The first two months of 2014 have seen the Government further escalate its brutal policies of refugee ‘deterrence’ and demonisation. The violent treatment of refugees by the Navy and the private companies overseeing the detention centres has also reached a new height.
Last month amidst protests at Australia’s offshore detention centre on Manus Island in PNG, one refugee was murdered, 13 refugees were seriously injured and dozens of others wounded in a horrific attack.
According to firsthand accounts, private security company G4S, which administers the compound, evacuated its staff as local PNG police swept through the centre with machetes bashing and maiming people. The refugees, who are seeking asylum after fleeing war and persecution, had been protesting after being told they would not be resettled in the foreseeable future.
This latest escalation of violence comes as the Government steps up its tow-back policy. Under this cruel and costly policy asylum seekers are stopped at sea, forced into life boats and herded to Indonesia. The policy is putting people’s lives at risk both at sea and in Indonesia, where they are simply abandoned. It’s also inflaming tensions between Australia and Indonesia over territorial breaches.
The conduct of the Australian Navy has been put in the spotlight by the tow-back policy. In an embarrassing scandal in January, several Navy personnel were found to be members of the racist Australian Defence League. Some have even openly threatened refugees and Muslims with violence.
Adding weight to suggestions of a far-right racist faction in the navy, several asylum seekers have claimed they were forced by the Australian Navy to hold onto the hot pipes of a boat and suffered serious burns as their vessels were turned back under the new tow-back policy.
The Abbott Government’s response to all this was that the ABC was ‘unpatriotic’ for reporting such allegations. This was just another attempt by the government to create a media blackout of the worst aspects of their treatment of refugees.
The Government wants the general aspects of the horrific conditions in the detention centres and offshore camps to be known. It even produced a comic book to be distributed overseas that outlines these shocking conditions. But it knows the majority of people are horrified when violence is inflicted on people and it does not want the specifics focussed on.
In the context of looming job losses and economic uncertainty the government are using refugees as scapegoats. With no answers to the jobs crisis the government instead prefers to paint refugees as undesirable, dangerous, and a drain on resources. In one of the most farcical examples yet Scott Morrison recently threatened refugees living in the community with deportation for ‘cursing, spitting or rumour mongering’.
At a cost of $500,000 a year to detain a single asylum seeker on Manus Island the government’s refugee policies are not only inhumane but a complete waste of money. If the detention centres were shut down and people seeking asylum were able to have their applications assessed while living in the community billions of dollars could be saved. Far from being a drain on resources the increased demand would actually create jobs.
It is urgent that we work to build a movement that can challenge the Liberals cruel refugee policies. At the same time we need to fight for an end the economic system which pits people against each other in a race for scarce jobs, expensive housing and underfunded services.
Such a movement could not only challenge mandatory detention and offshore processing but would challenge the very system that creates war, violent conflict and the environmental devastation which forces people to flee for safety in the first place.
By Chris Dite