Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Labor dusts off Howard’s refugee policies

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The debate surrounding the treatment of refugees has been intensified by the federal government’s announcement of the ‘Malaysian Solution’.

Labor’s plan to send 800 asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat to detention centres in Malaysia has aroused anger amongst refugee activists due to Malaysia’s appalling human rights record on this issue. It is a yet another sign that the Gillard led Labor government is no more progressive than the Liberals when it comes to the treatment of those fleeing war, persecution and poverty.

The claims of the ALP and the Malaysian government that refugees sent to these camps will be processed quickly and released into the Malaysian community are an out right fallacy. The inhumane treatment of detainees in Malaysia includes whipping, violent beatings, solitary confinement and the denial of basic health care facilities.

Malaysia is considered one of the worst countries in Asia with regards to its treatment of refugees. The Malaysian government is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention and can give no guarantees that those sent there will not face a life of misery. By sending victims of war and persecution to Malaysia the ALP stands side by side with the Liberals in their treatment of asylum seekers under John Howard.

The Gillard government is hoping that a blanket refusal to allow asylum seekers who arrive by boat to be processed in Australia will halt the flow. This ‘worked’ for Howard and Labor wants the same result today. Murdoch’s Australian described Labor’s policy shift as “as step in the right direction”.

The “Malaysian Solution” is no more than a desperate bid by Gillard to stamp down on the increasing anger building up amongst detainees inside detention centres here in Australia. It is a threat that if they don’t accept the already appalling conditions they face here, then they will be sent to face worse elsewhere. But continued punishment of victims will not dampen the anger behind the recent events in Villawood and Christmas Island.

The best way to stop to the victimisation of asylum seekers in Australia is to build a mass movement of opposition to mandatory detention. Such a movement should fight for the right of all asylum seekers to be processed quickly here in Australia. They should have the right to live in the community while this is being done as was the case before the 1990s. This is not only more humane than mandatory detention but costs less, especially when compared to off-shore processing.

On top of these demands for refugee rights we must also explain that it is the profit driven system of capitalism that creates war and the conditions for persecution in the first place. Only a democratic socialist economy based on people’s needs and not profits can ensure a world in which people do not have to flee their homes in search of a better life.

By SP reporters


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