Why Australia Just Toughened Its Tough Immigration Stance

Kathy Marks, Christian Science Monitor, May 11, 2011

Riots and unrest at Australia’s immigration detention centers have piled pressure on Julia Gillard’s minority government, forcing her to adopt a raft of new measures including a “refugee swap” with Malaysia and negotiations to reopen a mothballed facility in Papua New Guinea.

The steps have prompted accusations from critics that the Labor government is copying the policies of the former conservative prime minister, John Howard, who gave Australia an international reputation for taking one of the hardest lines on asylum-seekers–although the numbers coming here are minuscule compared with those arriving in the US and Europe.

Under a deal struck with Kuala Lumpur, Australia will send 800 “boat people” to Malaysia for processing by the United Nations. In return, it will accept 4,000 mainly Burmese refugees currently in Malaysia awaiting resettlement. The aim is to deter asylum-seekers from making the journey to Australia via Indonesia, but the plan has been attacked by refugee and human rights groups, including Amnesty International.

An Amnesty report last year described Malaysia’s immigration detention centers as filthy, overcrowded, lacking in proper healthcare, sufficient food, and clean drinking water–and rife with abuse by staff.

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The refugee issue was thrust back into the political spotlight by the disturbances at centers around Australia, where asylum-seekers–mainly from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and Iraq–are housed while their claims are considered. At the Villawood facility in Sydney, disgruntled detainees set fire to four buildings recently, then staged an 11-day rooftop protest. Other facilities, including the main refugee processing center on Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, have also experienced trouble.

Amid the public outrage sparked by the Villawood riot, Australia’s Immigration minister, Chris Bowen, announced last month that asylum-seekers convicted of a criminal offense–such as property damage–will not be given a permanent residency visa, even if their refugee claim is upheld.

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“The government is creating the very circumstances and duress that push people into carrying out these protests,” says Ian Rentoul, a spokesman for the Refugee Action Coalition. “Long-term detention creates mental anguish and anxiety, and eventually mental illness. The response to the riots is just politicking, and will do nothing to stop the protests.”

Mr. Rintoul says there were hopes that when Labor came to power in 2007, it would take a more humanitarian approach to the asylum issue. “But at every stage they have just become more draconian.”

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  • d.

    The Australian govt is desperate to do something (anything!) to stop the flood of people posing as ‘asylum seekers’ and ‘refugees’ who have paid people smugglers thousands of dollars for a place on a leaky boat.

    They’re not genuine refugees, more like economic freeloaders (85% are still on welfare after 5 years in Australia) so Australians are furious that invaders who routinely destroy their documents and passports at the first sight of an Australian Navy ship are given more care and consideration than our own old people and disadvantaged.

    The Malaysian idea is incredibly stupid and costly but typical of the present government. They think that Australians would prefer Burmese to Middle Eastern Muslims and Tamils (on the premise that they’ll cause less trouble).

    “Public outrage” is a mild description of the way most Australians feel about this issue.

  • Carl

    I would prefer 4000 Burmese refugees to 800 Middle-Eastern invaders. But whatever “refugees” we take in will soon make white people “Internally Displaced People” in their own country, as white people are forced to move out of their neighbourhoods and schools.

  • Anonymous

    No White country needs any of these people! “Refugees” is just another scam to inflict even more of the 3rd world peoples upon us. When are we ever going to wake up and stop this madness? It is like the whole White world has been infected with the insanity virus.

  • Leo

    Believe that the 4000 people are Rohingyas from Burma. Found article in Time magazine:-http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,364423,00.html

    “Today, southern Bangladesh has become a haven for hundreds of jihadis on the lam. They find natural allies in Muslim guerrillas from India hiding out across the border, and in Muslim Rohingyas, tens of thousands of whom fled the ethnic and religious suppression of the Burmese military junta in the late 1970s and 1980s. Many Rohingyas are long-term refugees, but some are trained to cause trouble back home in camps tolerated by a succession of Bangladeshi governments.”

  • white is right, black is whack

    And the (white) Austrailians gave up their right to self-defense aka gun banning

  • Anonymous

    Why should Australia take these Burmese “refugees” in? Why is it Australia’s resposnibility? Why does it fall on the Australians? What does Australia owe Burma? Why don’t countries like South Korea or Japan let them in? Why are only white countries considered the dumping off ground for third world peoples?