This week reports emerged that the Australian navy paid people smugglers to take their human cargo back to Indonesia. Three sailors arrested in Indonesia stated that when their boat was intercepted by the navy, they were paid 5000 USD each to turn around. Their story is backed up by migrants on the boat in question, interviewed by the UN, and the Indonesian government is investigating. Continue reading
With no real big news going on today, here are three stories and one amazing video that caught my eye this week.
This week the first refugees were sent from Australian detention camps to Cambodia, under an agreement between the two countries. The deal has been heavily criticised (including on this blog) for sending asylum seekers to one of the world’s poorest and most corrupt countries. This BBC article demonstrates the lengths that the Australian government has gone to to convince the refugees to go.
This well-written but harrowing article from the Boston Globe is the story of the toll years of abuse took on one boy, and the lengths he went to to prevent it happening again.
As Germany becomes more and more clearly the most influential country in Europe, it seems to some we’re entering a new era of German leadership. However, in many ways Germany is still a state reluctant to lead – or be seen leading.
This short video about the casualties of WWII is the perfect example of what you can do with data. The authors don’t only beautifully visualise the cost of the war, but put everything in context, helping you to understand exactly what you’re looking at. It ends on a positive note as well – the decreasing level of conflict since WWII.
While I’ve written about Australia’s policy towards asylum seekers before, it’s hard to avoid the temptation of coming back to it. It’s the thing that frustrates me the most about my passport country, and it taps into a nasty undercurrent of xenophobia in Australian society. This policy of exclusion towards asylum seekers seems to be personified at the moment by the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott – a man who seems to be an endless cycle of gaffes and plain awful comments. So just how bad is his record on this issue? Continue reading
Due to my midterms – Comparative Politics, Middle East: Culture and Middle East: Economics – and a few essays that need writing, time isn’t on my side this weekend. Seeing as it’s been a slow news weekend, here are some interesting stories on other matters. Continue reading
An extra post today, on a story that hasn’t made the news in a big way, but one that I just can’t get over. The Australian government has made an agreement with the Cambodian government to resettle refugees in Cambodia. These refugees are people who arrived in Australian waters by boat, were detained, and then found to have a genuine claim to asylum. Instead of being allowed to enter Australia, because they arrived by boat they are being sent to Cambodia. Let’s take a look at Cambodia.
Firstly, I have nothing against Cambodia. I spent some time there while backpacking, and loved it. It’s a great country with amazingly friendly and open people. However – it is a Third World country. It is poor, with one of the lowest annual incomes in the world. It is corrupt, ranked 15th worst in the world. It lacks freedom and struggles to feed its own population, being ranked as one of the worst in the world for HDI and hunger. Unemployment is high and many young Cambodians struggle to find jobs. Less than 40 years ago it suffered one of the worst genocides in history, one that was preceded and followed by years of horrific war. The country still bears the scars – on the landscape and on the culture – today.
It’s also a country that’s not known for treating refugees well. They have deported refugees numerous times, including Uighurs from China who were being protected by the UN’s refugee agency. Refugees are not wanted by the majority of the population either. The decision has been greeted with protests in Cambodia by people who don’t want even more competition for meagre resources and jobs. Note that this is the same argument some Australians will make – from a country 42 times larger and 16 times richer than Cambodia. Guess in which of these countries I’ve seen the bumper sticker “F**k off, we’re full”.
Australia will be responsible for the cost of health insurance that is “commensurate” with local community standards for five years. Most Cambodians do not have health insurance. (Lindsay Murdoch, SMH)
To sweeten the deal for the Cambodia government, Australia will pay them 40 million US dollars, on top of resettlement costs. In what is one of the most corrupt countries in the world, where exactly does the Australian government think this 40 million is going to go? It’s unlikely it will do much to benefit the people of the country who never agreed to the deal in the first place. To make the deal even dirtier, it has been carried out in secrecy with no room for debate.
UNICEF, Amnesty International and other groups have labelled the deal “inappropriate, immoral, and likely illegal” – and that describes it perfectly. As an Australian I am deeply ashamed that my country is doing this. It enrages me that no vote I cast can change this – as the opposition Labor party made similar plans. But that isn’t surprising when 60% of Australians polled said that they wanted refugees treated more harshly. We are one of the world’s richest countries handing some of the world’s most vulnerable people to one of the world’s poorest nations.
