30.9.11

Human Rights, Mate

Harry Afentoglou

SEEKING ASYLUM IS NOT ILLEGAL 

The current Malaysia exchange solution is still being pushed through parliament by the Labour Party, and it appears to be aimed at appeasing current xenophobic attitudes in the name of securing the party's future and approval with voters.  That in itself should be insulting to the Australian public. So too, that Ms. Gillard and Labour members expect the same public is apathetic enough not to see how they have pitted the necessity to prosecute people smugglers with the idea that the government has the right to "smuggle" 800 asylum seekers to Malyasia without anyone asking questions.  This distorts the facts, and puts already vulnerable refugees at further risk.  This is a political move, and it is being opposed most surprisingly by Tony Abbott in coalition with the Green Party.  For a rare moment, let me be on record saying: Thank you, Mr. Abbott, for standing your ground on this occasion.

Rather than setting an example, and changing the world's perception of Australia, a country still known for the "White-Australia" immigration policies of the past, the Labour Party's Malaysia deal reads like a warped attempt at utilitarian ethics.  The Labour party would like you to believe that taking 4000 confirmed refugees in exchange for sending 800 asylum seekers is a 'greater good' method of dealing with a sensitive situation.  In fact, all it really does is pander to biggotry regarding "boat people" and appears as a weak quick fix to ease pressure on tax-payer funded detention centres, that are already at capacity.

It is a game of politics in which human beings, including young children, who are already traumatized, become further devalued. If this deal is ratified, the refugees will arrive in Malaysia with what are, at best, tenuous promises of fair treatment.  Doubly distressing is that many of these people have already been in detention centres for long periods of time, during which their mental health and general hope for their own future, is deteriorating.  Both domestically and internationally this move by the Labour Government is undermining the representation of Australia.   This is not a problem with an easy solution, and it's a heated debate across the country, however we must tell the Gillard government that their solution is faulty, inhumane, and that we demand better.  

Who else is unimpressed with Australia's treatment of refugees?:

The United Nations
The High Court of Australia
The Australian Medical Association - Northern Territory

If a proven average of 90% of these people will eventually
be granted refugee status and be able to freely live and work in Australia, they have earned their place and deserve nothing but respect from the Australian communities they will be living in.  Not only because they have passed all of the checks necessary to secure their status, but because of the courage they, and their families, had to undertake the journey, in often sub-human conditions on crowded boats to reach their destination.  How can an Australian pass the harshest judgements on people who will no doubt likely appreciate more deeply than they can, the extreme good fortune and safety that are part of life in Australia? 

Want a better perspective? Read their stories here and HERE and HERE

To Australians Considering Their Position on Refugees:

"Screw boat people, they just want a free ride - they jumped the queue!"
Would it be anyone's preference to endure the people-smuggling process?  Fleeing from perhaps certain death, persecution or torture, but then arriving to disdain by the public and detention centres is no one's ideal choice for freedom.  Yet seeking asylum IS legal in Australia, and when circumstances dictate that there is no time to wait for the sometimes years long bureaucratic process, this path to safety is a last resort for many.  People are literally willing to risk everything, pay anything, and even drown - just to find refuge in Australia.   You should also know that Australia takes some of the fewest numbers of refugees of all developed countries - about 13,000.  Arrival by boat accounts for only 1% of immigration in Australia.

In many cases, attempting to claim asylum through traditional channels can alert the very authorities and corrupt government that the refugee fears retribution from.  Is it any wonder that the very term "refugee" denotes someone who is fleeing, not carefully filling out paperwork.   Most of Australia's immigration forms and information are online, tell me - how easy is it to obtain these necessary documents when you may not even have an internet connection, or a computer that you are free to use?  Could you also imagine what it would feel like to be forced to leave your home, your native language, your customs - not truly by choice, but by desperation?  Many of these people love their country as you do yours, but choose to abandon it and work from a safe vantage point to initiate change, so they can return one day.

Amnesty International on PEOPLE SMUGGLING
Seeking Asylum is legal, by boat or plane

My Final Appeal:

No one is  asking you to condone or support people smuggling.

No one is asking you to agree that anyone arriving on Australia's shores should not be submitted to security clearance and proper processing or immigration procedures to verify their claim.

What I am asking is for you to tell your government that their current Malaysia solution is not acceptable, and they need to consider options that protect human rights and restore dignity to refugees arriving in Australia.

These are your future countrymen, future Australians, protect them as you would your own neighbors, protect them as you would protect your own family - imagine yourself as a refugee.

SIGN THE AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL PETITION

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