Thursday, 8 July 2010

a new iron curtain

ah yes, the australian policy on asylym seekers and refugees announced by julia gillard this week. so much has already been written about it, that it's hard to know where to start. larvatus prodeo has a series of posts that have attracted a whole heap of comments.

the first seeks to find a differentiation between ms gillard's policy and john howard's. the difference, according to some commenters, is that the new policy will seek to ensure humane treatment and UN oversight. the second is about the president of timor leste voicing similar concerns about the humane treatment:

“I wouldn’t want Timor-Leste to become an island prison for displaced persons … fleeing violence,” he said. “If they were here, they will have to have certain freedoms.”

He said the people of East Timor were generous and had a long tradition of hospitality. “If we’re to do it, we do it out of our personal humanitarian, our collective convictions in helping other poor people who flee persecution,” he said. “I would never turn my back on people who flee violence in Afghanistan or wherever, but on a temporary basis.”

the third post is a bit of satire using the prophet moses, harriet tubman & oskar schindler as examples of "people smugglers", whom ms gillard's policies are apparently directed against.

todays dominion post quotes jeff thomas of the wellington refugees as survivors trust, who has a different concern:

...the centre – proposed by Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard – could encourage more asylum seekers to bypass normal refugee procedures and try to reach Australia by boat. "That would create a system whereby people could jump a queue – and it's a pretty long queue."

he also speaks against john key's statement that, if nz were to accept refugees from any such centre, that they would come out of nz's refugee quota of 750 a year.

the last paragraph of the article quotes an amnesty international spokesperson asking that asylum seekers shouldn't be used as a political pawns, a comment also picked up by the sydney morning herald:

Debate in Australia and New Zealand has been split over how to deal with asylum seekers, but Amnesty International New Zealand spokeswoman Margaret Taylor said on Wednesday most had genuine reasons to seek refuge and should not be used as political pawns.

Both countries had an obligation under international conventions to protect asylum seekers fleeing from violence and persecution, and who may have a genuine refugee claim, she said.

Ms Taylor echoed calls from Labour and the Greens about a processing centre being an unlikely solution and warned against a return to the former Australian policy of mandatory offshore detention, known as the Pacific Solution, where detainees were left in often inhumane conditions with little access to assistance.

the refugee council believes nz policy should be independent to that of australia's:

The Refugee Council of New Zealand is opposed to the announced intention of the New Zealand Government to participate in the Australian plan to hold asylum seekers and boat people in regional detention centres in East Timor.

RCNZ believes that New Zealand should take its own independent course in a policy based on humanitarian principles, and not follow the present direction of the Australian government. Australia has quite different asylum issues which are presently bound up in domestic politics related to their own upcoming elections...

RCNZ also is also concerned about the detrimental and damaging effects of long term detention on women and children particularly. Hard evidence regarding the exact nature and extent of the effects of detention is included in the enclosed attachment. [note: i can't find any attachment on the scoop site]

all of the above is commendable, and i have no quibble with it. but it seems to me that there is something missing from the discussion, and that is a discussion about the wider of issue of what is causing people to seek asylum in the first place. that so many people in the world today are displaced, are suffering from war and extreme poverty, is a thing that can and should be changed.

the discussion needs not only to include the way we treat those who seek asylum, but also what we need to do to bring peace and prosperity to many countries around the world. it needs to include consideration of how the inequitable sharing of the world's resources has come to be, and how those injustices can and should be righted.

of course that would involve radical change, and the rather scary notion that those of us living in the west need to accept a lower standard of living in order for equity to be achieved. it would mean significant changes that would affect our well-being. and it would require a massive collective effort in order to achieve such a result.

it's a tall order in a world where individual responsibility and achievement are considered more important than collective wellbeing. in a world where considerable resources and efforts are put towards the maintenance of the status quo. maybe we don't talk about it because it seems almost impossible. but unless we do starting talking about it, it will never be possible. to borrow a notion from a documentary called "reframe" on palestine which i saw some years ago: we need to reframe the argument so that the discussion isn't always a fight about the compassionate treatment of asylum-seekers, but rather it's about examining our privileged lifestyle, and why others around the world shoud have an equal share in that.

one other reason why i think this reframing is so important right now is the trend i see around the world in western countries. in this regard, margaret taylor has it right. right wing governments through europe, the united states, and australia are using hatred of immigrants (often tied in with islamophobia) as a major political platform, and winning. that's the saddest thing - not that politicians use immigrants in this way, but the fact that their rhetoric is resonating so widely.

the effect of this is that a party of the left, in australia, is considering policies on asylum seeking that are far from progressive. and the prime minister is taking a position that appeases those who shoudn't be appeased. it's a trend that doesn't bode well for the future of the planet. i think back to the "iron curtain" concept that was applied to europe, except that curtain is now being drawn between developed and developing countries.

we need start talking about how to dismantle that curtain, before it becomes too solidly entrenched.

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