In recent months the awful reality of Australia’s refugee system has once again come to the fore. The Christmas Island tragedy, six deaths in detention, increased rates of self-harm and numerous protests inside detention centres (including mass hunger strikes and the partial burning down of Villawood Detention Centre) have shed light on the horrendous conditions refugees face in their search for asylum.
With more boat arrivals in 2010 than in previous years, conditions in detention are getting worse by the day. The policy of mandatory detention, supported by both major parties, serves to further traumatise those fleeing war and persecution, including the 1,000 children who remain in detention.
This policy, introduced by the Keating Labor Government in 1992 and retained by consecutive governments since, is shrouded in so much myth and double-speak that few truly understand its basis and consequences.
While very little public attention is given to refugees arriving by plane, those arriving by boat have served as the primary scapegoats in political point-scoring over the last decade. Former Prime Minister John Howard made much success out of demonising boat arrivals earlier this decade. Current PM Julia Gillard has merely picked up where he left off.
The method of both Labor and Liberal has been to create a climate of fear around refugees arriving by boat. There are many facets to this: the racist scaremongering of ‘border protection’ and the ‘threat of terrorism’; the falsehood that it is ‘illegal’ to seek asylum via a boat journey; the imagining that Australia is ‘too full’ to resettle refugees. On all counts this persistent misinformation has served to distort people’s attitudes and generate support for government policy.
This is not a unique or isolated strategy from parties that represent the interests of capitalism. Fostering division between people of different nationalities, ethnicities, genders and sexualities has been a cornerstone of capitalism since its very beginning. If people are focused on blaming refugees and asylum seekers for the lack of decent jobs, housing and services, they are less inclined to challenge the profit system that actually creates these problems.
In order to challenge popularly held beliefs about refugees and asylum seekers we need to be able to address the basis of this fear: the fear of living conditions being undermined.
The undermining of wages and living conditions has nothing to do refugees and asylum seekers. A system based primarily on the pursuit of profits, rather than human need, will continue to drive down living conditions as long as it suits the desires of business.
Denying people basic human rights will not resolve this problem. Rather, class unity across national, ethnic and religious lines is the only way to challenge a system that benefits a few at the expense of the majority.
A planned socialist system based on public ownership and democratic control could dramatically improve the living standards of all, including refugees. More importantly, the profit motive behind wars and conflicts would be removed. This would mean people would not be forced to flee their homelands to begin with.
The Socialist Party says:
– Close the camps
– End mandatory detention – allow asylum seekers to live in the community while their claims are processed
– Jobs, homes & services for all – not racist scapegoating
– Blame the system that creates war & refugees – fight for socialism!
By Mel Gregson