In 2017, Australia’s own “Department of Immigration and Border protection” (DIBP) continues to dedicate a page for Refugee Week 2017 on their website while they hold hundreds of our people captive in concentration camps in and outside Australia and push refugee boats back into the sea. Looking at DIBP’s website it is clear that their PR stunt on Refugee week cannot exist without images and voices of our people and we urge our communities to give thought before partaking in such activities. We should not be remembered once a year as passive entertainers to satisfy the public’s voyeuristic interest or to satisfy the diversity checklist while our community members are directly or indirectly endangered by these very same entities.
Australia marks its fifth year implementing the “No Advantage” policy, one of the most cruel and racist refugee policies. It resulted in the reopening of Nauru and Manus Island internment camps where there have been 7 deaths so far in addition to untold misery. We cannot forget that this policy was implemented after considering the advice of a cohort of “experts” that included Paris Aristotle, the CEO of Foundation House, a Torture Trauma counselling service for Refugees that still employs him in this position. Government and NGO bodies at various levels continue to shower Paris Aristotle with accolades: he was named “Victorian of the Year” by the Victorian government in 2016 and Officer of the Order of Australia in last week’s Queen’s Birthday Honours for “distinguished service to the refugee and asylum seeker sector through executive and advisory roles with a range of state and national organisations”. Last year Foundation house was one of the major sponsors of Refugee week, overseen and organised by the Refugee council of Australia. This lack of accountability is not something we can take lightly.
On the international stage, while using the bodies and voices of our people to promote themselves during World refugee day, UNHCR, the peak body responsible for refugee rights across the globe, has facilitated countries involved in mass deportations of Refugees such as Afghan Refugees in Pakistan. In 2016, 600 Sudanese Refugees who erected tents in front of the Jordanian UNHCR office were forcibly deported from Jordan. RISE has evidence of UNHCR in Indonesia denying Refugees freedom of access to their personal information. For more than a year, UNHCR Indonesia has refused a request from our advocacy team for information on why an Afghan refugee was rejected despite the fact that authorisation for access to this information had been provided. The office also refused to release the information directly to the person concerned. Indonesian refugee advocates have also confirmed that UNHCR routinely denies many other Refugees in Indonesia access to their own information. RISE members have also experienced this issue in UNHCR offices in other parts of the world.
It goes without saying that we have an ethical duty to question if initiatives like “Refugee week” or “World Refugee day”, overseen by organisations headed mainly by non-Refugees from countries that have been responsible for creating forced displacement in the first place, can truly represent the interests of Refugees. To quote our own ex-detainee demand number 8: “We demand, that countries that cause forced displacement are stripped from their decision-making position in the global humanitarian sector. It is an irrefutable fact that the countries that supply the largest proportion of the world’s weapons and military power and consume the largest proportion of the world’s natural resources, are located mainly in Europe and North America. These countries also have a disproportionate amount of decision making power in the humanitarian sector and take in one of the smallest proportions of forcibly displaced immigrants in the world.”
While there are global efforts by both governments and NGOs during “World Refugee Day” to make us sing, dance and perform for them as they momentarily “celebrate” our existence, thus far, we have not witnessed a global effort by these entities to stop feeding the deadly “border security” and military industrial complex, and provide safe passage and sanctuary for Refugees crossing borders.
If “Refugee week” or “World refugee day” is about us, it should be about OUR freedom, OUR voices, OUR lives, OUR future and OUR self-determination. RISE will not partake in, nor “celebrate” or endorse, any refugee events used as a cheap PR stunt that serves or prioritises non-refugee interests.
RISE : Refugee Survivors and Ex-detainees.