Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Spring Fund Drive: Keep CounterPunch Afloat
CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Paying the People Smugglers

The language of rights in Australia tends to resemble that of a transaction. People are protected the way a customer is. There is little sense in importing a human value into it – that would simply be too abstract. Nothing illustrates this more than the debate around refugees and asylum seekers. Those seeking asylum in the antipodes must go through a series of appropriate “queues”, a concept of unfathomable vagueness.

Despite refugee law and the Refugee Convention being based around the idea of protecting those without documents and appropriate approvals, officials in Canberra have insisted in imposing a fiction on the world of warring chaos and impoverished desperation: everyone should form an orderly line and wait to get to paradise.

It should be axiomatic to anybody familiar with human desperation that flesh shall find its way. Payment is central, whether for sex, or whether for trafficking. Desires shall be fulfilled, needs satisfied, even if they be done in cruel fashion. When it comes to moving people across the globe, the trafficking model has fascinating Australian puritans and the morally righteous since the 1990s.

To that end, it is deemed a vicious “business model”. Much as the temperance movement deemed the sale of liquor a wicked trade, such a model requires abolition to sooth the conscience.

Terming it a business model is a fundamental way of evasion and negation. It indicates that you can reduce human relations to business transactions; human rights to an annex of money and finance. A family pays for passage across dangerous seas, transiting through a few countries on route. Their entire savings are expended. Their lives assume one of bondage. They are, for that reason, feeding a dangerous “business model”.

The idea of a business model has gotten much of the policy making and academic fraternity fascinated. There are titles such as how “we can break the people smugglers’ business model”. Take the remarks by Andrew Jakubowicz of the University of Technology in Sydney: “The monetisation of cross-border people movement is now significantly institutionalised through links between organised crime, international money transfers and worried states criminalising cross-border people movement” (The Conversation, Jul 3, 2013).

The rhetorical tactic of Australian governments has been to denigrate both smuggler and the smuggled. It is the language of double condemnation – you condemn the facilitator and the individual who colludes with it.

That, we are told, is not the way things should be done. If you to pay somebody, it should be the Australian government. Not the smugglers. And if you dare succumb to that fanciful notion that paying the smuggler will somehow get you passage to Australia to be processed as a refugee, you are mistaken. Like bad goods, trafficked individuals are locked up and detained in poor countries, policed by private security firms. Even if found to be refugees, settlement in Australia will not happen.

With this in mind, the latest revelations that the Australian government has, effectively, fed the very business model it condemns is striking. It is the logic of the emancipist who wishes to liberate the enslaved by paying the slave traders. Good for the slave trade, but bad for the cause of liberation.

The policy affirms that the refugee argument in Australia has nothing to do with human rights or the dignity of the individual being trafficked. It has everything to do with making sure no one arrives in Australia via such channels. Turning back the boats is central to this policy, even if it relocates the trade – and the drowning – elsewhere.

During the week, the UN refugee agency revealed that a boat captain and two crew members arrested on suspicions of human trafficking were happy to tell Indonesian authorities that they have received somewhere in the order of $US5,000 to turn back their vessel laden with human cargo. The boat, carrying 65 individuals from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar, was intercepted by the Indonesian navy on May 31 after it was turned back by the Australian navy.

Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Armanatha Nasir’s observation in that regard was to suggest that this was the logical consequence of the “slipper slope” Canberra was pursuing. Indonesia has sought answers from the Australian ambassador.

In what is even more sinister, the transaction itself constitutes an act of “people smuggling” under the 2000 protocol designed to disrupt the activity. The fact that the individuals in question did not make it to Australian shores is irrelevant. Monies were paid, and movement facilitated – in this case back to Indonesia. Canberra has effectively been found wanting, feeding the very industry is decries, the very system its official detest in fits of puritan awe.

The Abbott government, caught off guard, has responded in a variety of ways. Two ministers have denied the claims. Former immigration minister Philip Ruddock has suggested the allegations “haven’t been tested.” As the claims were “made essentially by people smugglers” they ought to be dealt with by the Indonesian authorities.

