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Federal

May 19, 2010

Memo, 'Cockroach' Kev, show some leadership on asylum

If people arrive here from Sri Lanka, there is a good chance they have fled a well-founded fear of persecution. They deserve a helping hand; not a deaf ear, writes Jake Lynch.

You can’t triangulate on race. It’s a lesson the Rudd government is learning all over again. There is no limit to how far a declared party of the Right will go, in search of a wedge: so the supposed “centre ground” simply moves further and further away from the comfort zone of a government still aspiring to hold together a “progressive” base of support.

Hence, the synthetic outrage of the coalition, over the arrival by boat of people seeking asylum from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, appears on the “national security” section of the Liberal Party website. It’s not enough, apparently, to portray them as the “bludgers” and “queue jumpers” of yore: they must now be construed as a threat.

Ministers have “lost control” of our borders, say their shadows. The facts bear the same relation to this specious claim as Kryptonite does to Superman. By far the biggest violation of Australia’s immigration procedures is the tens of thousands of over-stayers on work and tourist visas. The biggest groups of them are from the US and UK: so how come Tony Abbott and his mendacious men never mention them?

The inundation metaphors in which this “debate” is conducted — flow, flood, influx, wave — are a dead giveaway. Even well-intentioned radio interviewers struggle for polite ways to put it: what would happen, I have been asked this week, to Australia’s “cultural stability” if we let these people in? Decoded: they’re darkies, mate! Bloody darkies!

Australia’s share of asylum claims is, in global terms, minuscule. In 2008, the Edmund Rice Centre points out, we received fewer than 5000 out of a total worldwide of over 800,000. Nearly a quarter of them were in South Africa, as neighbouring Zimbabwe went into meltdown. Now there’s a country with a problem. Australia — huge, sparsely populated, outlandishly wealthy Australia — doesn’t have a problem.

The issue has been mired in a miasma of misconceptions and misrepresentations only to the extent that ministers themselves — starting with the Prime Minister — have offered no leadership, instead favouring the “cockroach response” — when the light comes on, find a place to hide, hoping to re-emerge when it goes dark.

And what an odd idea of leadership Kevin Rudd seems to have! If it’s true, as the usually well-informed Peter Hartcher told us the other day, that he planned to husband his personal popularity, saving it for health reform and ETS, it shows a fundamental misconception. Substantial sections of the PM’s support came from people who put their faith in him to challenge the certitudes of the Howard years, not go along with them.

The government’s ill-fated bid to defuse “controversy”, by suspending asylum claims for people arriving from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, looks sicker still this week after a report from the International Crisis Group reminded us of the violations visited on the Tamils in the final months of the civil war, this time last year. Tens of thousands of civilians were killed, it says, citing witness testimony, satellite images, documents and other evidence: most from systematic army bombardments of areas that had been officially declared “safe”.

No wonder the Sri Lankan government is cracking down on journalists and NGOs: it has plenty to hide. More than 100,000 people are still interned, with reports trickling out of maltreatment, r-pes and the mysterious “disappearances” that have been the signature MO of the security forces there for decades.

If people arrive here from Sri Lanka, there is a good chance they have, indeed, fled out of a well-founded fear of persecution. They are not “illegal”, as politicians on all sides of the house well know. They deserve a helping hand: not a deaf ear.

*Jake Lynch is director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney, and co-convener of its Sri Lanka Human Rights Project

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17 comments

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17 thoughts on “Memo, ‘Cockroach’ Kev, show some leadership on asylum

  1. shepherdmarilyn

    Bravo Jake, what a pack of nasty little cowards we have in train. And the RRT member here had clearly had a gutful of the lies and stupidity. It turns out that we have been paying the Taliban not to fight then gone back on our word and that is why they stopped Afghan applications.

