Australia Supports Torture of the Innocent Few

by Callum B. Downes

a37f78b1-8567-41f0-ae00-56b80e89a16d-460x276 “Manus Island: One dead, 77 injured at Australian asylum centre”. The damning headline that had people everywhere choking on their morning coffee, as the shocking facts regarding the appalling conditions of Australia’s offshore detention camps were, once again, laid bare, for what seemed like the hundredth time that month.

Once again, the government’s stance on immigration was scrutinised. Once again, the controversy of “boat people” stirred heated arguments throughout workplaces. Once again, Australians were divided.

However, the question remains. Do us Aussies really choke on our coffees over such news? Do we really question the decisions of our government? Or do most of us just turn a blind eye?

In a well off country, built upon a rich history of immigration, where the notion of everybody having a fair go is idealistically celebrated, surely we care. Surely, most of us shudder at the thought of men, women and children, after fleeing war and poverty, being held prisoner behind barbed wire in cramped prison cells. When Manus Island police and locals, armed with machetes, break into these detention centres and slice the necks of innocent asylum seekers. As we are bombarded with horrific stories, detailing the violent riots and suicides, committed by those who have lost all hope of reaching the “promised land”, choosing death over the inhumane living conditions they find themselves in. Surely then we care.

Unfortunately, it seems we don’t.

Made evident by the asylum seeker policies of both the major political parties and the lack of resistance these policies received from the public. Contrary to calls from human rights organisation, Amnesty International, offshore detention and processing still exists and has in fact risen for the past 4 years due to a sharp increase in those seeking asylum. The rate of approved applicants, however, has fallen by more than 10% since 2012. Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 11.03.45 am How can these crimes against basic human rights occur, when just across the ditch, lies Australia, a land more than capable of providing the basic needs of these desperate people and offering them the chance to rebuild their shattered lives. Shamefully, according to the UN high commission for refugees, Australia houses a mere 30 083 refuges, which is just 3% of the world’s refugees. Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 11.01.41 am To help you understand the injustice of these statistics, let’s compare them to Lebanon’s current refugee figures. Amazingly, of the 2 317 907 refugees fleeing from war torn Syria, 842 482 are housed in Lebanon, a 3rd world country, whose residents have suffered the atrocities of war first hand. Even more astounding, is the fact that the Lebanese government hasn’t set up any official refugee camps, forcing the locals to open up their homes and garages to accommodate the desperate Syrians. “There are thousands of examples of generosity shown by the Lebanese people to Syrian refugees of a kind I’ve never before witnessed”, says Nanette Kelley, a UN representative, based in Lebanon.

Australia is one of the wealthiest countries in the world and many of us are blessed materially beyond belief. We have the resources to take in a much higher percentage of the world’s refugees and even provide them with the means to flourish in our society. Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 11.04.30 am So this is the challenge.

As Australians we must now acknowledge the elephant in the room and raise the uncomfortable question. Why can the people of a war torn country such as Lebanon provide the compassionate generosity of opening their homes to refugees, when Australians can’t even let them into our detention centres?

Is it because we are racist? Ask any of the foreign taxi drivers who have suffered physical and verbal harassment whilst scooting around one of Australia’s proud cities, and they’ll give you a pretty convincing answer.

Is it because we are fearful? With international terrorism, including attacks close to home in Bali, being so comprehensively reported by the media, many Australians fear Islamic influence in today’s society.

Is it because we are selfish? Allowing more refugees into our country means there’s more hungry mouths to feed, placing unwanted pressure on our “already fragile” economy. An increasing number of Australians see using their hard earned incomes to provide welfare services for those in need as “unfair”. Since when did our society lose its sense of charity?

With all this in mind, ask yourself this. Would you be willing to let a complete stranger from a foreign land into your home in order to help rebuild the life that was stripped from them? Or would you be willing to pay higher taxes, or see funding cuts, to allow more refugees into Australia and abolish offshore detention?

Food for thought…