Despite having two other books to read for university and a topic to read up on for an upcoming internship role, I impulsively bought Refugee Rights and Policy Wrongs and read it within a few days because bookshops are a (wonderful) trap. I am glad I did get it, though, because while my knowledge of international and Australian law is passable (read as: probably not great, but most people I know, in the nicest terms, don’t have a clue so I appear intelligent), there is always more to learn, a fact to add to your arsenal. When the topic is humanitarian issues, the outcome literally means life and death.
A small aside before I go into the main section, just a note on Scott Morrison. I didn’t really get into politics until 2015, and that mainly consisted of me thinking the US was shit. Character development – now I think the whole world’s shit, but I digress. While I knew that the situation in the Nauru and Manus Island detention centres was atrocious, I either never knew or had forgotten that Morrison was Immigration Minister (my earliest knowledge was of him being Treasurer under Turnbull, I tend to remember events and policy but not always who did what at all times).
It is worth noting, for those who think Morrison is a ‘likeable guy’ (I’ve written before about how personality is a shallow metric for vote for someone to run a country), that Morrison, along with most Coalition members in fact, is just pure scum. In 2014, when faced with criticism from the UN and accusations of refugees being punished with burns when being turned back, he called the allegations baseless and no investigation was carried out – it was the government’s word against theirs. No one who can so easily dismiss the mistreatment of those seeking asylum can be considered ‘likeable’, and that they can reach positions of power is reprehensible.
Back to the main point of the book. There is no ‘queue’ being jumped; there is no such thing as an illegal asylum seeker; our policies do not deter people smuggling operations or people attempting to reach our shores; increasing refugee intake does not increase the risk of terror attacks. Those are just a few of the myths that the authors (Jane McAdam and Fiona Chong) do away with. Even just as a counter narrative to the government’s spin this book is worth a read.
McAdam and Chong lay out the obligations of signatories to international treaties and call out how the government has broken the laws it voluntarily signed onto. Granted, Australia may sign a treaty and does not necessarily have to implement it in domestic law, but it absolutely highlights the hypocrisy and lack of humanity our government is capable of. Any amount of research would show you that the way we have treated refugees – as most of them are (difference between them and asylum seekers is that refugees have had their claims to asylum verified as legitimate) – is utterly despicable, implicating our leaders and our country in the deaths and mental and physical deterioration of people in our care, including children who witness and partake in such tragedies.
And I am justified, sadly, in saying that it implicates our country in these atrocities, as they are not only carried out in our name, but with exorbitant amounts of taxpayer dollars. We are paying to condemn innocents to brutal treatment at the hands of officials we elected into office. With the billions we have spent of offshore processing and indefinite detention, from security to paying Nauru to ‘reopening’ the Christmas Island detention centre – a venture that cost over $180M and went nowhere – we could have processed them onshore in the community with housing and a right to basic healthcare. To use the authors’ figures, it costs $573,100 annually to hold someone offshore, but only $10,221 to have them in the community on a bridging visa. Less than 2% of the cost, and that probably doesn’t account for all of the costs involved in the offshore enterprise.
For anyone who wants to learn more about international law regarding refugees, find out about the extent of Australia’s defiant and horrific snubbing of said laws, or who just wants some talking points to fire back at Coalition mouthpiece relatives, Refugee Rights and Policy Wrongs is, as the cover states, a frank guide to the topic. In fact, the people I’d recommend it to most is the current government, but since when did humanity and worthwhile policy ever concern them? Will end this with some lyrics of a song I found tonight; I feel they fit well here.
“Heaven, if you sent us down
So we could build a playground
For the sinners to play as saints
You’d be so proud of what we made
I hope you got some beds around
‘Cause you’re the only refuge now
For every mother, every child
Every brother, that’s caught in the crossfire.” – Stephen, Crossfire.
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