Monday, March 09, 2015

Australia's own Guantanamo Bay

Late last year I read Tracey Barnett's book, The Quiet War on Asylum. I was born in Australia, but have lived most of my life in neighbouring New Zealand. This book makes me ashamed to think that my birth country is so brutal and inhumane in its treatment of boat people. It's already a shameful place, in many respects, for its ongoing poor treatment of the Aboriginal people, who have occupied the country since time immemorial, but are now regarded very much as second/third/fourth class citizens, in spite of the generally liberal outlook of most Australians. 
New Zealand has had its faults in its own treatment of its indigenous people, the Maori, but we have learned better interracial relationships over our mutual history, and continue to work towards improvement. Furthermore, there is plenty of opportunity for people of Maori blood to prosper in the same way as other Kiwis, and many of them do prosper. 
I was going to write a review of Barnett's book, and haven't yet done so. In the meantime, however, I'm going to present some sentences and paragraphs I highlighted while I was reading the book. On their own they speak as well, if not better, than any review I could do. These are focused on the Australia issues. There are a number of NZ issues included in the book too, since Barnett is concerned that NZ doesn't follow Australia's path, something it appears to be learning towards.  

Over 7100 people are in immigration detention in Australia and offshore according to February 2014 immigration records. Sadly this includes over 1100 children.11 The toll on these lives cuts deep even after they are released from detention.

These people have hope upon arrival but find only hopelessness inside prison instead. They expect safety and help but land inside barbed-wire indifference with no stated end to their sentence. They are subjected to multiple daily musters and head counts by uniformed even riot-gear-suited guards sometimes in the middle of the night with loudspeakers issuing orders in a language they can’t always understand. They are moved repeatedly without notice to distant camps in handcuffs. They are subjected to room searches and solitary confinement. The people surrounding them are often suicidal or self-harming or are almost uniformly severely depressed. Most damagingly this is prison for those who perceive themselves to have done no crime.

The Senate passes three resolutions calling for an independent review. None occurs. Many of the women and children who died were attempting to reunite with their husbands and fathers who were denied the ability to sponsor them under harsh new Temporary Protection Visas or TPVs a policy Pauline Hanson championed. These visas mean each case has to be proven again three years after issue leaving lives in continual insecurity. (Three years earlier in 1998 Ruddock had objected strenuously to Hanson’s policy suggestion. ‘Can you imagine what temporary entry would mean for them? It would mean that people would never know whether they were able to stay here ... I regard the approach as being highly unconscionable in a way that most thinking people would clearly reject.’ The following year Ruddock himself announced the introduction of Temporary Protection Visas.)

I understand how hope dies. I just can’t support laws that erase it.

Many of these refugees have been isolated from Australia by being placed on neighbouring Pacific Islands. Here is a horrific article showing just how badly Australia is treating these people: The realities of life for mothers and children on Nauru.
I'd thought that the situation in Guantanamo Bay prison was horrific, and still wait for President Obama to follow through on his promises to close that place down. Australia seems to want to have its own Guantanamo...
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