Australia At A Crossroads – Revolutionaries Of Humanitarian Resettlement, Or World Leaders In Offshore Detention?

Australia has the capacity to become a world leader in asylum seeker intake and integration into society in a manner that is not only humane but also benefits all stakeholders; safety for those fleeing persecution, creation of jobs for Australians in skills-training and social work, and the establishment of the Australian government as a pioneer of a paradigm-shifting approach to humanitarian refugee intake that could potentially have ramifications on a global scale. And yet, refugees and loved ones are held in offshore detention centres in both Nauru and Manus Island, in poor conditions, with little hope of coming to Australia, posing the question: what reparative measures could Australia implement to overcome current inhumane offshore detention policies?

There exists a common conception that reparation is simply not possible while the government systematically perpetuates the issue. However, the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 60/147, an internationally recognized document outlining the right to reparations for victims of human rights violations, identifies a cessation of the ongoing violations in question. What this means is that the very first step towards reparation that the Australian government can take is to end its offshore detention policy and shut down these detention centres. Not only is it possible, but it is also the only humane course of action. Hence, it is the responsibility of the Australian public to respectfully pressure the government to abolish it’s current policies and devise a new system that has benefits for all stakeholders.

To gain an understanding of the situation as it stands, one needs only to look at the surge in suicide attempts on Manus Island after the results of the Australian election, in which the Liberal Party and Scott Morrison – the man behind the ‘Stop the Boats’ policy of Australia – retained their power. The inmates on Manus Island have clearly lost whatever little hope they previously had, as it is evident the Liberal Party will continue their current treatment of asylum seekers in offshore detention centres. This includes bi-national agreements with the governments of both Nauru and Papua New Guinea to severely restrict access of the media and health providers such as social workers, in addition to the hiring of private security contractors to operate in the detention centres, for example, Paladin, an organization that offered a lucrative contract in an ambiguous tender process that has raised many questions of legitimacy.

Furthermore, when he was Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton purposefully claimed that the offshore detention centres were filled with rapists, pedophiles, and murderers, as well as suggested that women were faking rape and sexual abuse claims to get off Nauru – with absolutely no evidence to back it up. The consequence of these actions is the creation of inherent racism within the Australian public, whereby terms such as ‘boat people’ and ‘illegal’ are floated around excessively, with little to no recognition of the circumstances forcing these asylum seekers to flee their countries, or the brutal conditions they face in detention centres.

At this very moment, we are witnessing an injustice on the part of the Australian Federal Government. Not directly on its citizens, but rather on some of the most vulnerable populations in the world. For asylum seekers who have fled conflict and persecution in other parts of the world in search of a safer life for themselves and their families to be held indefinitely in inhumane conditions is unconscionable and a shameful reflection of Australia’s moral standards.

Similarly, Scott Morrison in a direct address to the asylum seekers on Nauru in 2014, said, “if you have a valid claim, you will not be resettled in Australia. You will never live in Australia.” The contradiction underlying this statement is dumbfounding, that if your claim is actually valid, you will not be offered asylum in Australia. This man is the current Prime Minister of Australia. At the top of the nation’s hierarchy, the embodiment of democracy, is a man who will deny another human being safety in his country, from persecution and from violence, even if their claims for seeking asylum are valid.

So, what steps can be taken to obligate the government to close down the offshore detention centres and transform its current policies into something sustainable, humane, and productive? Public awareness campaigns are essential for the nation to comprehend the reality of the situation and the conditions faced by the asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru, in direct contrast to our fortunate conditions in the lucky country that Australians get to call home. Of course, this is not to suggest that everyday Australians do not face any issues, it simply aims to show a comparative depiction that will force the public to see an undeniable truth that exists in the offshore detention centres thanks to our government, and by extension, taxpayer dollars.

Within our public awareness, correct word choice is crucial – language must be inclusive, lest the public gets itself caught up in another political debate where both sides dig into their trenches, rendering any hope for consensus or collaboration about as existent as the Tasmanian Tiger. Similarly, when we campaign, we must be careful to back up our claims with evidence, otherwise we are no better than Dutton. Normative language and careless tossing of words is a very dangerous threat to any social movement, as it loses all legitimacy.

Efforts of the Australian public, however, should not be limited to public awareness campaigning, rather, it should work to propose new methods for the government to adopt, such as probationary assessment, whereby asylum seekers are brought into the country (based on valid claims to resettlement), given accommodation and provided with educational services and vocational training, to both assist their integration into Australian society and provide benefits for the local economy through a stronger and diversified workforce.

We must recognise who the key perpetrators are – we cannot forget who these people are and what they have done. But we must also avoid heavy antagonisation, as this will cripple any chance of cooperation. Understand the wants and needs of all stakeholders and find a middle ground. This understandably comes off as paradoxical given the earlier assessment of Scott Morrison. However, truthful, face-slapping insight into the nature and magnitude of this issue is paramount to instilling a sense of moral obligation within the Australian community to act.

It doesn’t take an expert to understand that the current system needs to change, and it needs to change now. The stage is set for Australia to bring about the cessation of its current offshore detention policy and design a completely revolutionized humanitarian resettlement program that could create both social and economic benefits nationally, while potentially revolutionizing how the world responds to mass immigration.


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