Monthly Archives: December 2013

The Syrian refugee crisis and Australia’s response

Wednesday 1st of January 2014

As this year ends, the death due to starvation of 15 Palestinian refugees trapped with 20 000 other Palestinian refugees in Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus due to the current conflict in Syria is in the news.  Before the war broke out in Syria in March 2011, Syria itself hosted thousands of refugees from neighbouring countries such as Palestine and Iraq.   According to UNHCR Syria had one of the largest urban refugee populations in the world and was one of the top 5 refugee hosting countries in the world.  According to the latest UNHCR statistics  Australia does not even make it in the top 10.

It is therefore cruel and unfair that Syria’s own nationals are now displaced by the current conflict.  The Syrian conflict has led to more than 5 million displaced people within Syria, and about 2.3 million displaced people outside Syria with more than 100,000 people killed in two and half years. Many people are still escaping from the conflict. The masses of people being forced to flee Syria daily to seek protection elsewhere is concerning.  According to UNHCR Women and children make up about three quarters (75%) of all Syrian refugees who have fled the country due to the conflict.  By the end of 2014, UNHCR estimates there will be more than 4 million Syrian refugees and there are signs that instability in the region is increasing, with very little chance that the conflict will abate soon.

Thus far no political leaders from any of the industrialised countries have come up with a globally responsible solution for displaced Syrian refugees. Instead, they have condemned oppression by the Syrian Government while being silent on the resettlement of thousands of displaced Syrian refugees in Syria’s neighbouring countries.  The US for instance has taken in just 90 Syrian refugees for resettlement since the outbreak of the civil war till September 2013 while at the same time reports have leaked out that the US government and it’s proxies have helped arm some of the militants in this conflict.

Despite not being full signatories to the UN refugee convention, countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq have taken over 2.1 million refugees so far.  Lebanon with a population of just over 4 million hosts about 1 million Syrian refugees. The last two weeks of August 2013 saw approximately 47,000 Syrian refugees enter Iraqi Kurdistan. Meanwhile OECD countries chose to condemn acts of violence and dictatorships as well as take to media outlets to misrepresent core issues of refugees rather than practically work for a humanitarian solution.

Recently UNHCR released a report that stated 17 countries have agreed to participate in the Syrian refugee resettlement program and capped the intake so far to about 10,000 Syrian refugees. This means approximately 600 refugees will be resettled per country. Given the current flow of refugees, it would take approximately 200 years to resettle all Syrian refugees. Under this program it is a fact that only grandchildren of the current Syrian refugees will resettle in these countries. There are also reports that those who were already registered in Damascus, Syria as refugees with UNHCR cannot get assistance from UNHCR in Malaysia until they register again.  Is this what we call a humanitarian approach by an organisation that seeks to support victims of persecution and trauma?

The current conflict in Syria will not be solved within a year, perhaps not in the next five or ten years. Syrians will remain in neighbouring countries during this time and be exposed to the psychological trauma of being torn from their homes and loved ones and minimal protection rights as non-citizens. This trauma and suffering will be an ongoing battle for Syrian refugees.

Australia is one of the countries that have agreed to be a part of the so called “resettlement program” for Syrian refugees and said they will be taking about 500 refugees during the year.  As the year has passed we have no confirmation as to whether this agreement has been fulfilled.

The Australian government has also contributed just $100 million to the Syrian crisis response since June 2011. This is supposed to help United Nations organisations deliver desperately needed basic services inside Syria. Five million dollars to the World Food Programme is being given to maintain emergency food supplies to three million people. Three million dollars to the World Health Organisation is provided to help address critical shortages in medical supplies.  Three million dollars to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is provided to assist supply safe drinking water as well as vaccination of 2.5 million children. One million dollars goes to the UN Population Fund to help fund reproductive health care and psycho-social support projects for over 1 million vulnerable women and children.

On the flipside of Australia’s “humanitarian” response, the previous Labor government and current Liberal/National coalition government has been pouring over a billion dollars into contracts with multi-million dollar private security companies like SERCO and G4S and “humanitarian” agencies like Save the Children and Salvation army to run detention centres that incarcerate over 6000 men women and children from conflict zones such as Syria who cross Australia’s borders to seek asylum. The UN reports that more than 100 international laws have been broken by Australia’s immigration detention system.  Australia has also provided millions of dollars to military/Security personnel of overseas governments such as Indonesia and Sri Lanka to stop and incarcerate refugees crossing borders to seek protection in Australia. With the introduction of the Pacific Solution Mark II by former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard used to deter people arriving by boat, Amnesty international estimates that the government will spend more than half a million dollars for each asylum seeker imprisoned in the pacific islands of Manus and Nauru in sub-human conditions. Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd trumped Julia Gillard and all his predecessors in the refugee cruelty stakes by introducing the current policy of not only deporting all asylum seekers who arrive by boat to Pacific island detention camps but also preventing any of them who is recognised as a refugee from settling in Australia altogether; again millions of dollars will be spent unchecked, in a corrupt, non-transparent deal with the Papua New Guinea government to accept these refugees from Australia for resettlement in their country.

