Rally to Close the Camps

Just a quick note to encourage any Australian readers to consider attending this coming Sunday’s rally against offshore detention of asylum seekers. There are events being held all over Australia but the Canberra one is at 1pm in Civic Square (shown in image).

A brief summary: the Australian government currently imprisons people seeking asylum if they come into the country the wrong way, keeping many of them in offshore camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea. It keeps them here for indefinite and unforeseeable periods often stretching to several years. The conditions in these facilities are about what you would expect when people a government wishes didn’t exist are herded into camps.

This a very expensive way to handle what’s actually a very small number of individuals (billions of dollars on detaining just over 2000 people): even if every single one were an exception to the general rule that migrants are usually more productive and more law-abiding than natives, it couldn’t possibly cost more to assimilate them than it does to imprison them. This reflects (as I understand it) a general feature of anti-migrant politics in Australia: the focus is not on mass immigration but on ostentatiously brutal treatment of refugees coming by boat in particular (basically because Australia’s economy is thirsty for labour).

The stated rationale for the policy is the importance of not encouraging people to seek asylum by travelling to Australia by boat, because when they do so they are vulnerable to exploitation by people traffickers. There’s a very weird sort of logic at work here: effectively, let’s make 2000 innocent people into examples of misery out of humanitarian concern for others like them, who will hopefully be so discouraged by this prospect that they will stop trying to escape whatever combination of persecution, destitution, and desperation would motivate them to embark on a life-risking boat journey to an unknown country. The perfect synergy of compassion and brutality! And of course in the background is the artificial false constraint that of assuming there will always be people traffickers, because there will always be border controls that stop people who desperately want to enter, work, and re-build their lives from doing so legally. People traffickers are a creation of border control; yet here they are used as a justification for harsher such controls.

This policy has been around for about 20 years now, supported by both major parties, but the public mood in Australia may be slowly turning against it – especially among supporters of the Labour party, who look to have a reasonable chance at forming the next government. Hopefully a show of public opposition can start to turn some Labour politicians, and this particularly appalling and particularly unnecessary instance of bureacratic-dehumanisation-driven-by-racism might end.

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