Saturday, October 21, 2006

Deportees' fate shows there's no solution in the Pacific

Writing in New Matilda, Anna Samson, Ben Spies-Butcher and Phil Glendenning explain why the 'Pacific Solution' is an horrific abuse of human rights for which those responsible should be held accountable. Following is an excerpt from their bleak tale that reveals an approach that goes beyond mere negligence and abuse of the principle of 'duty of care':

" Because of the changes to refugee law and the demonstrable failures of the system, the Edmund Rice Centre decided to coordinate its own investigation of those deported from our shores. In 2003 the Centre released its initial report, Deported to Danger. It revealed that the Government had issued inappropriate documentation to returned asylum-seekers, effectively leaving them stateless within a few months. Time and again the Edmund Rice Centre found asylum-seekers living in dangerous situations, outside the law, and unable to gain the protection of any government.

Since publishing this report, little has changed. The Edmund Rice Centre has just released the second part of its research, Deported to Danger II, which examines the cases of 41 asylum-seekers deported from Nauru to Afghanistan. Thirty nine remain in danger, with two having found a safe haven in New Zealand.

The findings of this report are deeply disturbing for three reasons. Firstly, these asylum-seekers were not returned voluntarily under any sensible definition. They were told they had no choice. If they stayed in Nauru they would never be let out of detention. They would never see their families again and they were likely to be transferred to remote locations on the mainland where they would be left behind razor wire. Some were told that if they did not agree to leave, they would be forcibly removed. These stories were consistent across a range of people who were in Nauru at different times, who are now living in different countries, and who speak different languages.

Secondly, those asylum-seekers being deported were promised help they never received. They were told that Afghanistan was safe. They were told they would receive assistance with housing and employment. Yet, when they returned, they were left to fend for themselves within a few days.

And finally, these people were deported to extremely dangerous situations. Thirty nine of the 41 people interviewed were clearly living in peril, moving between towns often without appropriate documentation. Some have since been killed. In two cases asylum-seekers lost children in bomb attacks on their homes.

This was not just the result of the general level of violence in Afghanistan. These people were targeted by the resurgent Taliban. They were targeted for precisely the reasons that had led them to seek asylum in Australia in the first place. One had married for love across religious lines. The other was associated with the pre-Taliban government. But their claims were not believed by Australian officials and so they were sent home. Now their children are dead...

...Given the serious problems associated with refugee processing on Nauru, including the increased risk of refugees being returned to countries where they or their families will be persecuted, it is simply criminal to punish asylum-seekers because of the mode of their arrival in Australia by forcing them to go to Nauru. It is cruel to make these vulnerable people ’examples’ in the hope that it will deter other refugees from making similarly difficult journeys to escape persecution.

Deported to Danger II provides yet more evidence that the injustice of offshore processing of Australia’s refugees in Nauru must end immediately. The consequences of a policy that routinely fails refugees are far more serious than violations of international law. The ‘Pacific Strategy’ has clearly relegated numerous asylum-seekers to lives of persistent insecurity, danger and death; consequences that could have easily been prevented had their protection applications been processed in Australia. Any government professing a commitment to compassion, fairness and respect for human rights cannot, in all conscience, justify the continuation of such a policy."

This policy must ultimately be the subject of a Royal Commission. Those most responsible should be held to account so that future governments will not step so willingly down the path of persecution to win votes. The populist demogoguery that lies behind the Pacific Solution should strike a chord with those familiar with similar appeals to fear and xenophobia at other times in recent history. These 'episodes' have all too often been dressed up in the garb of protecting 'national security', 'cultural identity','social integrity' and the like and invariably bear witness to the 'banality of evil'.

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