Oh, the refugees don’t have to go to Cambodia though – they could also remain in their detention camps on the tiny, hot, barren and bankrupt Pacific island of Nauru. They’ll be glad to hear it.
For more on Australia’s asylum seekers policy, see this post from earlier this year.
In the last month the Australian government’s policy on asylum-seekers arriving by boat has hit international news. First they had to apologise when the Australian navy entered Indonesian waters. Then Prime Minister Abbott made the news by calling the Australian national broadcaster (ABC) ‘unpatriotic’ for its investigation into treatment of refugees. On Monday it came out that the Australian Human Rights Commission would conduct an inquiry into the mandatory detention of children of asylum-seekers when they arrive in Australia. This is obviously a big issue in Australia. So what exactly is this ‘issue’? What has changed in the last few months? And why is it of such importance to Australia?
These people arriving on boats are refugees, mainly from countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran or Sri Lanka. This article describes some of the reasons they had for leaving; a civil-rights activist in Kabul who faces death threats, a man who illegally converted to Christianity in Iran, another who received threats after standing for election in Sri Lanka.
These people, often with their families, head in any way they can towards Indonesia. Why Indonesia? It’s the closest country to Australia these people are able to fly to. Since Australia is an island, they can’t show up at the border and request asylum, as in most other countries. A visa is required to board a plane heading to Australia. This leaves the only option of heading to Australia on a boat, often one that is falling apart. The plan would then be to request asylum when they arrive or get intercepted by the navy and taken to Australian. Throughout this process they are not alone, but are dealt with by people smugglers, who make plenty of money off these refugees.
The way that the government responds to this has been controversial for a long time. Australia is the only country in the world that has a policy of mandatory detention for asylum-seekers and their families. This means that the people arriving by boat are locked in detention camps while their request for asylum is considered. In every other country these people are issued a temporary visa. To make matters worse, they are often left to sit for months and even years in these camps while bureaucracy fails to get anywhere on their asylum request. At the moment my family has spent 4 months waiting for the government to renew our residency in the Netherlands, leaving us in legal limbo. It’s been extremely stressful, but at least we didn’t have to live in a prison camp while waiting.
Numerous Australian governments have tried to deal with the asylum-seekers by increasingly harsh methods. Under the Liberal (the more conservative party) government in the early 2000s asylum-seekers were sent to camps on the remote Pacific island of Nauru while their requests were considered. In 2007 the Labor (the less conservative party) closed the camps, but then reopened them in 2012 after the numbers of asylum-seekers increased. In 2013 the Labor Prime Minister announced plans to give the refugees asylum – in the third-world country of Papua New Guinea. Finally, after elections in 2013 the new Liberal Prime Minster Abbott announced that dealing with asylum-seekers was a military matter. The navy began towing boats back to Indonesia, and the government stopped releasing information on the subject. Since this new policy, no boats have arrived in Australia.
So why is this such an important issue in Australia? When you look at the numbers, Australia doesn’t actually receive a big proportion of asylum-seekers, only 3% of the world total. The problem is that the issue has become a political one. Both political parties use the issue to attack the other, and appeal to voters, turning into a bigger ‘problem’ than it is. This can be seen by the way the (Liberal) Immigration Minister responded to questions about children in detention:
“But the reason there are children in detention is because over 50,000 turned up on illegal boats on Labor’s watch so we’re dealing with Labor’s chaotic mess here,”
This shows that the real issue for the politicians is being able to show that the other party is ineffective. The refugees themselves aren’t so important.
Unfortunately, this sort of fear mongering by governments has happened again and again in Australia. It is a small (in population), mainly white nation in Asia, meaning it has always been easy for politicians to gain votes by appealing to people’s fear of being ‘swamped’. Talking about these people as ‘illegal immigrants’ or ‘boat people’ is both incorrect, and dehumanising. However the actual numbers and nature of the asylum-seekers are made unimportant. Fear will win the votes every time. The country needs people, and especially politicians in government brave enough to stand up against the lies and fear. Given the state of Australian politics, that could take a long time.