FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Doing the Refugee Cartwheel

by

A cursory glance at the Australian media landscape yields a few standouts, not in the manner of steely objective analysis, but wholehearted demagoguery. The Australian, Rupert Murdoch’s organ extension down under, shows itself to be the bellicose voice of yesteryear, one with an almost tinny reactionary quality. It has made demonising the refugee in the name of faux humanitarianism its specialty.

Everything that it writes has to be seen as anything from cosmetics to whitewash. The Australia that comes out of The Australian is incurably pristine, supremely generous, and aware. Slant and circuit is everything when it comes to its incomplete data, and so the “biggest longitudinal study of humanitarian migrants to Australia in more than decade” by the Australian Institute of Family studies is seen as apologia and corrective. The study, in the words of the paper’s social affairs reporter, “casts doubt on the idea that this nation is harsh and inhospitable destination for refugees.”

The paper is selective, highlighting political refugees in the study (the same paper, incidentally, having followed the government line about Tamils from Sri Lanka being distinctly non-political), showing Australian generosity in action. The author of the study, Diana Smart of the Australian Institute of Family Studies, argued that, “Despite grappling with serious issues, most immigrants feel they have been made welcome, few experienced discrimination and the results speak well of the Australian community.”

Then there is the other side, the more gruesome part of the account: the debilitating nightmares, the lingering trauma of those who found themselves in carceral confines. Iranian refugee Mohsen Soltani was one such character, and it is notable that the individuals who took him in were not those connected with the Australian government, but those in charity and the goodwill of his lawyer. Bless that innate and bountiful capacity on the part of many to forgive.

The other side of the study has been neglected, showing that respective governments have, through bestially novel measures, circumvented the UN Refugee Convention to create an atmosphere that is populist and hostile. Any situation that tolerates the makeshift dungeons on Manus Island, Nauru and illegal on-sea processing must be deemed such. Australian governments since the 1990s have operated upon a paradoxical principle: tariffs and barriers to capital flows and trade bad; barriers and restrictions to people coming, good.

The last 30 years or so has seen a grand abdication of responsibility towards the globe’s refugees and asylum seekers. The refugee camp has become a brutal micro-society of life, where violence and iniquity is rife even as the claims are being processed in the name of dry humanitarianism. State responsibility tends to be farmed out to the meek UNHCR. In the Australian case, the responsibility is deflected and outsourced, first to a poorer country (Papua New Guinea, for instance) and then private security firms.

The chronicle of refugee mismanagement is certainly packed with detail, resembling that of an insurance company desperate to find an escape clause to avoid disgorging the funds. What, pray, will void agreements and undertakings? For that reason, the 157 Sri Lankan asylum seekers held at sea for almost a month are now contemplating legal action against the authorities in Canberra. They find themselves in the unusual situation, at least since the Abbott government initiated its “turn back the boats” policy, of actually being on Australian soil, albeit of the less holy sort. The Curtin Detention Centre in remote Western Australia is hardly a promising home.

The decision to bring the asylum seekers to Australian shores was made on Sunday, but only after lawyers began proceedings in the High Court to prevent their expulsion to Sri Lanka. Vital to those proceedings was the interpretation of the Maritime Powers Act and relevant government powers in intercepting a vessel at sea and removing it to some destination other than Australia.

The Australian Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, is none the wiser, taking the fixated line his predecessors have. Inside every Australian immigration minister is a shock jock waiting to get out, the little voice that wishes to be heard. In their narratives, boat bound individuals who are heading to Australian shores are the money bags brigade and ill-gotten gains sorts. This, of course, defies the figures that show, repeatedly, that this image is false. Asylum seekers heading to Australia, on being validly and thoroughly assessed, are shown to qualify as refugees within the meaning of the Refugee Convention in the highest percentiles.

Nay from Morrison, who has already done his shoddy assessment of the Sri Lankan claims without legal scrutiny or expert oversight. “These people have come from a safe country of India. They haven’t come from Sri Lanka.” India has suddenly become a darling in the Morrison text book of refugee recipients. “If we can’t take people back to India, what next? New Zealand? India are a vibrant democracy, they are a good partner, they’re working closely with us.” This is the sort of man who is bound to convict on a case of un-renewed dog license.

The fact that the refugees arriving in Australia may find themselves, once they do get their feet on the ground, welcome, is almost beside the point. They were not wanted here to begin with, suggesting that government is very much the problem when it comes to regulating immigration. Any group that scours documents for exit clauses is bound to be.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
April 21, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Diana Johnstone
The Main Issue in the French Presidential Election: National Sovereignty
Paul Street
Donald Trump: Ruling Class President
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Dude, Where’s My War?
Andrew Levine
If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em
Paul Atwood
Why Does North Korea Want Nukes?
Robert Hunziker
Trump and Global Warming Destroy Rivers
Vijay Prashad
Turkey, After the Referendum
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, the DOJ and Julian Assange
CJ Hopkins
The President Formerly Known as Hitler
Steve Reyna
Replacing Lady Liberty: Trump and the American Way
Lucy Steigerwald
Stop Suggesting Mandatory National Service as a Fix for America’s Problems
Robert Fisk
It is Not Just Assad Who is “Responsible” for the Rise of ISIS
John Laforge
“Strike Two” Against Canadian Radioactive Waste Dumpsite Proposal
Norman Solomon
The Democratic Party’s Anti-Bernie Elites Have a Huge Stake in Blaming Russia
Andrew Stewart
Can We Finally Get Over Bernie Sanders?
Susan Babbitt
Don’t Raise Liberalism From the Dead (If It is Dead, Which It’s Not)
Uri Avnery
Palestine’s Nelson Mandela
Fred Nagel
It’s “Deep State” Time Again
John Feffer
The Hunger President
Stephen Cooper
Nothing is Fair About Alabama’s “Fair Justice Act”
Jack Swallow
Why Science Should Be Political
Chuck Collins
Congrats, Graduates! Here’s Your Diploma and Debt
Aidan O'Brien
While God Blesses America, Prometheus Protects Syria, Russia and North Korea 
Patrick Hiller
Get Real About Preventing War
David Rosen
Fiction, Fake News and Trump’s Sexual Politics
Evan Jones
Macron of France: Chauncey Gardiner for President!
David Macaray
Adventures in Labor Contract Language
Ron Jacobs
The Music Never Stopped
Kim Scipes
Black Subjugation in America
Sean Stinson
MOAB: More Obama and Bush
Miguel A. Cruz-Díaz
Minute Musings: On Why the United States Should Launch a Tomahawk Strike on Puerto Rico
Tom Clifford
The Return of “Mein Kampf” … in Japan
Todd Larsen
Concerned About Climate Change? Change Where You Bank!
Thomas Hon Wing Polin
Brexit: Britain’s Opening to China?
John Hutchison
Everything Old is New Again: a Brief Retrospectus on Korea and the Cold War
Michael Brenner
The Ghost in the Dream Machine
Yves Engler
The Military Occupation of Haiti
Christopher Brauchli
Guardians of Lies
James Preece
How Labour Can Win the Snap Elections
Cesar Chelala
Preventing Disabilities in the Elderly
Sam Gordon
From We Shall Overcome to Where Have all the Flowers Gone?
Charles Thomson
It’s Still Not Too Late to Deserve Your CBE, Chris Ofili
Louis Proyect
Documentaries That Punch
Charles R. Larson
Review: Vivek Shanbhag’s “Ghachar Ghochar”
David Yearsley
Raiding the Tomb of Lubitsch
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail