ASHLEY PARK | Organisation for World Peace | Edited extracts
HOUSTON, USA - On 26 June, US president Donald Trump tweeted, along with pictures distributed by the Australian government, “These flyers depict Australia’s policy on illegal immigration. Much can be learned!”
The flyers had foreboding statements such as, “You will not make Australia home”, “You won’t be settled in Australia”, or simply, “No way.”
Australia’s immigration policy is just as, if not more, controversial than Trump’s hard-line immigration policy for the United States.
Despair and hopelessness run high on Australia’s offshore detention centres on the islands of Manus and Nauru, and many people on these islands have little hope of leaving.
Recently, Australia deliberately increased the hardship experienced by detainees, resulting in increased rates of suicide and self-harm.
Australia’s national election on 18 May saw a return to power of a conservative government that, according to the New York Times, has maintained “hard-line polices intended to deter asylum seekers”.
Many of the detainees had hoped the May election would see a change in immigration policy, and when the Labor Party lost, desperation intensified. CNN reports there have been dozens of suicide attempts since the election.
Additionally, the US government rejected to honour in full a resettlement deal reached by the Obama administration to take in more than a thousand refugees.
“It’s hard to know how many cases are serious cases of people trying to end their lives or a cry for help, but in any case it’s a big escalation,” said the Australian director for Human Rights Watch, Elaine Pearson.
“People are very worried they are going to be completely forgotten about”
Amnesty International released a report saying Australia had used “a deliberate system of cruelty to increase the hardship suffered by refugees and asylum seekers.”
The report said “several refugees have been violently attacked by locals in recent years on Manus Island, in cases that did not result in any prosecutions [and that newer facilities now offer less protection than the previous centre.”
The Australian government says that its strict border protection policy, which bars settlement for migrants who try to reach the country by sea, has been successful since fewer boats with asylum seekers on board are trying to reach Australia compared to a decade ago.
Australia also states that offshore detention has reduced trafficking and deaths at sea. Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull rejected an offer from New Zealand to take 150 of the refugees, arguing it would encourage traffickers.
Even if found to be refugees, the asylum seekers are not permitted to settle in Australia and must go home, hope for relocation to a third country or remain in Papua New Guinea.
These refugees were trying to escape famine, war and other hardships in their home countries. But they escaped a situation of hopelessness only to enter another. Some refugees have been on Manus for six years.
The current situation of the Australian detention centres is a tragedy that must be addressed immediately. A system of hopelessness is not the solution to an immigration influx.