FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Australia, Indonesia and Refugees

by BINOY KAMPMARK

The recent footage, available via the Australian broadcaster, the ABC, shows an orange lifeboat which found its way to Java’s south coast on Wednesday. According to the Indonesian navy, an institution Australian politicians love to hate, there were 34 people on board a lifeboat recently purchased by the Australian Navy. Among them were 21 Iranians, including two toddlers, five from Bangladesh, six from Nepal and two from Pakistan.

In affecting this return to Indonesia, the Australian government had initiated its sixth “confirmed turn-back since the policy was enacted in December” (Sydney Morning Herald, Feb 6). The operation, a naval task initiated under the auspices, rather bizarrely, of the immigration department, was yet another one enshrouded by an intentional silence.

When asked to comment about the matter, the tight lipped Australian Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison stonewalled with characteristic ease. “In accordance with the Operation Sovereign Borders Joint Agency Task Force policy regarding public release of information on operational matters, the government has no response on the issues raised” (Sydney Morning Herald, Feb 6). It was left to a spokeswoman for the Minister, who, unsurprisingly, parroted the same line. “In line with the policy of not discussing what happens at sea, the Government has no response on the issues raised” (ABC, Feb 7).

Something that deserves comment is the practice by Australian authorities of detaining asylum seekers at sea before passing them on to Indonesia. Fairfax Media reported the comments from one group, returned last month, that they had spent days “sailing around the ocean”. The 34 asylum seekers on board the orange boat had been in Australian custody since January 27.

The crux of the refugee debate here is either simple or hideously complicated. Compassion plays no part – there are operational issues behind Australia’s policy of “sending” back the boats, and a policy of committed non-cooperation with the Indonesian authorities. The subtext of this policy is a selfish one – richer countries have greater entitlements to pull up the draw bridge. Poorer states like Indonesia can simply foot the processing bill. Canberra spies on Jakarta as a US client state, and expects Jakarta to except its role as asylum seeker processer in chief.

Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has every reason to be livid. “This kind of policy of transferring people from one boat to another and then directing them back to Indonesia is not really helpful” (ABC, Feb 7).

This can be seen to flout the most basic premise of the Refugee Convention, which guarantees the right of asylum to all irrespective of whether they are actually designated refugees. Well and to the good – until you confront the legally illiterate Immigration minister and his grave band of reticent followers. Certainly, detaining asylum seekers in secret for days before returning back without due legal process is a highly questionable practice.

It began in earnest last November, when journalists suddenly found that going to media briefings with Morrison was about as exciting, and useful, as discoursing with a corpse. In truth, corpses tend to be more communicative. On the agenda was the discussion about the new Operation Sovereign Borders, a pompous title given to the Abbott government’s asylum policy, effectively a repackaged variant of previous policies.

At one specific briefing over the fate of 63 rescued “boat people”, Morrison fronted questions with Lieutenant-General Angus Campbell, the essential mute commander of the operation. (In the eyes of the government, asylum seekers are serious military matters.).

“What’s become of that boat of asylum seekers?” shot one journalist. Campbell: “I will not comment further in relation to on-water matters. Thank you.” To Morrison: “Do you consider this to be a matter of public importance?” Morrison: “What is important is that the people who were the subject of our assistance are all accounted for and I’m sure all Australians will be pleased to know that is the case” (Nov 9, 2013). As ever, faux humanitarianism about people many Australians generally don’t like will get you anywhere.

The rest of the press briefing proved to be effectively redundant. Nothing was disclosed in terms of what “assistance” was provided – that would be an operational matter, and violate the injunction of secrecy. Nothing was disclosed about directions as to where the boat was heading. Another operational matter. The Australian vessel involved in the operation would not be named. “When does the incident overnight cease to be an operational matter? So at which point will you brief us on what happened?” came the exasperated response.

Morrison’s clear as mud reply: “Any detail that is provided that potentially compromises current or future operations is not detail we will be providing in a public forum.” With such individuals manning refugee policy, it may have become time to abolish the immigration department and merge it with military affairs.

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

More articles by:

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

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
June 23, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Democrats in the Dead Zone
Gary Leupp
Trump, Qatar and the Danger of Total Confusion
Andrew Levine
The “Democracies” We Deserve
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
The FBI’s “Operation Backfire” and the Case of Briana Waters
Rob Urie
Cannibal Corpse
Joseph G. Ramsey
Savage Calculations: On the Exoneration of Philando Castile’s Killer
John Wight
Trump’s Attack on Cuba
Dave Lindorff
We Need a Mass Movement to Demand Radical Progressive Change
Brian Cloughley
Moving Closer to Doom
David Rosen
The Sex Offender: the 21st Century Witch
John Feffer
All Signs Point to Trump’s Coming War With Iran
Jennifer L. Lieberman
What’s Really New About the Gig Economy?
Pete Dolack
Analyzing the Failures of Syriza
Vijay Prashad
The Russian Nexus
Mike Whitney
Putin Tries to Avoid a Wider War With the US
Gregory Barrett
“Realpolitik” in Berlin: Merkel Fawns Over Kissinger
Louis Yako
The Road to Understanding Syria Goes Through Iraq
Graham Peebles
Grenfell Tower: A Disaster Waiting to Happen
Ezra Rosser
The Poverty State of Mind and the State’s Obligations to the Poor
Ron Jacobs
Andrew Jackson and the American Psyche
Pepe Escobar
Fear and Loathing on the Afghan Silk Road
Andre Vltchek
Why I Reject Western Courts and Justice
Lawrence Davidson
On Hidden Cultural Corruptors
Christopher Brauchli
The Routinization of Mass Shootings in America
Missy Comley Beattie
The Poor Need Not Apply
Martin Billheimer
White Man’s Country and the Iron Room
Joseph Natoli
What to Wonder Now
Tom Clifford
Hong Kong: the Chinese Meant Business
Thomas Knapp
The Castile Doctrine: Cops Without Consequences
Nyla Ali Khan
Borders Versus Memory
Binoy Kampmark
Death on the Road: Memory in Tim Winton’s Shrine
Tony McKenna
The Oily Politics of Unity: Owen Smith as Northern Ireland Shadow Secretary
Nizar Visram
If North Korea Didn’t Exist US Would Create It
John Carroll Md
At St. Catherine’s Hospital, Cite Soleil, Haiti
Kenneth Surin
Brief Impressions of the Singaporean Conjucture
Paul C. Bermanzohn
Trump: the Birth of the Hero
Jill Richardson
Trump on Cuba: If Obama Did It, It’s Bad
Olivia Alperstein
Our President’s Word Wars
REZA FIYOUZAT
Useless Idiots or Useful Collaborators?
Clark T. Scott
Parallel in Significance
Louis Proyect
Hitler and the Lone Wolf Assassin
Julian Vigo
Theresa May Can’t Win for Losing
Richard Klin
Prog Rock: Pomp and Circumstance
Charles R. Larson
Review: Malin Persson Giolito’s “Quicksand”
David Yearsley
RIP: Pomp and Circumstance
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail