are human rights only for those born “here”?
The asylum seeker incidents currently occurring around the country have no doubt caused a great deal of angst for many Australians. This has been made clear to me in a number of personal exchanges over the last couple of days.
“They should be more grateful!” some have said, while others have stated, on an apparent whim, that we should deport many detained asylum seekers for their “criminal activity”. This is, sadly, the apparent position of the political spokespeople for immigration in both major political Parties (see Chris Bowen’s comments and Scott Morrison’s comments).
But there is a deep irony with this kind of position (and I am not referring to Australia’s history of European “boat people”, though this is highly relevant).
That irony rests in the fact that Australia, a country that is so quick to judge other nations on their human rights abuses, has a history of human rights violations against the most vulnerable people within its borders.
Harsh? Most probably. But true?
Australia has, in many ways, been a generous and welcoming nation. But in other ways the opposite has been evident. Our treatment of Aboriginal people over the last two centuries comes to mind. Our treatment of asylum seekers, particularly over the past decade or so, has been much the same.
While some have pointed to the recent burning down of buildings at Villawood Detention Centre as cause to punish the refugee offenders, we must see the forest for the trees. For those wishing to discern right from wrong, ask yourself which is the worse crime:
a) the destruction of inanimate property, or;
b) the indefinite captivity of 7000 people who, without charge, are held within the mentally crippling state of wondering whether they will be allowed to stay in the land they have risked their life to enter, or whether they will be forcibly returned to the nightmarish scenario from which they have fled?
Australia badly needs a reality check. On the one hand Julia Gillard has been in China the last few days, discussing among other things the human rights record of the Asian superpower, on the other our human rights record has been lambasted by the international community, not least in the area of asylum seekers (what nerve, Julia!).
Australia’s review by the United Nation’s Human Rights Council in Geneva in January found our human rights wanting. We were encouraged by this Council to enact a comprehensive national human rights act (which we don’t have), and also to abolish our mandatory detention laws, which the UNHRC has consistently claimed is in breach of basic human rights standards.
In regards to asylum seekers, who have broken no law in coming to Australia, and most of whom have come from demonstrable conditions of war and persecution, Australia has an international obligation to protect them. But greater action is required in light of the fact that, despite all notions from the media, our refugee intake is remarkably low compared with other nations, both developed and developing. For example, in 2009, Tanzania, with a population of around 42 million, and with far less wealth than Australia, took 322,000 refugees. Australia took just 13,750.
In addition, recent studies on the mental health of asylum detainees have shown almost universally that detention and temporary protection visas damage the mental health of refugees (notable studies that I am aware of have been conducted by UNSW, Medical Journal of Australia, and British Journal of Psychiatry).
Is it not strange, or possibly even depraved, to point out the desperate protesting and destruction of property by detained refugees while ignoring the gross human rights violations of Australia against them?
It would be like jailing a man for stealing a loaf of bread when it was in fact the authorities who were keeping him broke and hungry in the first place (add the fact that the same authorities are fighting a war on his farm so he is forced to find bread elsewhere!)
Before anyone claims that Australia does not have enough money to look after its own before dealing with refugees, let us consider some facts. One is that Australia, by world standards, has plenty of resources to go around for all its inhabitants; the problem is not lack of wealth, but rather wealth disparity - currently the top 10% of wealth holders in Australia own 45% of everything, while the bottom 50% own just 7%.
Second is the fact that any one of the community-based alternatives to mandatory detention (such as those in European countries like Sweden or France) would be much less expensive than Australia’s current practice. It is both sad and funny that being more humane would also mean being more cost-effective, but Australia’s refugee program is trapped under the weight of media hysteria and community ignorance.
While I realise what I have said here does not address anywhere near the fullness of this issue’s complexity (it’s just a short blog post after all), hopefully it will get us thinking about Australia’s human rights record and the way we treat the most vulnerable people in the world. This is not for the sake of sterile political discussion, but for voices and action on behalf of the world’s most vulnerable people.
Theologically-speaking (this is, after all, meant to be a theological blog), didn’t Jesus command us somewhere to care for the most vulnerable? I could swear…
Add to this the reality of the image of God in all humans (tarnished or not) and the kingdom ethic of human relationships without reference to race (neither Jew nor Greek), and you have a formidable theological basis for what I have said above. This discussion must, however, await a subsequent post.
Posted on April 28, 2011, in Advocacy, Current Events, Politics, Theology and tagged Asylum Seekers, Boat People, Chris Bowen, Detention, Detention Centre, Human Rights, Julia Gillard, Mandatory Detention, Mental Health, Refugees, Scott Morrison, UNHRC, United National Human Rights Council, Villawood Detention Centre. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.