Go Back to Where You Came From 2012–revisited–Part 2

Wishful thinking? Does anyone really think this is going to work?


Michelle Grattan:

AS EACH boat arrives, the question grows more pressing. Will the Pacific solution mark II work? The short answer is, it’s too soon to judge. But it’s clear that the government is under enormous pressure to get some things done urgently and effectively. And it’s equally obvious that if, in a couple of months, the boat arrivals haven’t slowed, Labor is once again in diabolical trouble on this issue.

As of late last week, about 1200 asylum seekers had arrived since Julia Gillard’s August 13 announcement that offshore processing was starting again in Nauru and Papua New Guinea. This is despite the government declaring that everyone coming after then would be at risk of being sent offshore and subject to the new ”no advantage” test – which means that they can expect to be held for years…

Which to me outdoes in injustice anything the Howard government ever did. I am looking forward to legal challenges to this absurd doctrine. We have already had it condemned by the churches and Amnesty International:

Amnesty International is appalled by the introduction of new asylum laws which sacrifice the protection of refugees in favour of deterrence.

Punishing people for seeking safety is the hallmark of Australia’s new offshore processing regime, which will severely undermine the country’s ability to further refugee protection in the Asia-Pacific.

“The Government has sacrificed any moral credibility it has established in the Asia-Pacific region on refugee issues by reinventing the ‘Pacific Solution’ and leaving crucial elements of the expert panel’s plan looking like distant aspirations.

“If we outsource our international obligations in such a flagrant manner, where refugees are left to languish indefinitely – we send the dangerous message to the region that refugee protection is expendable and avoidable,” said Dr Graham Thom, Amnesty International’s refugee spokesperson.

The ‘Pacific Solution’ destroyed the mental health of vulnerable people, leading to atrocious levels of self-harm and long-term psychological damage. It cost billions of dollars and flew in the face of international law….

The one good thing is an overdue lifting of the numbers we take in on humanitarian grounds.

UNHCR reminded us last Friday that Millions of people can’t go back to where they came from.

This week SBS broadcast the second series of Go Back to Where You Came From featuring a cast of celebrities experiencing first-hand the daily reality of life for millions of refugees around the world. Their experience is a brief glimpse about what it’s like to live under the daily threat of attack in Mogadishu or to just try and survive in remote and barren refugee camps in Ethiopia.

Supporting refugees and displaced people in these crises situations is the core work of Australia for UNHCR.Our donors have been major funders of emergency relief in Somalia, Afghanistan and Ethiopia. Sometimes it is difficult to get your head around the sheer size of displaced populations we are dealing with. For example as at 15 August 2012, there were 165,081 individuals and 40,187 households in the Dollo Ado camps featured in the SBS series. That’s the equivalent to a city the size of Cairns!

Dollo Ado is actually made up of a number of refugee camps (Bokolmanyo, Melkadida, Kobe, Hilaweyn, and Bur Amino). They sit very near the border with Somalia, in the Somali or “Ogaden” region of Ethiopia….

A poll on ABC asked "Can a program like Go Back To Where You Came From change people’s minds?"  So far it is “Yes” by a whisker.  Commentator Jonathan Green doubts it can.

Don’t expect anyone on the SBS series Go Back To Where You Came From to change their mind about asylum seekers, writes Jonathan Green. But maybe that’s the point.

Is there anything harder to change than a mind? Probably not.

Yet the hope and premise of Go Back seems to be that positions on asylum seekers, that most vexed of Australian political questions, might shift through exposure to the compelling force of profoundly sad personal experience.

That said, the burden of intellectual flexibility here is unevenly shared. It hardy seems likely that Catherine Deveny, Allan Asher or Imogen Bailey will be converted to the hard-arsed necessity of stopping the boats on their televised road to Kabul.

The viewer will, however, watch the progress of Peter Reith, Gary ‘Angry’ Anderson and Michael Smith with a greater expectation that this rude brush with refugee reality will soften and shift their thinking…

I would rather we had never gone down the road of privatised prison camps on Christmas Island, that we had never indulged the legal fantasy that Christmas Island and various other bits are not really Australian territory.  On the other hand I have never advocated taking whoever wants to come without asking any questions. But there are now 63 posts on this blog alone that canvass all this, so that will do.

