Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

The anti-refugee agenda and the myth of ‘illegals’

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Both major parties contested the September federal election with the most heinous anti-refugee policies Australia has ever seen. Now the new Coalition government is hell bent on continuing the attack on refugee rights.

On his first day as Prime Minister, Tony Abbott brought back Temporary Protection Visas that expire after three years, denying permanent residency, travel rights and the possibility of family re-union to refugees. This means tens of thousands of refugees will be left in limbo, unable to build a new life in Australia and living in fear of where they will end up.

In early October, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison ordered that all asylum seekers who arrive by boat be labeled ‘illegals’ in all official government correspondence.

The fact that under Australian law, seeking asylum by boat journey is not illegal has not deterred the new government from forcing public servants and government departments to use the term.

In fact, asylum seekers who arrive by boat are overwhelmingly found to be genuine refugees, with between 85-95% able to prove their refugee status. In contrast only about 45% of claims for asylum by those who arrive by plane are accepted.

The right of asylum seekers to arrive by any means necessary is not just an opinion of socialists and refugee advocates. The Australian government website itself states:

“Asylum seekers do not break any Australian laws simply by arriving on boats or without authorisation. Australian and international law make these allowances because it is not always safe or practicable for asylum seekers to obtain travel documents or travel through authorised channels. Refugees are, by definition, persons fleeing persecution and in most cases are being persecuted by their own government. It is often too dangerous for refugees to apply for a passport or exit visa or approach an Australian Embassy for a visa, as such actions could put their lives, and the lives of their families, at risk.”

It seems there is no limit to the extent to which both major parties will go to manipulate language, facts and laws to whip up fear and anger towards asylum seekers. They then use this anger to fuel ever crueler attacks on refugees, distracting the rest of us from the real cause of the social, economic and environmental problems we face.

Over recent months we have seen politicians from both government and opposition use refugees as scapegoats on which to blame all of society’s problems, including cost of living pressures, unemployment, poor access to social services, rising carbon emissions and even traffic congestion!

This politicking plays into genuine fears people hold for their own future and anger at a system that doesn’t work for them. The growing gap between rich and poor is being felt by many and they are looking for someone to blame.

Socialists and other refugee rights advocates need to point people away from blaming those who are themselves victims of a rotten system and towards genuine solutions.

This is why the fight for refugee rights needs to go beyond simple appeals to people’s humanity and generosity. The strongest argument as to why ordinary Australians should support refugee rights is because it is in their interest to do so. Abolishing mandatory detention and offshore processing would free up billion of dollars that could be spent on expanding and improving social services for all.

By welcoming asylum seekers and processing their claims while they live and work in the community, an estimated 90% of the current expenditure on detaining refugees could be instead diverted to socially useful projects and services that benefit not only refugees, but everyone.

The money being wasted in perpetuating the myth of ‘illegals’ is itself contributing to the problems people blame on refugees. Our anger should instead be directed towards those pocketing our money and laughing all the way to the bank; the multi-billion dollar corporations paid to lock up refugees and those in government who facilitate this rort.

In November refugee activists will converge on Canberra to protest the government’s treatment of refugees.

By Mel Gregson


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