A more reliable barometer is Prime Minister Tony Abbott himself. When asked to comment on the allegations, Abbott refused to deny them. Instead, he went into a Machiavellian spin, suggesting that “We have used a whole range of measures to stop the boats, because that’s what the Australian people elected us to do.” Anything goes. Defenders such as Finance Minister Matthias Corman could only insist in the face of such brutal opportunism that Abbott was sticking “to his very long standing practice not to provide a running commentary on operational matters” (ABC, Jun 13).

Much is made of the Abbott government’s success in stopping boats laden with human cargo; nothing is made about the fact that the drowning dangers are simply moved elsewhere. People continue coming by sea because wars, famine and disastrously governed states have not miraculously ceased to exist. Nor have the smugglers, who can now rest assured that they have another source of revenue: the Australian government.

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

May 23, 2018
Nick Pemberton
Maduro’s Win: A Bright Spot in Dark Times
Ben Debney
A Faustian Bargain with the Climate Crisis
Deepak Tripathi
A Bloody Hot Summer in Gaza: Parallels With Sharpeville, Soweto and Jallianwala Bagh
Farhang Jahanpour
Pompeo’s Outrageous Speech on Iran
Josh White
Strange Recollections of Old Labour
CJ Hopkins
The Simulation of Democracy
Lawrence Davidson
In Our Age of State Crimes
Dave Lindorff
The Trump White House is a Chaotic Clown Car Filled with Bozos Who Think They’re Brilliant
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Domination of West Virginia
Ty Salandy
The British Royal Wedding, Empire and Colonialism
Laura Flanders
Life or Death to the FCC?
Gary Leupp
Dawn of an Era of Mutual Indignation?
Katalina Khoury
The Notion of Patriarchal White Supremacy Vs. Womanhood
Nicole Rosmarino
The Grassroots Environmental Activist of the Year: Christine Canaly
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
“Michael Inside:” The Prison System in Ireland 
May 22, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Broken Dreams and Lost Lives: Israel, Gaza and the Hamas Card
Kathy Kelly
Scourging Yemen
Andrew Levine
November’s “Revolution” Will Not Be Televised
Ted Rall
#MeToo is a Cultural Workaround to a Legal Failure
Gary Leupp
Question for Discussion: Is Russia an Adversary Nation?
Binoy Kampmark
Unsettling the Summits: John Bolton’s Libya Solution
Doug Johnson
As Andrea Horwath Surges, Undecided Voters Threaten to Upend Doug Ford’s Hopes in Canada’s Most Populated Province
Kenneth Surin
Malaysia’s Surprising Election Results
Dana Cook
Canada’s ‘Superwoman’: Margot Kidder
Dean Baker
The Trade Deficit With China: Up Sharply, for Those Who Care
John Feffer
Playing Trump for Peace How the Korean Peninsula Could Become a Bright Spot in a World Gone Mad
Peter Gelderloos
Decades in Prison for Protesting Trump?
Thomas Knapp
Yes, Virginia, There is a Deep State
Andrew Stewart
What the Providence Teachers’ Union Needs for a Win
Jimmy Centeno
Mexico’s First Presidential Debate: All against One
May 21, 2018
Ron Jacobs
Gina Haspell: She’s Certainly Qualified for the Job
Uri Avnery
The Day of Shame
Amitai Ben-Abba
Israel’s New Ideology of Genocide
Patrick Cockburn
Israel is at the Height of Its Power, But the Palestinians are Still There
Frank Stricker
Can We Finally Stop Worrying About Unemployment?
Binoy Kampmark
Royal Wedding Madness
Roy Morrison
Middle East War Clouds Gather
Edward Curtin
Gina Haspel and Pinocchio From Rome
Juana Carrasco Martin
The United States is a Country Addicted to Violence
Dean Baker
Wealth Inequality: It’s Not Clear What It Means
Robert Dodge
At the Brink of Nuclear War, Who Will Lead?
Vern Loomis
If I’m Lying, I’m Dying
Valerie Reynoso
How LBJ initiated the Military Coup in the Dominican Republic
Weekend Edition
May 18, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Donald, Vlad, and Bibi
Robert Fisk
How Long Will We Pretend Palestinians Aren’t People?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail