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Fortress Australia , For Some

By Ghali Hassan

07 August, 2013

“We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.” - John Howard, Former Prime Minister of Australia .

Despite the rhetoric of “fair go” for everyone, Australia 's approach to immigration is biased in favour of people from certain racial and ethnic groups. This approach also applies to vulnerable refugees who risk their lives to come to Australia .

After toppling Julia Gillard as prime minister of Australia in a re-run (in reverse) bloodless coup, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd – an extreme right-wing politician – has moved swiftly to raise his popularity among the Australian voters by scapegoating a small minority of genuine refugees for political advantages. Refugees arriving in Australia by boat are portrayed as “economic refugees” trying “to gain economic advantages” in Australia and will be sent to concentration camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea (PNG).

Both major parties, Labor and Liberal, have made xenophobia and political extremism their main platforms in the campaign for the upcoming federal election, and there is no limit to the fascist cruelty that either Labor or Liberal are prepared to inflict on refugees. Each Party is going all-out to outdo the other by brutalising refugees. The so-called “stop-the-boats” policy – a relic of the bigoted John Howard – is back as the election's main platform plank for both parties. Kevin Rudd and his dog-whistling ignorant Foreign Minister (Bob Carr) have corrupted the governments of Nauru and PNG to agree to process and settle refugees in their countries. In addition, Rudd wants to change the 1951 UN Refugee Convention to suit the “White Australia” ideology, despite the small number of refugees reaching Australia by boats. It gets worse. The Liberal gang led by the religio-fundamentalist Tony Abbott revealed that (if elected), they will use the Australian army in Australia 's on-going war on refugees. A three-star commander will lead “Operation Sovereign Borders” to defend Australia .

The primary aim of both parties is to scare refugees. The plan is anti-PNG, because it depicts PNG deterrence in a negative way. As Rudd warned refugees: “ Don't get on the next boat - you won't be settled in Australia . You will be sent to [ ghastly ] Nauru or Papua New Guinea for reprocessing and resettlement.” In truth, the Australian ruling class and mainstream media consider PNG, in particular, to be a “primitive” and “uncivilised” nation, good only for exploitation of natural resources. PNG of course, has one of the most brutal paramilitary police force in the world, responsible for murders, rapes and many other human rights abuses. It is lavishly funded by Australian taxpayers to secure the refugees concentration camp on Manus Island .

Kevin Rudd's diabolic plan is inhumane, racist and in breach of the UNHCR's Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees . Indeed, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has strongly criticised the plan as “inadequate and provid[ing] no security protection to refugees”. Rudd's plan stipulates that refugees who arrive in Australia by boat would be processed and settled in PNG, no matter what the people in PNG think.

The policy of sending refugees, including women and unaccompanied children, to concentration camps in PNG and Nauru is outrageous and racist and should be condemned by civilised nations. Former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser rightly described PNG's Manus Island and Nauru camps as Australian gulags. “I actually liken it [the situation in Nauru ] to a concentration camp, but the Australians don't have the guts to kill these people and put them out of their misery”, said Marianne Evers, an Australian nurse and a counsellor with more than 40 years experience.

The conditions of these camps are “a huge generator of mental illness”. According to Mr Rod St George, a former Head of Occupational Health and Safety with the security firm G4S who worked at the Manus Island concentration camp in PNG, the camp is not even fit to “serve as a dog kennel in Australia . Its owners would be jailed.” He added: “ I have never seen human beings so destitute, so helpless and so hopeless”. Mr St George confirmed that refugees have been abused, sexually assaulted and raped with the full knowledge of the camp staff (according to SBS's Dateline program ). Both, Nauru and PNG are underdeveloped, poor countries and are unable to look after their own citizens. They do not have the capacity, including hospitals, to look after refugees.

Furthermore, the human rights situation in PNG is appalling and many Papua New Guineans are fleeing PNG to take refuge in Australia . The Australian Foreign Affairs Department considers PNG a safety risk and has issued travel warnings about ethnic disputes and a lawlessness that is so bad they advise Australians to travel in convoys after dark with car windows up and doors locked. In PNG, deadly diseases like malaria and cholera are endemic, the murder rate is 14 times higher than in Australia , and sexual violence and rapes targeting foreign women are skyrocketing.

According to the former leader of the Australian Green Party, Bob Brown, Australia is a fortress. “If you're poor and you don't come from an English-speaking background or a European background, you have much more difficulty getting to the country.” In contrast, it is very easy for people (whites in particular) from certain countries to settle in Australia . All one needs is a passport and a visa (no matter how authentic) to enter Australia . Once inside, it is easy to manipulate the system and stay. Indian nationals are a case in point. According to the ABC, thousands of Indian (bogus) students, workers and 457 visa holders have been admitted to Australia on fraudulent passports and work documents. The fraud rates are approaching 50 per cent. It is not a coincidence that Australian big cities are swamped by economic migrants, such as Indians, Chinese, white South Africans, European, including poor Brits and Irish.

It is impossible for dark-skinned (mostly Muslim) refugees from Afghanistan , Iran , Iraq , Palestine and now Syria to obtain an Australian visa, let alone a passport, to travel to Australia . Hence, refugees have to risk their lives to come to Australia by boat. In addition, many refugees are unaware of their rights and are at the mercy of people smugglers. Hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of refugees are stranded in appalling refugee camps in Asia , the Middle East , and Africa and unable to move freely. They are fleeing Western aggression and persecution in their homelands.

However, the percentage of refugees arriving in Australia by boat is between 2 to 4 per cent of all “unauthorised” (without Australian visa) arrivals. More than 90 per cent of these are found to be genuine refugees. The majority of refugee applicants (“authorised” arrivals) arrive by plane, at airports. Even though only a small minority of them (20 per cent) are found to be genuine refugees, they are allowed to enter and live freely in Australia . Those who failed in their applications to gain refugee status remain in the country illegally.

There are more than 60,000 illegal immigrants in Australia . The majority of them are bogus “professionals”, tourists, failed refugee applicants and international bogus students. They are living freely in Australia , taking jobs, housing, using public services and paying no tax. They are not incarcerated like poor dark-skinned refugees behind razor wire in isolated detention camps in remote Australia .

The case of international students in Australia is interesting. In Australia , international students have an ‘automatic' right to apply for permanent residency (PR) and continue to live in Australia after they have paid for their admission to study and enter Australia . “Take that lure away and the main reason why tens of thousands of [international] students are prepared to outlay up to AUD$20,000 (US$16,000) every year disappears”, writes Geoff Maslen, a reporter on education for University World News . The so-called “education industry” – promoted by the Anglo-Saxon elites and politicians – provides no benefit to ordinary Australians. In fact, it has destroyed the education system and is in the process of destroying the Australian labour market. The number of international bogus students who remain in the country illegally exceeds that of refugees arriving by boat in Australia . However, they are left alone by politicians and the media.

The demonising and scapegoating of vulnerable refugees has become the politic of the major parties of Labor and Liberal in Australia . As a result, Australia continues to move to the extreme right and the Australian society remains very backward in its own way. Most Australians – with rare exceptions – treat dark-skinned people (refugees or not) as second-class citizens. New migrants (mostly economic migrants) from Europe , India , South Africa and China have joined the racist and hysterical bigots, particularly towards Aboriginal and Muslim Australians.

Kevin Rudd's extremism seems to be reaping dividends in the polls. However, no matter who wins the upcoming federal elections, a government that wins by scapegoating vulnerable refugees is absolutely devoid of moral authority to govern. The belief in a “fair go" value should also apply to refugees seeking “safety” in Australia . Australia has an obligation to give every refugee the right to have his or her claim independently processed in Australia .

Ghali Hassan is an independent researcher and writer living in Australia .








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