A family of Tamil asylum seekers have been given a temporary reprieve from being deported back to Sri Lanka, where they face a very real threat of persecution and retaliation from the government.
Despite the civil war having ended, Tamils in Sri Lanka are still harassed, assaulted and abducted. The government bureaucrats who assess asylum cases claim the situation in Sri Lanka is safe, yet many refugees who have had their claims denied and have been sent back have immediately been imprisoned by the regime.
The family of four had been living and working in a rural Queensland community before they were taken from their home in a pre-dawn raid. They were then flown to Melbourne and held in the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation.
While in detention they were refused adequate care and subjected to cruel and petty treatment, including denying one of their children a birthday cake.
In early September the federal government attempted to deport the family to Sri Lanka, but a Federal Court injunction was granted and the family are now being held on Christmas Island while the youngest daughter, Tharunicaa, has her asylum claim assessed. Since then the United Nations has called on the government to release the family from detention.
Immigration minister Peter Dutton has consistently refused to make an exception to allow the family to stay, even though it is well within his powers to do so. He and the Liberal government have made similar exceptions in around 4000 other cases, including for other asylum seekers.
His refusal to allow the family to stay, and his demeaning remarks about the children being “anchor babies” that are supposedly costing tax payers billions, are part of a decades-long ideological campaign to scapegoat refugees and sew divisions among ordinary people.
The cruel refugee policies that have been implemented by successive Liberal and Labor governments are a diversion from the real issues.
Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison have tried to draw a direct link between Australia’s refugee intake and our declining access to healthcare. But it is not the fault of refugees fleeing persecution and war that public health waiting lists are getting longer.
The blame for that lies squarely with the major parties. They both refuse to adequately fund healthcare and other public services, while spending on tax cuts and handouts to big business. Likewise, our declining living standards are the result of big business driving down wages and working conditions.
An exception should be made for this Tamil family, and for all asylum seekers who are currently languishing in detention centres or on temporary visas.
While campaigning for the rights of asylum seekers, the refugee rights movement needs to raise the economic and political motivations behind the government’s policies.
Refugees are used as a political tool by the major parties to distract people from the cuts that the government are making and to promote the myth that there is not enough to go around. This allows them to blame ordinary people for the problems that the capitalist system itself has created.
The government pretends that the immigration system is fair and says that we can’t have people ‘jumping the queue’. But the queue gets jumped all the time. The richer you are the easier it is to get to the front.
The system is designed so that the rich and their capital can cross borders freely, while the working class and the poor are only allowed to resettle when profits can be made at our expense.
It is in the interests of all ordinary people to demand an end to the brutal treatment of refugees and an overhaul of all racist, anti-worker immigration policies. Rather than allowing them to divide us, we need to unite and push for the wealth that we create to be distributed more equally.
If the capitalist class weren’t hiving off a big part of society’s wealth, there would be more than enough to raise everyone’s living standards. This includes improving conditions for those that flee here in search of protection.
Ultimately, it’s capitalism that lies at the heart of the refugee issue. There can be no end to the world-wide refugee crisis unless this inhumane system is replaced.
By Meredith Jacka