Message to Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton, Sanctuary rally, LetThemStay Melbourne / Takver / Wikimedia Commons.
The way Australia handles asylum seekers is not a new issue. It’s controversial for some and divisive for others. For me, it’s fucking disgusting.
This article attempts to condense a complex and yet urgent crisis that is occurring across the ditch.
An issue that is in the spotlight right now centres on Nauru - a small republic near Papua New Guinea in the Pacific. Nauru is just one of the places where Australia has set up its ‘offshore processing’ centres to ‘process’ asylum seekers. The horrific irony is that it is current Australian government policy to never resettle these asylum seekers in Australia. There are similar detention centres on nearby Manus Island (part of Papua New Guinea) and Christmas Island.
What’s going wrong?
Gaining asylum is a human right and many countries including Australia and New Zealand are signatories to lots of treaties to take in refugees and asylum seekers. By processing them offshore and never settling them, Australia is violating a bunch of those treaties and has been condemned by dozens of countries and human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Why are asylum-seekers coming to Australia?
There are two common misconceptions about asylum seekers. Firstly, that they are ‘queue jumpers’. To become an official refugee, one must apply at a centre such as with the UNCHR. One must get to one of these centres that are only located in select countries and even then they have notoriously long waiting times. Once a person’s background is assessed and they are deemed a bonafide refugee, they are resettled in a new country of the organisations choosing. Asylum seekers are those who cannot wait, or cannot get access to these centres and so reach countries on their own and claim asylum. Even still they are kept in centres and processed before being re-settled. The whole process is lengthy and complex thus making it literally implausible that someone who is not a genuine refugee to be let in.
Why don’t their neighbouring countries take them in?
Well actually they are. There are over 5.2 million refugees in Jordan and Turkey alone. The Zataari refugee camp in Jordan holds over 80,000 people alone within a 5.1km zone. That is roughly a quarter of Wellington’s population living on Rangitoto Island. In comparison, there are only around 442 people waiting on Nauru including 49 children.
Why won’t other countries take them in?
Again they are. More than half of all refugees today have been taken in by only ten developing nations. Some countries are not signed up to the international conventions that give refugees and asylum seekers rights. They have no right to work, be educated or free to leave so it makes sense for refugees and asylum seekers to want to be in a place where they can have rights.
Well anything’s got to be better than being in a war zone right?
Yes but not Nauru. Or Manus, or Christmas Island. These camps were actually made to be a deterrent to those thinking of seeking asylum. The Australian government even advertised with huge, disconcerting billboards about not coming to Australia. The camps are not there to be lived in long term despite the fact that many on Nauru have been there for five years. Some were born on the island. Those on the island are held without any knowledge of what will happen to them or how long they will be there. There have been allegations of violence, abuse and sexual assault. Protests from the asylum seekers are common, as (sadly) are deaths – some by suicide. There is no doubt that what is happening in these camps is inhumane. Though media entry is restricted, the asylum seekers leak video and stories online.
Why should we care?
Asylum seekers are some of the most vulnerable peoples on the planet. They have been forced to leave their homes to seek refuge from atrocities many of us in New Zealand have never witnessed. New Zealand just upped its stagnant number of refugees to 1500 per year starting from 2020 – unless the government decides to change it.
It bears repeating that seeking asylum is a human right. People have been doing it for centuries. If we can’t even care for our own species, our planet is rightly doomed. As the Persian poet Saadi wrote,
“Human beings are members of a whole/ In creation of one essence and soul/ If one member is afflicted with pain/ Other members uneasy will remain/ If you have no sympathy for human pain/ The name of human you cannot retain”
Much of this information came from the Nauru files by The Guardian. If you want to learn more or even help, reach out to one of the organisations below:
Asylum Seeker’s Trust: A non-government New Zealand advocacy group supporting and lobbying for asylum seeker’s rights.
ASRCR: Asylum Seekers Resource Centre where you can donate directly.
Amnesty International: The global non-profit organisation that supports human rights.
Doing Our Bit: The New Zealand group that helped double our quota intake.
Human Rights Watch: Another international group that advocates and researches on human rights.
Rise: An Australian organisation campaigning for policy change.
We Care Nauru: Help send much needed packages for those stuck in Nauru.Support Villainesse