In the span of two days, Tony Abbott has urged European leaders to “stand guard” against the recent and ongoing movement of refugees seeking protection in Europe. Malcolm Turnbull alleges that Australia’s border protection policies are the ‘best in the world’, and our Immigration Minister claims that our offshore detention camps are “at least better” than refugee camps outside Syria.
As absurd as Turnbull and Abbott’s comments are, a number of things shock me to the core. Firstly, these men had been given platform to make such ludicrous comments, without a reality check. Secondly, they had an audience who listened to their bigotry, did not oppose or question it and possibly would adopt it as their own beliefs. It is one thing to be mistaken and heartless, but it is another to spread these sentiments with impunity.
Abbott’s recommendation of Australia’s turn-back policy is highly problematic. At a time when one of the most vulnerable groups in the world needs assistance, he is urging the world to turn their backs against those in need of protection. It is also ironic and unfortunate that nations such as Europe, who benefit from the stability that wealth and privilege bring, are urged to be “brave” against men, women and children who have left behind everything they know purely to survive.
The hysteria and fear created by politicians, such as Abbott, on first glance seem to be mere petty politics and statements that we are used to hearing from theatrical politicians. It is, however, statements such as this that in time turn hysteria into public opinion, and public opinion into legislation. Unfortunately, this is the situation Australia has come to regarding the refugee issue. It is an inhumane state reached through a historic chain of events resulting in unspeakable acts of state-sanctioned violence against refugees and asylum seekers. This is not a situation to be idolised or copied, much less recommended to other nations.
Australia’s boat turn-back policy and indefinite detention of refugees is both inhumane and illegal. Turning back asylum seeker boats that have reached Australian territory goes against the International legal obligation of non-refoulement, which Australia has been breaking for decades. Australia is sending people back to horrific situations where they are likely to face persecution, serious harm and in many cases, death. Not only does Australia have an obligation to all those who seek protection on its shores, but also an obligation (both legally and ethically) to those the government has decided to place in offshore detention centres. Thus, it is irresponsible of Malcolm Turnbull to speak lightly of the policies put in place by Australia against asylum seekers and refugees, claiming they are the “best in the world”. Off-shore detention and boat turn-backs are financially more costly to Australian taxpayers than settling people in the community, while the cost to asylum seekers pushed back into sea are immeasurable. Abbott’s drive to recommend Australia’s illegal and failed policies to other nations is, to say the least, unwise.
Abbott also referred to refugees and asylum seekers as “would-be economic migrants” who are “soldiers of the Islamic caliphate”. Inaccurate and ill-informed comments as this feed into the racist rhetoric and fuel the fear of the “other”, where Muslim refugees and people of brown and black skin are painted as evil and dangerous. They’re portrayed to have come to dirty the European dream with their brown and black bodies. He seems to be contending that they should not be offered humane treatment because they are less human and should have their bodies contained and returned, instead of offered assistance. The dangers of politicians making such unsubstantiated claims would have a trickle-down effect, instilling fear in the general public and eventually manipulating our refugee policies. Australia should be ashamed for re-settling less refugees than promised and indefinitely detaining refugee and asylum seekers, here and offshore. The policy of indefinite detainment and turn-back of refugees and asylum seekers is a failed policy. It is a smarter and a more moral solution to provide refugees with safe passages into the country and to allow them into the community.
What we should take from these incidents is that we need to stop electing into government, bigots who freely engage in racist and xenophobic conversations and practices. It is a political model supporting politicians to win elections by abusing the most vulnerable. Australia’s boat turn-back policy is not a “successful model” for refugee resettlement nor does it provide safe passage to refugees or asylum seekers. Evidently, it should not be recommended to other nations and must be abolished altogether. It is negligent to state that Australia provides “better conditions” than refugee camps in war-torn countries that are less affluent and less stable. Particularly since considerably less refugees seek asylum in Australia than in those countries. Australia has fallen far short of its capacity to ensure humane treatment of asylum seekers.
The plight of refugees and asylum seekers can only be understood by those who have lived experiences of these traumas. If European nations want to know how to protect and support asylum seekers, they should be consulting those who have experienced displacement, as opposed to seeking advice from men in suits vying for the support of those who favour harmful and xenophobic asylum seeker/refugee policies. We should also not be electing representatives that take pride in claiming that their human rights abuses are the best in the world.
Australia is a country built on human rights abuses and genocide of First Nations peoples-the least we could do is ensure our present and our future does not create more deaths.