Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Scrap offshore processing and mandatory detention

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Process refugees in the community and provide jobs, homes & services for everyone!

Julia Gillard’s plan to send 800 refugees to Malaysia has hit a major hurdle. While Labor boasts about it’s ‘tougher-than-Howard’ credentials, refugee protests, a successful High Court challenge and the discontent of detention centre workers is impacting on public opinion and exerting unwanted pressure on this already weak government.

The so-called Malaysia solution would see hundreds of refugees thrown into a country that affords asylum seekers next to no human rights. Refugees risk beatings and arrest if they venture outside despite the fact that most have to work to survive.

The Malaysian government has even set up a vigilante corps called RELA to target undocumented foreign workers. These thugs can harass, arrest and even shoot refugees without fear of prosecution. They are so immune from punishment they have even targeted, harassed and arrested diplomats and burnt the residency cards of legal residents! There are over 500,000 armed volunteers to target a refugee population of about 90,000.

The Labor government, which gloats that it has done more to stop refugees than even John Howard could manage – such as involuntary repatriation – has attempted to downplay the danger in Malaysia. Despite the dangers, and the set back in the High Court, Gillard is now looking to introduce new legislation in order to send refugees to Malaysia.

Gillard insists that refugees traded with Malaysia will have more rights than the other 90,000 in that country, and have implied they will be provided with housing, education and other needs. The initial plan however, specifies that the deported refugees will only have access to services if they can pay for them.

Refugees in Australian detention centres are on hunger strikes while others have been protesting on the rooftops of the jails. Police have even used tear gas and rubber bullets against protesting refugees at Christmas Island. Rates of self-harm and suicide in detention centres have skyrocketed. Serco, the private company contracted to run the detention centres, is also struggling with discontent from its workers.

Detention centre workers on Christmas Island have expressed concern that they are about to be relocated to the Manus Island detention centre in PNG which is about to be reopened. Australian industrial laws will not apply there and centre staff have complained of inadequate training which could put lives at risk. One mental health nurse working for Serco was even fired for suggesting that detention affects people’s mental health!

There is no merit to the ‘Malaysia solution’ or any other type of Pacific based ‘solution’. The two major parties merely offer a different version of the same thing. We need to put an end to all offshore processing and mandatory detention as a whole. We need to put an end to big companies like Serco making more than $1 billion profit from the sewn lips and suicides of refugees who are fleeing war and persecution.

Refugees should be processed in the community and provided with real jobs and services. Not only is this approach far more humane, but it is actually cheaper than locking people up. It would mean the money currently being spent on detention could be directed into employment opportunities and services for everyone.

Both the major parties use refugees as scapegoats claiming that they are the cause of all our problems. The truth is that it is the system that puts profits before all else that stands in the way of everyone being afforded decent services, affordable housing, secure jobs and human rights.

It is crucial that ordinary people reject this racist scapegoating and support the campaign for refugee rights. It is only on the basis of unity that we can challenge the real problems that lead to unemployment, housing shortages and lack of services.

The ‘refugee issue’ is nothing but a distraction from the government’s failures and the problems caused by the profit system that creates the conditions for war and refugees in the first place.

By Chris Dite


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