    Too bad that not one word of what they said was the truth and has not a single basis in law.

    http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/cth/RRTA/2010/328.html

    The US Department of State’s report on human rights practices in Afghanistan for 2009 notes, at Section 2(c):

    Social discrimination against Shia Hazaras continued along class, race, and religious lines. Ethnic Hazaras reported occasionally being asked to pay additional bribes at border crossings where Pashtuns were allowed to pass freely.6

    Section 6 of the report states that Hazaras face economic oppression:
    Ethnic minorities continued to face oppression, including economic oppression. Dasht-i Barchi, one of Kabul’s poorest neighbourhoods, was home to a large Hazara population. Average earnings per day were 13 Afghanis (25 cents) per person, although the minimum wage was 63 Afghanis ($1.25) per day; average household size was nine to 10 persons. In Dasht-i Barchi, 60 percent of all families rented their homes and were therefore subject to landlord exploitation; 50 percent of families’ income went to cover rent, and families moved frequently.6

    More recently, an article published in The Australian on 13 April 2010 cited opinion from a “senior official” within Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency that Hazaras are being persecuted both in Pakistan and in Afghanistan. The article reports:
    The Rudd government’s claim that Afghanistan’s Hazara population is no longer at risk has been rejected in Pakistan.

    Pakistani immigration and human rights officials say Hazaras faced life-threatening persecution on both sides of the border.
    A senior official with the human trafficking arm of the Federal Investigation Agency said yesterday Hazaras were regularly targeted in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, where most of its 500,000 Afghan Hazara refugees were based.

    Immigration Minister Chris Evans said last Friday “the Taliban’s fall, durable security in parts of the country, and constitutional and legal reform to protect minorities’ rights have improved the circumstances of Afghanistan’s minorities, including Afghan Hazaras”.
    But asked if the security situation fhttp://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/cth/RRTA/2010/328.html

    The US Department of State’s report on human rights practices in Afghanistan for 2009 notes, at Section 2(c):

    Social discrimination against Shia Hazaras continued along class, race, and religious lines. Ethnic Hazaras reported occasionally being asked to pay additional bribes at border crossings where Pashtuns were allowed to pass freely.6

    Section 6 of the report states that Hazaras face economic oppression:
    Ethnic minorities continued to face oppression, including economic oppression. Dasht-i Barchi, one of Kabul’s poorest neighbourhoods, was home to a large Hazara population. Average earnings per day were 13 Afghanis (25 cents) per person, although the minimum wage was 63 Afghanis ($1.25) per day; average household size was nine to 10 persons. In Dasht-i Barchi, 60 percent of all families rented their homes and were therefore subject to landlord exploitation; 50 percent of families’ income went to cover rent, and families moved frequently.6

    More recently, an article published in The Australian on 13 April 2010 cited opinion from a “senior official” within Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency that Hazaras are being persecuted both in Pakistan and in Afghanistan. The article reports:
    The Rudd government’s claim that Afghanistan’s Hazara population is no longer at risk has been rejected in Pakistan.
    or Hazaras in Afghanistan had improved sufficiently for them to return, the FIA official replied: “No, there’s no basis for saying this.”
    “Right now they’re being persecuted on both sides of the border. In Quetta (the capital of Balochistan), eight to 10 Hazaras are being murdered every week. If that’s happening just in Quetta, magnify this problem all the way to central Afghanistan.
    UNHCR Pakistan spokesman Killian Kleinschmidt said he had discussed the persecution of Hazaras in Balochistan with an Australian delegation, ahead of the government announcing the six month suspension on Friday.
    Laurent Saillard, the Kabul-based director for the Agency Co-ordinating Body for Afghan Relief, said while conditions had improved for Hazaras under the Karzai regime, there was no basis for suspending the visas.11

    In respect of the applicant’s claims that the authorities in Afghanistan cannot protect him because the authorities are often the cause of the problem because most of the Government officials are not Hazara, in view of the estimates that Hazaras constitute approximately 10 percent of the population and have not historically not been associated with central government, it is likely that most government officials are not Hazara. The previously mentioned report by DFAT on the situation of the Hazara minority in Afghanistan noted conversations with Hazara rights advocates who had observed that “Hazaras were denied employment opportunities in government agencies through administrative barriers such as requiring a record of past Government experience (which was impossible considering historical circumstances) or needing to be fluent in Pashto”.23 The DFAT report’s concluding comment, however, observed that:
    While unofficial discrimination still persists, there is no doubt that Hazaras are today very active in Afghan civil society, [and] are well represented in government institutions… They have been described, using an Iraq analogy, as the “Kurds of Afghanistan” in that they are making the most of the new dispensation but with a view to past grim history, remain anxious about the future.23

