I recently asked several colleagues of mine if they knew about Australia’s refugee camps. The response was a resounding no. Yet this does not come as a surprise. In this day and age the majority of time and effort is spent writing about how great the West is and how poor the ‘Global South’ is. It is unlikely that we would come across a negative article about a highly developed country such as Australia, outlining the horrors and atrocities of the treatment of refugees and exposing the secrecy of the government. We preach about unacceptable corruption across the continent of Africa or South America yet we remain ignorant and blind to the wrongdoings on our own doorstep.
Australia’s asylum is controversial and inhumane. Its refugee camps are based on the Pacific islands of Nauru or Papua New Guinea; asylum seekers are not held in Australia while their claims are being processed. Even if asylum seekers are found to have a “well-founded fear of persecution” and thus the status of a refugee, they are not resettled in Australia. The leading political parties of Australia both strongly support tough immigration policies, arguing that they must uphold the integrity of their borders.
The problem lies in the conditions and the treatment of these asylum seekers – human rights groups have exposed the inadequate, overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions. To make matters worse, a law was passed in 2015 to ban employees within the detention centres from releasing information to the media about what really goes on inside. This has meant that it is a rare occasion when a journalist has access to the islands. Some have suggested these detention centres are “factories for mental illness”; Australia sees no problem with detaining children on these islands indefinitely, exposing them to further trauma and self-harm. It is simply inhumane to cause further damage to vulnerable people who have already experienced trauma.
My research brought me to Amnesty International’s page, presenting findings from a visit to the Manus Island in November 2013. Here are a few of their findings from asylum seekers:
“The food is edible. But there are a lot of flies in the food. They even found a human tooth in the food.” R.A – a 20-year-old English language student from Iran.
“I get about four to five hours sleep a night, due to tension, and having nothing to keep me busy. I am just thinking and thinking through the night. I am mostly thinking about how I can’t do anything for my family. I get up at 9 am. I shower, though the water pressure is low and the showers are dirty. I asked G4S about fixing the water pressure, and they told me to go home if I want a good shower.” S.R – a 30-year-old from Pakistan, describing his life in the Oscar compound.
Further findings generally highlighted the lack of basic medical facilities, inadequate provision of food and water, and a huge array of mental health problems.
A political party called The Australian Greens have previously campaigned for the closure of these offshore detention centres. Detaining a person on the islands of Manus or Nauru costs approximately $225,000, compared to $35,000 for them to be resettled into the community (Parliamentary Budget Office). How can Australian taxpayers continue to be content with paying for the atrocities that occur on these islands? Australia remains the only OECD country that imposes indefinite detention on asylum seekers.
The fact remains that restrictive migration policies do not deter people from attempting to enter a safe country; they will always find other ways. Policies must change in order to accommodate people fleeing war and persecution, rather than persecuting them further once they arrive to a ‘safe’ country. The Australian government has a duty to ensure that no person is returned to persecution or armed conflict and must work to enhance their capacity to assess claims and accommodate people appropriately and humanely.
Boris Johnson and other politicians have previously stated that they would like to adopt a similar points system to Australia. This should be a concern to all of us in the UK. Every country has the right to protect their borders and assess the claims of those trying to enter, yet keeping vulnerable people on isolated islands is simply a violation of human rights.