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“This will send the strongest possible signal to people smugglers.” Malcolm Turnbull calls for life bans for asylum seekers, the latest step in his government’s reprehensible immigration policy.
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to rationalise Australia’s immigration detention regime.
At this stage, there can be no doubt that human beings are being abused in our detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island.
We know that our system is irreconcilably breaking people.
We know that our policy has forced children to attempt suicide.
We know asylum seekers have been beaten, raped and killed in our care.
We know that our policy is driving huge numbers of refugees and asylum seekers to attempt suicide by any means available – from drinking detergent, to hanging, to slitting wrists, to jumping from buildings. And still it all continues with a horrible predictability that grinds down one’s spirit.
In May an Iranian refugee on Nauru – Omid Masoumali – committed suicide by setting himself alight. His suicide came two days after a visit by United Nations officials. He had been on the island for three years.
In response, our Immigration Minister Peter Dutton suggested that “asylum seekers have self-immolated to get to Australia”.
This is the level of absurdity our public discourse has reached. People have killed themselves to escape the horror of what we have done to them – and we attempt to discredit them even in death.
Refugees over the globe, through no fault of their own, are without food, without shelter, and without a future… I think back to summary executions, ethnic cleansing, cases of genocide, and the horrific torture that drives people from their homes.
More recently, an episode of Four Corners showed what life is like for refugees living on Nauru. Movingly, it followed the story of a bright young woman who has fallen into hopelessness. We heard from articulate individuals, with dreams of helping their fellow humans, slowly losing faith that they would ever escape their island prison.
That same day Amnesty International released a report stating that Australia’s policy of holding refugees on Nauru amounts to a systematic violation of human rights, and may amount to torture.
And now, a few weeks later, the Liberal National Party has announced it will introduce legislation to ensure that refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru will never be allowed in Australia – not even as tourists, and not even on business.
It’s a remarkably cruel and useless policy.
Our Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, announced that the policy “will send the strongest possible signal to the people smugglers… It is incredibly important that we send the clearest message”.
I wonder why we do not send clear messages about the desperate need for a coordinated response to help millions of refugees over the globe – for those who, through no fault of their own, are without food, without shelter, and without a future. For those who are exploited and abused. For those who have nowhere to go.
As Turnbull describes people smugglers as “the worst criminals imaginable”, I think back to the summary executions, the ethnic cleansing, the cases of genocide, and the horrific torture that drives people from their homes. I think back to the images of Aleppo as a bombed out ruin.
It is difficult not to succumb to despair during this dark time in this country’s history.
I know that one day we will look back on these years and hang our heads in shame.