This is a blog dedicated to a personal interpretation of political news of the day. I attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible before commenting and committing my thoughts to a day's communication.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Australian Shame

"Protecting the refugees who have been warehoused in places like Manus Island and Nauru is the responsibility and obligation of Australia. They're responsible for providing protection and they're certainly responsible for the human rights violations that these refugees are enduring."
"They [Australian officials] do not get to sub-contract their responsibilities under international law to another country."
"All that stands in the way of refugees, who are being held in these terrible detention centres, being protected is political will on the part of the Australian government."
Alex Neve, secretary general, Amnesty Canada
Boat of asylum seekers off Christmas Island (June 2012)

  Hundreds have died trying to reach Australia in inadequate and overcrowded boats
"I witnessed the brutal toll of detention on Nauru. Health services are under-resourced, inevitably leading to people being sent to Australia for expert treatment, usually psychiatric care. I saw a man slash himself with a broken light bulb, and witnessed another barking like a dog during a psychotic episode. I comforted men who had attempted suicide. Across the detention network, there’s a report of a sexual assault every 13 days."
For those who don’t succumb to the emotional and mental anguish of detention, the islands offer little in the way of physical protection. Reza Berati, a 23-year-old Iranian man, was killed during a riot on Feb. 17, 2014, in Manus Island — by a detention center staff member, no less. On Sept. 5 of that year, an Iranian named Hamid Kehazaei, 24, died of a treatable infection in his foot. Fazel Chegeni, an Iranian Kurd, was found dead on Nov. 8, 2015, after escaping Christmas Island Detention Center, where he had been held for 10 weeks. A coronial inquest will formally determine Fazel’s cause of death, but reports say he had been psychologically crushed by years of waiting.
Mark Isaacs, ForeignPolicy.com
Australia has for years struggled with the advent of asylum seekers streaming toward the island in the hope of being taken in as refugees. In 2001, Australia launched what it named "Pacific Solution", which was a scheme to ensure that refugees simply didn't make it as far as Australia's shores. It would intercept boats of refugees and send them back out to sea to make their way however they could, to their place of origins, or seek haven elsewhere.

Finally, Australian authorities signed a 'rental' deal with Papua, New Guinea  and with the island state of Nauru, distant from Australia by thousands of kilometres, to house refugees in special holding camps with no facilities for their care, leading to a humanitarian disaster as refugees languished without hope that they would ever be able to find a place for themselves and their futures. Australia has stated with finality that it would never welcome any of the refugees who have been in those camps for years, into Australia.

Migrants have been smuggled through Indonesia en route to Australia, coming from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Myanmar and Vietnam. The rickety vessels they have travelled on are hardly seaworthy, and thousands of lives are estimated to have been lost at sea in the attempt to reach Australian shores where a friendly, let alone compassionate welcome has never been extended. A question does hover, however, and that is why Indonesia, the largest Muslim nation in the world, has not extended a brotherly welcome to these mostly Muslim migrants seeking haven?

As with the millions of desperate refugees streaming out of Syria -- as well as the Eritrean, Gazan, Afghan, Libyan asylum seekers leaving the Middle East for Europe which has initially welcomed them only to find themselves utterly engulfed -- the reputation of Islam has not been advanced either by the fact that none of the wealthy Gulf oilstates have taken in refugees, nor that it is Muslims whose deadly predations target other Muslims that have created this world-shattering crisis of forced migration.

The dilemma facing the Australian government in its unwillingness to take in the refugees, and its decision to keep them in hopelessly squalid conditions inimical to any quality of life itself, bringing down the condemnation of the United Nations and other Western countries, is how to proceed. The idea was bruited about that Canada could be asked to absorb some of those refugees. Save the Children Australia endorsed the position of the Opposition Labor party to have Canada absorb them.

Amnesty Canada's head, Alex Neve, condemns the idea, insisting that the obligation is Australia's alone under international law and the UN Refugee Convention. Compassion seems to elude Australia and Amnesty Canada, both. But Australia is forced now to act since New Guinea's Supreme Court ruled that the Manus Island refugee centre is illegal and must be shuttered. The utterly heartless treatment of the refugees under Australia's policy of prolonged detention is inhumane.

The despicable conditions under which these people have been detained cannot be defended. Living in the misery of uncertainty is bad enough, but throw in abuse, filth, poor access to health care, to food and to potable water, with nothing to do but wait interminably for some action that might be taken to relieve these refugees from their enforced living hell, reflects poorly on a country which began its current existence as a prison colony, wrenching land from its aboriginal inhabitants.

If Canada's decision ultimately is to absorb the greater number of those incarcerated, living under such horrible conditions, it can only be to the credit of humanity. Arguments over whose responsibility this represents represent the splitting of humanitarian hairs and benefit no one. Such a hopeless situation for people desperate to be rescued from their living hell deserves a humanitarian solution; if Australia refuses, Canada should not.

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