We can put them through hell but it won’t work
It is the beginning of summer and the humidity is stifling. Yesterday’s rain still lingers underfoot, serving as a reminder of the dismal surrounds. The tent - a shelter if you could call it shelter at all - is a constant reminder of the misery to be found here in this forsaken place.
Rows upon rows line the grounds with some holding with up to 14 people inside. As night draws closer, so too do the storms of the rain season. The tents offer little resistance to the almost nightly torrents thrown down from above. The bedding is damp, the surrounds are bleak, and hope begins to fade. This is Nauru as Amnesty International’s Dr Graham Thom has described seeing on his recent visit. This is the Pacific Solution.
A delegation from Amnesty International has recently called on the Australian Government to rethink its Pacific Solution, describing conditions in the Nauru detention camp in no uncertain terms as “completely unacceptable”.
This was in reference to fact that the Government had not begun the process involved in determining the validity of asylum claims for most of the 387 asylum seekers housed on Nauru, despite some of the detainees being already held for months on the island. In addition, the conditions inside the detention camps were found to be anything but a source of pride for Australia.
Apart from concerns for the physical wellbeing of asylum seekers, the Amnesty International delegation also noted the high rates of mental duress placed on the detainees. As one detainee said “We think we will die here. We can’t see any future.”
As criticism was levelled at the Pacific Solution and at the Government, a spokesman for the immigration minister Chris Bowen said “Conditions in Nauru at times may not be pleasant, but they are the same conditions immigration staff and service providers are working under.”
These wise words were all that could be spoken in defence of the detention facility. What the spokesman failed to note was the living conditions of the immigration staff are far superior to those of the detainees. All is not equal in Nauru.
But in fairness to the Government, the Pacific Solution was intended to deter further people smuggling, and to stem the tide of the radical queue jumping extremists from far distant lands which we in Australia have very little to no idea of including Tamils, Iranians, Afghans and Iraqis to name but a few.
As the question of whether the program is a success or failure rages in Canberra, with statistics on boat numbers being passed like the proverbial hot potato, the question of means should also be discussed as it can provide a great insight into the Governments mindset and manner in dealing with a politically and socially challenging issue.
In the plain light of day, these are facts. For the indiscretion of fleeing your country of origin and seeking asylum in Australia (whether for a valid reason or not) it is the policy of the Australian Government to detain you until your case is processed. This seems to be a fair system, checks and balances must be kept. However the story does not stop there.
You are then (if you are one of the unlucky ones) shipped off, sometimes without even setting foot on Australian soil, to another country to be held until the Government can begin your application, sometimes taking months.
You are put into a detention facility which international observers have described as “completely unacceptable”, which fail to meet international standards for asylum seekers.
You are then forced to wait, while enduring the daily misery and mental degradation which comes with being housed in such a facility. That is unless of course, you decide to voluntarily go home and return to the country from which you fled.
Perhaps this is the reasoning behind Nauru and other centres like it. Perhaps the process to seek asylum in this country, including being forcibly housed offshore has been made deliberately harsh and inhumane in order to coerce the detainees to forgo the process in fear of their own sanity and health.
This would of course take a grotesque lack of care and humanity on the part of our leaders, some of which was on display when both Opposition leader Tony Abbott and Foreign Minister Bob Carr spoke of the issue.
When questioned over the Amnesty International findings, Mr Abbott said: “The people who have come illegally to this country need to know that they are breaking our laws. They are… taking unfair advantage of our decency as a people. There needs to be consequences for people who do the wrong thing.”
To further compound the abject lack of humanity in the Australian Parliament, Mr Carr also put on record when confronted with what Amnesty sawt: “I think Australia stands out, stands out in the world as having a humane commitment that I’m very proud of.”
A shocking disconnect from reality.
There is one question that is routinely posed to the Government, is it working? On that issue the Government has finally provided an answer of sorts, by admitting that all of its’ offshore detention centres were at capacity and that new arrivals would be in fact processed on Australian soil.
The announcement that not only is the policy inhumane as described the Amnesty International delegation, but that it is also ineffective has ignited little debate amongst officials in Canberra. Despite not achieved its’ goals, despite it being the most Orwellian of deterrents which the Government could provide, and despite the fact that it is not making any discernible difference to the number of boat arrivals, the policy remains.
This Pacific Solution has become a stain on our once fair, proud and caring nation. A xenophobic and racist undercurrent can only been enhanced by such National policies, the fruits of which are now coming to bare.
The racially charged riots in Cronulla, Indian students being targeted for assault and now a French national being abused by thugs on a bus are all examples of how far we as a nation have fallen from the lofty ideals of Australian Multiculturalism.
As the latest in a long line of un-Australian racist outbursts fill our news-stands and televisions, and we wonder how we became such a bigoted, racist uneducated folk, perhaps we should look to our leaders to show us the way out of this quagmire, instead of marching us towards the darkness of history through the persecution of a group of people.
All for no apparent gain.
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