Australia is now lagging well behind other countries when it comes to flouting the Refugee Convention, sending refugees back to danger and allowing major abuses and breaches of basic rights in immigration detention.

However, Australia can certainly make a credible claim to have blazed the trail in many of the practices now being more widely adopted by other western nations.

In a direct steal from the Howard-era tactic of towing boatloads of refugees back to the country of departure, Italy has

There's more to Crikey than you think.

Get more and save 50%.

Subscribe now

“returned more than 200 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean Sea to Libya on Thursday, defying the United Nations refugee agency but claiming a major victory in its crackdown on illegal immigration (sic).”

Italy’s Interior Minister, Roberto Maroni, has been trumpeting Italy’s achievement in making such a rapid advance in the contest to see which western nation can display the most contempt for human rights principles and people fleeing persecution and danger.

‘For the first time in history, we were able to send illegal immigrants directly back to Libya,’ Maroni told Italian television.

‘Until now, we had to get them, identify them, send them back to their countries of origin. For the first time, Libya agreed to take non-EU citizens who are not Libyan but departed from Libyan coasts.

Expert commentators confirmed that Italy has thrown down the gauntlet to any other western nations wanting to be champions of contempt for human rights:

‘The incident marks a significant shift in policies by the Italian government and is a source of very serious concern,’ the UNHCR said in a statement.

‘Libya has not signed the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention, and does not have a functioning national asylum system. UNHCR urges Italian authorities to reconsider their decision and to avoid repeating such measures.’

Loris De Filippi, head of Doctors Without Borders in Italy, condemned what he called a ‘forced repatriation’.

‘For us, the fact that 227 people were forcibly repatriated to Libya isn’t an ‘historic’ event. From our point of view, it’s an event that should be strongly condemned.

Spain is also working hard when it comes to bastardry to asylum seekers and contempt for human rights.

A Spanish refugee support organization on Thursday called for the closure of a detention centre for undocumented immigrants in Mauritania, describing it as a “little Guantanamo.” The centre was founded in a former school near Nouadhibou in 2006 with Spanish funding. It houses would-be migrants who have been arrested when attempting to reach Spain, or who have been expelled by Spain.

The African migrants were kept in crowded and insalubrious conditions for up to 15 days, and were not allowed to go anywhere except to the toilets under police guard, the Spanish Commission for Aid to Refugees (CEAR) said in a report to the Spanish government.

The migrants were imprisoned without any written justification, and given no interpreters or legal assistance before being taken by bus to the Mauritanian border, where they were left without any means to travel on to their home countries, the CEAR said.

Canada seems to have been stung into action by the increasingly competitive environment, moving to get more attention for their own efforts to be bigger bastards to refugees.

This piece in the Prague Post details the Canadian citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism minister’s efforts to increase public contempt towards a specific group of asylum seekers.

The minister was quoted as having called on the Czech government to:

 “intervene against agencies that may be behind the new wave of Czech asylum seekers, mostly Romanies, arriving in Canada.” The Canadian Embassy was also quoted as having urged the Czech government to take action against what it called “unscrupulous mediators” who may be assisting persons in going to Canada. Elsewhere, the minister was quoted as referring to his concern about “false” refugee claimants. Last year, claims in the Czech press were made that those applying for asylum were merely “economic” migrants, not persons fleeing potential harm. With regard to the racist violence being perpetrated against the Roma and their systemic discrimination in Czech society, Canadian officials remain silent.

To show that they are capable of more than just inflammatory rhetoric towards refugees – which is after all a practice of politicians in many western nations over a long time – the Canadians are also sending details of asylum seekers to the embassies of the countries they are fleeing from.

Czech diplomat Karel Hejč went public with the information that Canadian authorities had faxed the names and birthdates of asylum seekers from the Czech Republic to the Czech Embassy in Canada – a move that surprised him, since, if it were the practice for all asylum seekers, it could potentially expose them or their remaining family members to harm. …  According to the Canadian Press Agency, the Czech Embassy was not the only one to report having received such information.

Whilst the USA is now struggling to stay near the top of the human rights abusers, with the loss of their star performer George W Bush, they are still highly competitive when it comes to using immigration detention to strip people of their legal rights and tear people away from their families. 

Amnesty International’s recent report shows a huge number of abuses are routine throughout the USA’s immigration detention system.  Showing they had been paying attention to the innovations made by former Australian governments in this area, the USA has started putting their own citizens into immigration detention, where the lack of legal rights and the deliberate barriers to accessing assistance make it possible to keep them locked for many months while their families wonder what has happened to them.

However for now it seems that Europe is really starting to move ahead of Northern America in bastardry to asylum seekers and contempt for human rights and due process in the immigration area.  Australia seems to be slipping well down this list – it’s almost as if the new government’s heart just isn’t in it. Perhaps the economic crisis has made them realise that, given Australia only receives a minuscule number of asylum seekers each year compared to most other western nations, we’re better off directing more funds into areas where we can be competitive, like our economy.  Their test will be convincing Australian citizens that giving them a healthier economy and more jobs and services is a better thing to do than pouring many millions of dollars into brutalising desperate human beings from other countries. 

Given the enormous popularity of the current Prime Minster, he might even be able to convince the Australian electorate that having other countries beat us when comes to being the biggest bastards to asylum seekers is worth it if we can still have a better economy and standards of living than elsewhere.

There's more to Crikey than you think.

It’s more than a newsletter. It’s where readers expect more – fearless journalism from a truly independent perspective. We don’t pander to anyone’s party biases. We question everything, explore the uncomfortable and dig deeper.

And now you get more from your membership than ever before.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
Get more and save 50%