    The US Department of State’s most recent report on human rights practices in Afghanistan observes, at Section 2d, that “human rights problems persisted” in the police force and that:

    The formal justice system was relatively strong in the urban centers, where the central government was strongest, and weaker in the rural areas, where approximately 72 percent of the population lives. Nationwide, fully functioning courts, police forces, and prisons were rare.6

    Against this background of the limited resources available for offering protection, the following observations regarding the endemic nature of official corruption were made at Section 4 of the report:

    The law provides for criminal penalties for official corruption; however, the government did not always implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.
    Corruption was endemic throughout society… Prisoners and local NGOs reported that corruption was widespread across the justice system, particularly in relation to the prosecution of criminal cases and “buying” release from prison. Provincial police benefited financially from corruption at police checkpoints and from the narcotics industry.6

    At section 6 of the report, it was noted that:

    Claims of social discrimination against Hazaras and other Shias continued.
    .. Soldiers also reportedly discriminated along ethnic lines when harassing drivers at checkpoints.
    … Discrimination continued in some areas, in the form of extortion of money through illegal taxation, forced recruitment and forced labor, physical abuse, and detention.6

  2. Jeremy Williams

    yeah its a funny thing, by rudd continuing to move to the right I’m not sure it has helped him politically anyway. Is the red neck vote that he’s chasing going to come back to labour just because he’s promising to be as racist as the coalition? I don’t think so.
    I think rudd would have endeared more respect from both sides if he had of stuck to his principles on this and the ets.

  3. Ian

    I probably should read this article. However if you believe calling the Prime Minister of this country a cockroach is going to help Sri Lankans gain empathy and help from the Australian public;.. you just blew it…. big time.

    Myself, and I suspect many, many others just turned on our deaf ears.

  4. shepherdmarilyn

    Yeah Ian, we know that many are also cockroaches hiding in the dark and pretending the world doesn’t exist, but that doesn’t make it acceptable.

  5. Ian

    shepherdmarilyn;
    Over time I have noted many of your posts. In general
    you lambaste and insult any person or organisation who questions, quite honestly, the bonafides and means of transport of some asylum seekers. In the main part, Andrew Bolt, Ackerman et al excepted of course, these are quite reasonable questions…. deserving of answers.
    By insulting the Prime Minister of the nation, and,by default, the Australian people. Do you honestly believe you are helping the cause of those you so dearly wish to help?
    Or;
    Are you doing it to appease your own ego? It has been said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Are your intentions honourable Marilyn?

  6. shepherdmarilyn

    Here is the thing Ian, “Everyone has the right to seek asylum from persecution in other countries’.

    The rest is hogwash. How people travel, who they pay for transport – all irrelevant.

    Always has been and after all these years it is time people got that simple point.

  7. Liz45

    Well said Jake and Shepherdmarilyn!

    @IAN-What part of the UN Declaration of Human rights, or the Declaration on the Rights of the Child, plus the Migration Act, plus other aspects of International Law or Australia’s commitment( boasts ad nauseum I might add) to the dignity and rights of others blah blah. Why do successive govts just keep uttering bloody lies on less than 4% of the total number, who seek asylum in this country. As others have pointed out here and on many other occasions, why do successive govts and the media remain silent about the 96% who seek asylum but who’ve travelled here by plane?

    What part of the opposition and media attention is not racist? Those who come by plane usually are white and speak english -surely this could not be the only reason that they are not locked up; in fact, as they’re on the mainland when they submit their application, they’re eligible to use every legal avenue available to me, a person who was born here? Tell me what part of justice do we uphold, knowing that such discrimination is condoned by govts and the media?

    IAN – Just because you can’t understand, that people like SHEPHERDMARILYN(and myself for that matter) have an inate sense of justice and decency doesn’t entitle you to question her genuineness? I take it that the only things you speak out about are aspects of your life that influence your rights or standard of living.

    The UN Declaration clearly states, as ShepherdMarilyn pointed out, that people have the right to seek asylum, and they should not be treated by their mode of travel. Go and look for it! Stop abusing people either because of your racist prejudices or political agenda. This issue is one of human rights and should be treated as such!