Australia’s current Prime Minister, Tony Abbott and Minister for Immigration and Border protection, Scott Morrison now label asylum seekers as “illegals”. To date they are unable to specify which law in Australia asylum seekers are breaking.  Refugees do not need to have a licence to seek protection; displaced refugees will not leave the country unless it is a last resort. People flee out of desperation and to avoid getting killed; no one should stop people seeking protection in any part of the world regardless of whether they have paperwork with them or not. Refugees who are caught in unsafe transit countries will continue to move and seek refuge; 43 million displaced refugees worldwide prove this point.

One should therefore, be mindful of the fact that Syrian refugees are forced to take extraordinary risks to flee; by foot, air or boat to other countries to seek safety and a permanent refuge. Their plight must be respected and understood. They must be given permanent protection and their situation should not be politicised or taken advantage of by anyone. We all need to take responsibility for each other and support each other. It is time for these industrialised countries to be held accountable for the very same oppressive conditions that they accuse the Syrian regime of imposing on the victims of war.  While we increase international aid for Syria we must come up with a globally responsible long term solution that is equitable and fair and protects vulnerable communities. Rather than spending billions of dollars on building fences and walls to detain refugees onshore or offshore, the Australian government should be part of this global response by providing more resettlement places for refugees and treating refugees with respect and dignity.

Racism in Australian media/Structural Racism and the Refugee issue

Monday 30 December 2013

Many in the Australian refugee advocacy movement would have read or heard of an article in the Monthly about “Why Australia hates asylum seekers” by Christos Tsiolkas. Yet very little has been said regarding the editor of this same publication, John Van Tiggelen writing an article about taking his children to a Dutch Community Christmas Party in Carnegie, a suburb in Melbourne, Australia that included Zwarte Piete (http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/stomping-through-the-tulips-20131125-2y4l4.html).  In this article, John Van Tiggelen criticises this racist Dutch tradition but ends the piece by saying he will continue to take his children to such events.

Zwarte Piete is a racist representation of Christmas – i.e. he is a Dutch character with black-face; a legacy of the era of slavery and still part of Dutch tradition. Even the UN has warned the Netherlands that this representation “could be racist” (http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/10/22/black-pete-racist_n_4140871.html)

Is it surprising that such ingrained racism in Dutch Society came to the surface just over a fortnight ago, when many including a left wing Dutch politician and a major Dutch Newspaper made Zwarte Piete “jokes” when Nelson Mandela died? (http://divinevarod.com/2013/12/13/dutch-politician-likens-nelson-mandela-to-black-pete-while-a-picture-making-him-look-like-the-blackface-character-goes-viral/,http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-1066548)

Getting back to The Monthly’s editor, John Van Tiggelan…as a POC Melbourne media commentator aptly says…his article is a classic

‘…that attempts to self-interrogate but really is just a dude who is clearly uncomfortable with this racist element of his culture but won’t actually let go of it.

I’d like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that when your cultural artefact is so racist you say “You wouldn’t want to be black, I figured,” it’s time to let go.”….’
http://yiduiqie.tumblr.com/post/69586019669/stomping-through-the-tulips

Do we need to say more to convince people that John Van Tiggelan has to be called out on his nonchalance regarding this racist tradition?  Australia’s “invisible” power structures are a legacy of racist, colonial Eurocentric-White Australia that largely excludes “visible” people of colour crossing borders as well as the original inhabitants of this land who do not merge “invisibly” with the white colonisers.  John Van Tiggelan has a significant role in these power structures as is evident in a direct quote from an interview with him where the interviewer (not John Van Tiggelan) states:

“…There are about 320.000 people of Dutch origin in Australia (Australian Bureau of Statistics). They all contribute to the Australian community. Many do this quietly and unobtrusively and as a group we are therefore often referred to as the ”invisible migrants”. Some, including those who write for the media, have however more influence on society than others…”
http://www.tiggelen.net/nl/artikelen/artikelen/familie/portrait-of-an-editor-john-van-tiggelen-english/all-pages

Our message therefore is simply this: To effectively address refugee issues, Human rights and refugee advocates cannot avoid addressing such issues of *structural racism and inequity that is part of the fabric of society, particularly in the media. Australia needs to confront the reality that the public who “hate refugees” are presented with information through the lens of mostly privileged white Australian media commentators and other white dominated institutions. If advocates ignore such issues and avoid actively working for structural changes then they are just using their privilege to take up space and pay lip-service to the refugee issue and are complicit in perpetuating the racist legacy of white-Australia.

