As tensions mount at the Manus Island detention centre in PNG we publish this article by Kat Galea which originally appeared in the Jan-Feb edition of The Socialist magazine.
Since Tony Abbott’s election late last year we have seen the situation facing those seeking asylum in Australia go from bad to worse. In recent months doctors working in refugee detention centres have written a ‘letter of concern’ highlighting the appalling conditions faced by those locked up in the camps.
The complaints include that the medical care offered is often inadequate and unsafe and in some cases does not comply with Australian standards. Basic treatments are often not available and in most cases people wait for long periods to be seen by medical staff.
These revelations come amidst proposed changes to the asylum seeking process, including introducing a code of conduct and visa caps for boat arrivals.
The code of conduct applies to asylum seekers living in the community on bridging visas. It is supposed to ensure that they obey all laws and abide by all requests. The truth is that refugees settled in Australia are actually 45 times less likely to commit crimes than other people.
Despite this fact the government is hell bent on portraying refugees as people that aren’t to be trusted. This is part of their divide and rule tactics aimed at sowing seeds of fear in the minds of people in order to detract from the real issues we face.
Apart from being discriminatory this code of conduct is blatantly hypocritical. Half of Tony Abbott’s front-bench have been found to have rorted their tax payer funded travel expenses yet none of them have received so much as a slap on the wrist. Clearly there is one set of rules for them and another for the people they are trying to scapegoat.
To make matters worse the Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has introduced a cap on Permanent Protection Visas (PPVs). He has used his ministerial powers to effectively freeze the issuing of PPVs until the next financial year.
This move will affect around 33,000 people currently on bridging visas meaning they will have to remain in limbo with very limited rights. It seems this move is aimed at deterring people that are fleeing war and persecution from seeking asylum in Australia. This is a cruel blow to some of the world’s most vulnerable people.
Side by side with these changes Morrison is attempting to keep all information about boat arrivals secret from the media and the public. He is now only issuing written statements with no opportunities for journalists to ask questions.
Clearly the government knows that it cannot legitimately defend its approach to refugees so they are trying to limit the scrutiny they face.
Mandatory detention of refugees and off shore processing is not the solution. Refugees should be allowed to have their claims processed in a timely manner while they are living in the community. This would be both cheaper and more humane.
The reason that the government is willing to waste so much money on locking up refugees is because they are trying to shift the blame for society’s problems away from their own policies. They would prefer that ordinary people blame refugees for our problems rather than coming together fighting the real causes of unemployment, the lack of services and cost of living pressures.
We need to campaign against the demonisation of refugees and fight for a system that respects people’s rights and shares society’s wealth rather than creating war, conflict in the first place.