There Is A Better Way For People Seeking Asylum and the Time For Change Is Now

29 / 04 / 2016

In this article, rx Grace discusses that the ruling that detention on Manus Island is illegal, and gives us an opportunity to have a national conversation about the way we treat people seeking asylum. The Victorian Women’s Trust is currently preparing to launch ‘Our Voice Their Safety’, a public campaign calling on Victorian women and their networks to raise their voices in support of safer conditions for women, men and children seeking asylum, which Grace is assisting with. 

In what may prove to be a watershed moment for Australia’s immigration policy, the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea this week ruled that the detention of people seeking asylum on Manus Island is illegal. The next day the Prime Minister of PNG released a statement that the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre will close and that the Australian Government must immediately make alternative arrangements for the 850 people in the facility.

What will happen next is unclear. Minister Dutton has indicated that the Manus Island detention centre may stay open, albeit in a different form, stating that an “open centre-style arrangement… may deal with some of the concerns the judges had”.  An ‘open centre’ is in place in Nauru with detainees able to come and go under certain conditions. Before the ruling was handed down by the Supreme Court, staff at Manus Island were already making moves to portray the centre as ‘open’, with talks of letting certain groups of refugees take ‘day trips’ into the local community. However the Nauru example has proven that this is not a safe solution for refugees, with several reports of the assault and rape of refugees outside of the centre. Nor is it safe in Papua New Guinea. There is significant hostility among the local community of Manus Island towards refugees. Infrastructure is lacking and crime levels are high. In fact some refugees were so unsafe in the community that they tried to break back into the detention centre and were arrested in the process.

Minister Dutton has also stated that Nauru has the capacity to hold more detainees. He made this statement in the same week as a 23 year old Iranian man in the Nauru centre self-immolated in protest, two women are missing on the island and feared dead, multiple people have attempted suicide and the general atmosphere has been described as ‘complete social meltdown’. To suggest the men could be moved into this environment is appalling. The case of the PNG court ruling has prompted us to start a national discussion about the cost our offshore detention regime is having on our international standing and our humanity. It is clear that Nauru must also close.

Manus Regional Processing Centre. Image: Department of Immigration.

Manus Regional Processing Centre. Image: Department of Immigration.

This ruling comes barely a week after the murder charges were laid for Reza Barati, the Iranian asylum seeker brutally murdered by workers at the Manus detention centre. The offshore detention system is broken and the onshore detention system is no better with numerous reports documenting the ongoing harm being done to women, men and children.

The only humane approach is for the Australian Government to bring back to Australia all the people it has sent to Nauru and Manus who have sought our protection. All people seeking asylum should be able to live in the community while waiting for their claims for refugee status to be processed in a fair manner. Other countries do this and so can we.

The Government has used tackling people smuggling as the justification for its increasingly harsh and punitive polices against refugees and people seeking asylum. Serious allegations have been made by Indonesian police and Amnesty International that Australian Navy and Border Force officials paid people smugglers to return the people they were moving back to Indonesia. Not only does this constitute Australian officials committing a transnational crime in aiding people smuggling, it completely undermines the Government’s entire rationale on this issue. People smugglers are getting paid twice, once by the people who seek safety for their family and then again by our Government to turn around.

There is an alternative approach to protecting lives at sea that does not hinge on the torture of those who manage to make the journey. Through the Our Voice Their Safety plan the Victorian Women’s Trust is calling on the Government to use a much broader regional framework that already exists through the Bali Process for the processing of people seeking asylum. We need to work with our regional partners on this issue, not damage our relationships through the now bipartisan policy of ‘turnbacks’.

With recent polling data showing that the majority of voters in key marginal electorates would support a more compassionate approach to people seeking asylum, the policies of the Government are increasingly out of step with the community. A growing number of prominent and respected medical professionals, lawyers and church leaders are speaking out in support of refugees and people seeking asylum, and there has been a huge groundswell of community support for the #LetThemStay movement. More and more ordinary Australians are coming together on this issue. There is a credible humane alternative for refugees and people seeking asylum that does not rely on fear and secrecy, but on safety and dignity.

The ruling that detention on Manus Island is illegal gives us an opportunity to have a national conversation about the way we treat those that come to us for help.  It doesn’t have to be this way. It’s time for us to find our voice and demand a fair and humane system.

FacebookTwitter