*Footnote: More on structural racism here-Scott Nakagawa, The Blueprint of Structural Inequality, September 12 2013, available at: http://mediadiversified.org/2013/09/12/the-blueprint-of-structural-inequality/, [accessed 30 December 2013]

Daily humiliation for Women in Australian immigration Detention centres:

In some detention centres in Australia, female asylum seekers/refugees have to go to SERCO officers to ask for tampons/pads & given just 1 or 2 at a time. Keep in mind SERCO has been given millions of dollars to “service” immigration detention centres (https://docs.google.com/a/riserefugee.org/file/d/0B8oBCLooH-ZDeWVYY1doVWFDZFE/edit?pli=1)

RISE raised concerns about this in a parliamentary submission to an enquiry panel regarding the Australian immigration detention network in 2011 (p. 17 https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B8oBCLooH-ZDblZOLUxsSmJFSTg/edit?pli=1).  A Chilout volunteer also raised her concerns with politicians such as Tanya Plibersek, but received an inadequate answer from then immigration minister Chris Bowen: http://www.barc.org.au/post/12679

Sadly these humiliations have arisen regarding female detainees in other countries such as the US: http://www.fmreview.org/detention/brane-wang

An article has been written by a Perth refugee advocate in September 2013 indicating this humiliation is ongoing in Australian detention centres: https://www.greenleft.org.au/node/54941.

Keep in mind, many refugee/asylum seeker women have been victims of rape, sexual abuse and other forms of torture and trauma.

Just because it happens in other countries, or has been happening all this time, doesn’t mean we should allow this to keep happening in Australia. We ask Australian women in particular to please advocate strongly around the issue of the treatment of refugee/asylum seeker women in Australia and ask them to persuade female leaders/politicians in particular to have the courage to show empathy for women of colour, women who are less socially and economically empowered and Act Now.

Urgent action: Stop UK Mass deportation today to Nigeria/Ghana

“We’ve abolished slavery & capital punishment yet we’ll let a person die for overstaying a visa”

If we in Australia do not respond to this and UK succeeds in this deportation-it is a green light to all governments including our own to continue treating asylum seekers as subhuman and conduct deportations in this manner with impunity.

One of the asylum seekers scheduled on flight is asylum seeker Isa Muaza. You may recall that he was on a hunger strike and had gone down to 50 kgs and was put on a flight to Nigeria a few weeks ago and miraculously the flight sent back to the UK with estimated cost of attempted deportation reported to be more than $100 000 : https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=680425485330927&id=231684710205009

It is therefore shocking that they are attempting to deport him once again due to sheer bloody-mindedness. Furthermore, on this flight, there is another Nigerian asylum seeker who requires dialysis. Details here: http://unitycentreglasgow.org/?page_id=914

Right now in Nigeria there is an increase in violent activities by an extreme group of militants called Boko Haram. Since a state of emergency declared in May 2013, the UN has reported that 1,200 people have been killed by this group (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-25407126). The double standards of western governments is apparent when one takes into consideration that the US has declared this group as a “terrorist organisation” yet those claiming asylum due to fear of being killed by this group are being rejected.

Once OECD countries who have signed the UN refugee convention are allowed to commit these atrocities, it sends signals to other countries such as Australia that these actions are acceptable. In fact Australia has already been involved with Mass deportations of Nigerian asylum seekers. Last year a group of Nigerian asylum seekers in Maribyrnong detention centre in Melbourne were snatched from their room and deported without any fore-warning.

Please take action by

1. Contacting the UK Home affairs (immigration) Minister and Nigerian embassy in London: http://unitycentreglasgow.org/?page_id=914

2. Contacting the British Embassy in Canberra (or your respective countries):

High Commissioner: His Excellency Paul Madden CMG
Email:canberra.enquiries@fconet.fco.gov.uk

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ukinaustralia

Twitter: @ukinaustralia

RISE Action using internet on UN Human rights day (20 yr anniversary) TODAY:

“20 years working for your rights”…looks as though they haven’t done a good job. Things have got worse in the last 20 yrs with the highest number of refugees this year since 19 yrs ago!

-Post on your facebook with this hashtag #UNRightsAt20

-Post on https://www.facebook.com/unitednationshumanrights

-Tweet with this hashtag #UNRightsAt20

A/ Expose Australia’s racist laws against asylum seekers and refugees

  1. Highlight Fact that the UN says Australia has violated about 150 UN laws while detaining refugees with adverse ASIO assessments but no action (http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/federal-election-2013/australia-violated-refugees-human-rights-un-says-20130822-2sdxq.html)
  2. People in community on bridging visas without the right to work (which apparently is the theme for this year).
  3. Mandatory & indefinite detention onshore & offshore
  4. PNG solution
  5. Any other facts you think are important (latest stats on immigration detention may be useful: http://www.immi.gov.au/managing-australias-borders/detention/_pdf/immigration-detention-statistics-oct2013.pdf) note if you look through the stats you will see, most in detention are refugees & asylum seekers who arrived by boat and are people of colour.

B/ Expose Australia’s racist laws against indigenous people

Particularly suspension of racial discrimination act for another 10 years by Julia Gillard with bipartisan support :http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/senate-approves-aboriginal-intervention-by-10-years/story-fn59niix-1226411713571

Anything else you would like to add about racial discrimination & human rights abuses in Australia.

Remember you can do this in the afternoon & evening/night etc when most of Asia, Europe and North America is up.