Refugee Crisis: Close the camps, bring them here!

Australia has created a humanitarian catastrophe in its refugee detention centres. In the past week alone a desperate refugee burned himself alive on Nauru, a woman reportedly 8 months pregnant attempted suicide and refugees have been infected with the Zika virus. Also this week the supreme court of Papua New Guinea ruled that the Australian run detention centre on Manus Island is an illegal breach of human rights and must be shut down. In recent times children have been raped, people have found human teeth in their food and refugees have been killed. This is a crisis of historic proportions.

The current situation is a product of more than a decade of bipartisan consensus to punish refugees attempting to seek asylum in Australia. The brutalisation of those in detention is not a by-product of policy – it is the policy. Rather than search for genuine solutions to deal with the flow of refugees fleeing war and persecution, Labor and the Coalition have fought a battle over who can dish out the cruellest punishment. This is done in the name of “deterrence”, an oxymoronic notion that people ‘choose’ to become refugees and should be actively discouraged from doing so through indefinite incarceration. In other words, the political consensus is to tell asylum seekers, loud and clear, to go die somewhere else. Worst of all, this is done whilst claiming the moral high ground of “stopping deaths at sea”.

It should be clear now that if the horrific events of the past week were not enough to instigate a change of policy within the major parties, then nothing will. Malcolm Turnbull’s response was to warn that “we can’t afford to let empathy cloud our judgment”. Labor’s Richard Marles added that “offshore processing has been the single most important policy that any Australian government has made”. Both parties wish to claim the legacy of “stopping the boats” and the truth is they are both equally to blame. Labor first introduced mandatory detention of refugees. The Liberals made it cornerstone of Australian politicking. John Howard first initiated the offshore detention of refugees in 2001. Kevin Rudd re-started the policy in 2013. It has truly been a joint effort.

It is commonly claimed that politicians are simply responding to anti-refugee sentiment amongst voters. It is true than many Australians support refugee detention. What is ignored is that this support has been manufactured by more than a decade of political consensus to demonise refugees.

Australians tend to think there are far more refugees entering Australia than there actually are, understate the persecution these refugees have fled and dismiss genuine alternatives to mandatory detention. These attitudes have been carefully cultivated by both sides of politics in an attempt to distract from their own failures. Fear mongering over refugees shifts the blame away from the neo-liberal policies that have failed to to provide jobs, housing and public services for ordinary people in our communities.

The frustrating reality is that the torturous offshore detention of refugees is far, far more expensive than taking the humanitarian approach of processing refugee claims in Australia. The $8.3 billion budgeted to lock up refugees ($400,000 per refugee per year in offshore detention!) would be much better spent on local infrastructure projects to put people to work while investing in new affordable housing, hospitals and schools. Such projects would create jobs for locals as well as newly settled refugees.

The only thing stopping us going down this road is the lack of political will. We are in desperate need of a political revolution that proposes socialist solutions to the problems we face and that challenges the big-business agenda of the major parties. The starting point is building grassroots campaigns that articulate a clear political alternative to the brutality of capitalism.

If you agree, get active in the No Room for Racism campaign and come along to the political forums hosted by The Socialist. Social change only happens when people get angry and get involved. 

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