Early last month the Rudd Government announced a freeze on processing claims for asylum by Sri Lankan and Afghan nationals. This decision represents the last nail in the coffin of Labor’s 2007 election promise that “indefinite” or “arbitrary” detention of asylum seekers would not be a Rudd Government policy.
With the Christmas Island Detention Centre at full capacity and the Liberal opposition and mainstream media whipping up anti-refugee hysteria, Rudd is desperately trying to demonstrate his “hard stance” on refugees.
In reality, refusing to process applications for asylum will have no effect on the root causes of movement or deter people who are fleeing for their lives. Considering Australia is one of few regional signatories to the UN Refugee Convention it will remain the prevailing destination for asylum, regardless of the brutality of Government policy.
Yet the Rudd Government remains focused on punishing those fleeing war and persecution, while at the same time contributing to the principal reasons why people are leaving their homes in search of asylum.
The rise in the number of people seeking asylum in Australia coincides with the growth of people fleeing conflicts in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. It is estimated that almost three-quarters of Australia’s refugees come from these two countries, the two nationalities targeted by the recent processing freeze.
Australian troops remain actively involved in the US led war in Afghanistan, an eight year imperialist crusade which has to date killed tens of thousands of Afghan civilians. Foreign troops are simply fuelling the Taliban insurgency, leading to more and more people being forced to flee their homes.
In Sri Lanka, despite the end of the civil war, tens of thousands of people remain homeless, with many still detained in camps. The murder, torture, rape and disappearance of Tamil people continues on a daily basis. Rather than condemn the violent oppression of Tamils, the Rudd Government funds the brutal Rajapakse regime to the tune of tens of millions each year.
Those who do manage to flee these conflicts face further persecution if they are lucky enough to make it to Australia.
Australia remains one of the few countries in the world to practice systematic mandatory detention of refugees. While both Labor and Liberal promote mandatory detention as the only viable refugee policy, history proves otherwise.
Prior to 1992 the vast majority of asylum seekers in Australia were housed within the community while their claims were processed. This remains the practice in almost all countries around the world, Australia excluded. There is no legitimate reason why Australia can’t abide by international law and treat asylum seekers with dignity and respect.
The political spectacle that surrounds the Government’s refugee policy has little to do with the number of refugees arriving or how they get here. Both major parties are more than happy to play to the worst racial prejudices of some layers of the population, thereby deflecting attention away from the real problems faced by ordinary working people.
Rather than blame the victims of capitalist wars, ordinary people’s interest lie in aligning with working people of all nations in the fight for a system capable of providing for all. A socialist society could provide jobs, food, housing and education for all, eliminating the need to fight amongst ourselves over the necessities of life.
By SP reporters