Tuesday, December 17, 2013

We were kinder to asylum seekers when we were poor.

Hot on the heels of the Great Depression, "Australia was among the earliest states parties to the Refugee Convention, acceding to the treaty on 22 January 1954."(1.)

For most of my life Australia has more or less attempted to do the right thing by refugees. When I was young we didn't have a lot of disposable income, people struggled financially and luxuries were rare. And yes, we really did "make do". And while probably not everyone welcomed refugees with open arms, they were imperfectly but adequately housed, educated and supported in some way at least. They were able to join in with Australian society, work, build businesses, join sporting clubs, adopt footy teams, buy homes, send their children to school, pay taxes and generally settle in ... and they eventually blended into society.

Now, we are a wealthy country. We're so wealthy we're able to give massive tax breaks to mining companies reportedly in the vicinity of $4 billion worth of government subsidies and concessions each year. (2.) 

Our taxes provide FOUR BILLION dollars of support to mining companies! The companies which make massive profits each year are subsidised by us. That's incredibly generous of us! Clearly we have money to burn!

And if we have money to burn, we can undoubtedly afford to house, educate and process refugees more than adequately. Yet we're being asked to swallow the information that the economy is so bad that cuts need to be made ... just don't involve the mining companies!

It is in this climate of giving to the rich and taking from those who have little, that the current Abbott led Federal Government has chosen to disband the independent body which provides advice on the physical and mental health needs of asylum seekers. This has occurred in the wake of a damning Amnesty International report on the condition of Manus Island detention centre. 

"The news that IHAG will be disbanded comes hot on the heels of the announcement that the Salvation Army’s contract to provide humanitarian services to asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru will not be renewed, proving that this Government simply doesn’t care."

"Australian taxpayers will spend over one billion dollars this year on Manus Island and its sister detention centre, Nauru." 

"That’s more than half a million dollars per asylum seeker".(3.)

With just some extremely basic maths, it's possible to see that this isn't a good investment in a private company with a questionable reputation. 

Wouldn't it be wiser to provide employment for primary and secondary teachers, trades skills staff, language teachers etc etc etc and encourage a positive, healthy group of people to resettle and be productive members of society? 

But no says the government, we choose to say that these people are bad people and so must be locked away indefinitely without the Australian population being provided with independent information about what's happening behind the canvas and wire.

The reports that trickle through are heartbreaking - Professor Caroline de Costa writes "One Darwin doctor who works closely with asylum seekers said to me that “there are the mental health problems that people have before they arrive (in detention). Then there are the problems they develop as a result of being in detention, and these are much greater.” 
"...the greatest and most pervasive risk is to the mental health of children and their families. The fact of ongoing uncertain detention is bad enough; adding to it with an extremely isolated hot and crowded environment with few diversions within the detention facility and none outside is demonstrably contributing to very high levels of psychiatric presentations among asylum seekers, well documented by many of my colleagues in recent weeks.My own observations of recent mothers I met in Darwin is of a high level of postnatal depression that is continuing on well past the postnatal period"

And yet the Australian government is paying a massive sum to an independent company with questionable work practises to lock people away. The detention centres are basically private jails. Putting aside the lack of ethics surrounding these choices, it doesn't look like value for money to me - but perhaps I'm wrong.

Who benefits? Not the taxpayer. Not the asylum seekers. Just the private company and of course the government which continues through the main stream media to vilify people who have a legitimate right to seek asylum.

And of the for profit company we pay to detain asylum seekers "G4S received worldwide publicity last year when it failed to deliver on its contract to supply sufficient security guards for the London Olympics. Recently, it was voted the third worst company in the world in awards presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos by Public Eye, a project run by Berne Declaration and Greenpeace Switzerland. After the announcement, G4S rejected the claims made by its critics but the accusations continue." (4)

When people make comments along the lines of "things were better when I was young,"  it's hard to disagree. We were poorer, wiser and more compassionate.

1. http://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/f/who-conv.php
2. http://www.tai.org.au/node/476
3. http://www.amnesty.org.au/refugees/comments/33587/
4. https://newmatilda.com/2013/03/07/worlds-third-worst-firm-runs-manus
5. http://blogs.crikey.com.au/croakey/2013/12/17/inside-the-immigration-detention-facilities-in-darwin-breeding-grounds-for-mental-illness/
  Added 11 Jan 2014: http://www.smh.com.au/world/united-nations-warns-australia-about-asylum-seeker-boat-pushbacks-20140111-hv83u.html