that I haven’t said already? Why bother?
And yet, the situation keeps getting worse and Australia’s reaction keeps getting more and more callous.
The story so far ….
Asylum seekers pose a policy dilemma
Poor and persecuted people want to come to a safe place. Should we let them come here? Compassion and UN treaties say we should. Selfishness and pragmatism say to be careful. What’s a decent Aussie to do?
Bad policy breeds evil outcomes
Australian Governments have been driven to develop harsh policies to deter asylum seekers from attempting to reach Australia by boat. This inhumane approach has led to terrible outcomes. It looks increasingly like torture.
There are realistic alternatives
Christians have been reminding themselves of the Bible’s teaching which clearly condemns the sort of actions our Government is taking. A number of actions, taken together, appear able to achieve the same policy objectives more humanely.
Love makes a way
Christians ramped up their protests, with almost all denominations protesting to the Government. Some christians began non-violent sit-ins in parliamentarians’ offices, believing that love makes a way to see the children released from detention.
Yes, Virginia, it is torture
So now the UN Committee Against Torture has conducted a review of a range of activities of the Australian Government, and has been particularly critical of our asylum seeker policies.
The Committee report drew attention to “harsh conditions” at offshore detention centres which affected children, “overcrowding, inadequate healthcare; and even allegations of sexual abuse and ill-treatment”. The Torture Committee said inhumane conditions and long periods of detention “creates serious physical and mental pain and suffering”, and recommended use of “non-custodial measures” and speeding up processing.
The Committee was also critical of Australia returning some asylum seekers to their home country where they were likely to be tortured.
The Government has shrugged off the report. It claims that its policy is humane because it is stopping the boats from arriving and therefore preventing deaths at sea.
However critics (including Greg Lake, a former Director of the Nauru detention centre who resigned due to the ethical issues) say that the Government is deliberately making conditions in detention worse than what they experienced back home as a deterrent, and there are other, more humane, ways to reduce the arrival of boats.
We used to be the good guys (or so we thought)
I was brought up to believe that the British (which we Aussies considered ourselves to be back then) always played fair and fought fair. We would never resort to torture, even in warfare.
So it is sobering to reflect on these findings, and to ponder whether our Government, on our behalf, would ever condone active and deliberate torture. I would once have thought not, but seeing the US cross that line during the so-called “war on terror” makes it seem possible here.
Selling our souls?
For me, the bottom line is this.
Torture, or gross mistreatment which has a similar effect, can never be justified, no matter how inconvenient the situation is. If we would use such inhumane approaches here, what would we be capable of if our lives were at stake in a war?
It is truly scary how low we have sunk, and how easily it has occurred. We must find a better way.
I don’t think I have ever, in 69 years as an Australian, been as ashamed of my country as now.
What would Jesus do?
Even more galling is the fact that both the Prime Minister Tony Abbott (who once trained to be a priest) and the Immigration Minister Scott Morrison claim to be followers of Jesus. How they can feel these are policies Jesus would approve of is beyond me.
As my friend Eva has said, referencing James 1:27: “Tony Abbot has lost the ability stand up for what is right, because he has forgotten what that actually is. He has become ‘polluted by the world’ and the opinions of those around him have become more important than compassion. …. He has lost the ability to act justly and to love mercy”.
Even scarier is the stern warning from Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46:
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’”
Let’s do something!
I have become informed by listening to Greg Lake and hearing asylum-seekers’ stories. I have written twice to Scott Morrison, signed a petition and attended a prayer vigil outside his office.
But I have to do more. I will write again, and I am considering becoming involved in Love Makes a Way.
If you are an Aussie and agree this situation is intolerable, will you take some action too?
Photo: Chilout. Because I am writing a post supporting the removal of children from detention, I assume Chilout would be happy for me to use a photo from their website.
Most of me wants to join in with Love Makes a Way but enough of me is scared of getting arrested to not take part. So I’ll just keep writing strongly worded letters for now 🙂
Yes, the one thing that makes me wary of being arrested is that I have a daughter in the US, and I’m not sure if getting arrested would make visiting more difficult. But there are, I’m told, roles that don’t risk arrest.
Really? I’d be up for those ones then.
I’m friends with one of the organisers and I’m checking. I’ll let you know.
I’d say the US justice system needs reformation as well. The US has a lot more to be ashamed about than just the war on terror.
Hi John, I’m not really qualified to judge. Was there anything particular on your mind here?
The US incarceration rate is very high, prisons are often overcrowded, there is a lot of crime and sexual abuse inside them. That’s probably what he had in mind.
Back to asylum seekers, how high are the numbers of new arrivals? It is my experience that people often overestimate the absolute numbers and the proportion of asylum seekers relative to the total population. In addition, the countries that in fact allow few asylum applications are often regarded as being swamped by them and the countries that are seen as only allowing very few are in fact liberal in their asylum policy.
There’s just so much poor journalism on the subject, with too little good journalism to counter it.
Boat arrivals were down to a trickle under the previous conservative government, but ballooned when the previous Labor government tried a more humanitarian approach, reaching more than 20,000 in 2013. They have now dropped to a trickle again under the current harsh regime. In that sense the harsh policies are “working” (if that is your goal). On top of this are about another 8,000 asylum seekers arriving by plane.
To put this in context … Australia’s population is currently about 23M and our immigration intake is 190,000 per year. On top of this (I think) is our refugee or humanitarian intake which I think was 20,000 under the previous government, cut to 14,000 by the present government but a political deal may lead to it being raised to 21,000.
More than 90% of boat arrivals have been found to be genuine refugees in the past and eventually granted visas, while the “grant rate” for plane arrivals is less than 50%.
Thus before the present clamp down, asylum requests were only about 15% of immigration and 1.2 per 1,000 population. Visas granted were a little less than these figures of course. Many countries take many more refugees, notably countries close to the scene of conflict in the Middle East and North Africa.
We don’t receive so many asylum seekers here in Brazil, so I don’t know how the government would act.
I’ll pray for the people and for your government.