One area where I was much influenced by Go Back was realising that boat is far from the ideal way to come to Australia. We really have no idea how many boats have gone down, how many people have never made it. Finding alternative paths to that one is clearly the truly compassionate approach.

I’ll finish with the last words from the Insight special from last Friday:

JENNY BROCKIE: David, you’re worried about the reopening of Nauru and Manus Island, why?

DAVID CORLETT: I want to respond to the mistakes being made, I think mistakes can be made and when mistakes are made in this area the consequences are so grave that we have a loss of life, we have people being killed, we have people being kidnapped. We have all sorts of grave human rights violations. Given the gravity of the issues, we have a whole bunch of checks and balances, so that when mistakes are made at a lower level, there’s a possibility that those mistake also be caught up at more senior levels.

The problem with, I think, the Pacific Solution, is that it wasn’t just that mistakes were made, but the system that was set up. It was deliberately set up to exclude asylum seekers from accessing those checks and balances and I think there is something to be learned in the present time about the past, if we don’t understand our history and the way that the mistakes we made in the past, then we’re likely to make the same mistakes in the future.

JENNY BROCKIE: We have to wrap up. Rick McPhee, you are the series producer of ‘Go Back to Where You Came From’, a question I want to ask you – I raised this earlier – you didn’t test the ideas of Catherine, Allen and Imogen anywhere near as much as you tested the other three – why? Why did you focus on testing one side of the debate rather than the other.

RICK MCPHEE, SERIES PRODUCER, CORDELL JIGSAW ZAPRUDER: Neither did you, by the way. Well their challenge was more to find a policy, to work out what they would do with the people that come beyond what they think the numbers should be so their challenge was to come up with those sorts of policy solutions. It wasn’t just all one way, and also, when they were there, they also talked to people about whether everyone was genuine, and, you know, Michael met Abdi and has his own opinions about that. It wasn’t all one way.


Read more about Hazara refugees and asylum seekers.  See in particular another piece by Ahmad Shuja:  Life Is a Painful Wait Until the Next Attack for One Minority Group in Pakistan.

And a story about Tamil refugees that I had missed at the time – 30 July 2012.

COMMUNITY activists would pay for United Nations sanctioned refugees to be safely shipped to Australia and deprive people smugglers of customers under a radical pitch to the Gillard government’s expert panel on border protection.

The plan, aimed at ethnic Tamils fleeing Sri Lanka, comes as a boat carrying 15 people slipped past navy patrols on the weekend and put out a distress call about 150 kilometres off the coast of Western Australia. Another boat with 49 passengers was later spotted near Cocos Island.

The Coalition seized on the rare arrival near the mainland to criticise Labor over the strain on border patrols. The tally of asylum seeker arrivals over the past two months is among the highest on record, with boats increasingly calling for rescue after two vessels sank in June, leaving about 90 dead.

The plan to fund ”free, safe transport” was presented by Tamil organisations to Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s hand-picked experts charged to find a circuit-breaker to the impasse around asylum seekers…

Might such a thing be a way forward?  I am not so impressed with the argument put by Julie Bishop over the weekend.

The Coalition says the Federal Government should no longer grant refugee status to people from Sri Lanka because the country’s civil war is over.

Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop says many Sri Lankan asylum seekers turn out to be economic migrants, not refugees.

She says Sri Lankan asylum seekers should be deported before they get access to Australia’s legal system…

"There is an extremely high rejection rate for Sri Lankan asylum seekers with the vast majority proving to be economic migrants. But once they are in Australia they can pursue their claims for asylum through our courts regardless of the merit."

Ms Bishop was speaking after it was revealed Indonesian police were holding around 50 Sri Lankan asylum seekers, including seven children, whose boat broke down on the way to Australia…

“The country’s civil war is over” – yes, but on the other hand 1949 and 1950 were some time after the end of World War II and that did not invalidate the claims of displaced people then.

I have to admit to seriously thinking about Clive Palmer’s idea too.