    As to your “deaf ears”? Don’t insult my intelligence. Your ears were closed a bloody long time ago – don’t hang your hat on one comment on this site – it’s offensive! Racists are despicable regardless of where they are or what topic they choose to spew forth their irrational and destructive lies re the safety of vulnerable people! One can only hope……………………
    I understand her frustration, as I too just feel like screaming, when govts, the media and people like yourself know bloody well what the law is, or if you don’t, you should educate yourself, but continue to keep on spruiking lying bullshit on a regular basis. What part of seek the truth don’t you understand? Your ignorance is no longer an excuse. The information is available to those who aren’t too racist or bombastic to find it!

  8. Ian

    LIZ45 and Shepherdmarilyn; What part of PEOPLE SMUGGLERS dont you understand?

  9. Liz45

    IAN – What part of the relevant acts and International Law don’t you understand? During ww2 people bravely hid Jews and others and moved them to safety. The Resistance were involved in what these days would be considered as “terrorist acts” or actions of “insurgents” – those involved in these brave actions during ww2 were in many cases, at least acknowledged?

    If it is not illegal to seek asylum in any country on the planet(or at least those countries, like Australia who’ve made a commitment to the Declaration on Human Rights and the Declaration on the Rights of the Child, plus International Laws that relate to traumatized and tortured people) – this country has never disagreed with Article 14 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights? If this is so, then those who bring them here(or anywhere else for that matter) should be classified as heroes not criminals!

    Less than 4% of asylum seekers arrive by boat – the rest come by plane. Why hasn’t QANTAS been charged with ‘people smuggling’ crimes? Or Virgin or whoever? If Australia gives a dot about the plight of terrorised people, how about we stop killing their family members; stop allowing chn to be locked up and tortured(Iraq and probably Afghanistan too) and cease selling arms and other assistance to Sri Lanka or Papua New Guinea or ?????

    Over 92% of chn from Iran and 98% of chn from Iraq have been found to be ‘genuine asylum seekers’ and in need of our protection – it stands to reason, that their parents are too! Read ‘As a Last Resort’? Go and look for speeches and statements made by Julian Burnside QC, who, PRIOR to taking up the cause of those on the Tampa thought the law pertaining to asylum seekers was OK too! He’s been speaking out about the legal rights of asylum seekers since he availed himself of the Law/s and is more than happy to say he was wrong! The overwhelming number of people who arrive by boat are usually found to be ‘genuine’ in need of our protection. Those who come by PLANE are usually WHITE(UK or US) and speak ENGLISH as their first language. They are entitled to explore every legal avenue as they arrive on Australian soil – they are usually not locked up while their application/s are processed – couldn’t be a case of racism could it? No, surely not!

    SHEPHERDMARILYN – has lots of information that relates to asylum seekers and their LEGAL rights!
    In the meantime, you may like to access this site – ‘Asylum seekers, the facts in figures’ on Crikey!

  10. Ian

    Liz45;
    What I am saying is quite simple. So i will endeavour to explain it to you and Marilyn in the most simplistic of terms…eg..those you may or, perhaps, not understand.

    The United Nations can enact whatever laws,protocols, International treatises’ that they like. They will never be worth the paper that they are written on. Because if they were;

    Palestine would be a free and independent country, as would Tibet.
    Zimbabwe would still be the food bowl of Africa.
    Need I go on?

    I come from the era of English migration{ 10 pound poms), Yugoslav, Italian, Greek immigration. I even went to school with Latvian kids. I lived the Vietnam war era and saw the the boats arriving.

    Where are all these people now?

    Their children are living and working next to my children and yours. I don’t see any reason why the children of the current asylum seekers will be any different.

    I question three things:

    1.
    Is it acceptable to engage criminals to circumvent the laws of a sovereign nation?
    2.
    Why Australia? Is India, South Africa, both democratic nations, not closer to their homelands?
    3.
    Do you really believe that by calling the Prime Minister of the country a cockroach you have advanced your argument one iota?

    IMO, both of you are dillentantes and should leave reasoned debate to those who have a capacity to open their minds.

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