Are Australia’s border protection policies, such as mandatory detention, breaking asylum seekers into the very people the system is meant to protect Australian communities from?
Even before the recent humanitarian crisis in Europe, stemming from numerous conflicts bordering the region, asylum seekers were becoming a heated topic here in Australia. Muddied by politics this issue has been festering for years and often circulates around questions concerning what the impact will be on communities or who will we let into our neighbourhoods?
Many of these fears appear to stem from a global awareness of terrorism, outrage at the idea of “financial” refugees and social integration.
The Refugee Council of Australia’s report
In an inaugural state of the nation report released by Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) we can see a bleak picture of our handling of refugees (www.refugeecouncil.org.au/publications/reports/state-nation-2017/). In a press release RCOA summarises their findings as:
“Australia can settle more refugees, though its punitive asylum approach is harming thousands of people, damaging Australia’s international reputation and wasting billions that could be better spent looking after refugees when they flee.” ()
The report makes for a rather confronting read, highlighting numerous issues such as the funding cuts in October last year to legal assistance for refugees applying for protection visas.
Findings on the impact on refugees
On the topic of the practice of detentions impact on refugees the report includes this chilling quote from an asylum seeker,
“ … they call us illegal immigrants and what they are teaching me now which is really bad thing to have in your society is someone think like this, at the moment the mindset I have is if you are not a wolf you have to be eaten by wolves and I learnt it from your government because the wolves have eaten me. The … wolves have eaten me in detention in Australia. So I learnt that if I am not a wolf I will be eaten by wolves so that’s the impact and that’s really bad.” (www.refugeecouncil.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/State_Nation_2017_FINAL.pdf, pg. 7)
Should it be surprising to us that keeping people waiting on bureaucracy, in a state of limbo, who have already fled their homes, leaving behind loved ones, should develop a distrust of the Australian government? This is not to mention the lasting trauma our current system has been causing asylum seekers.
Product of our fear
From the RCOA report we are presented with a situation where the systems put in place to assess the validity of a refugee's claim of asylum is transforming their applicants into the very personalities portrayed to be bad for our societies.
The scars we are leaving are fostering animosity against our government in those granted asylum and the psychological harm then places a greater strain on our public health resources. Thus fulfilling our fears.
The very outcome mandatory detention was sold to protect against is instead created by the very same mechanisation.
Cost of our fear
The situation is taken from frustrating to enraging as we all, I hope, understand that detention is directly impacting already vulnerable people. Consider:
“We don’t feel safe because we don’t know anything about the future. They are playing with your mind, with your life, with your everything. And after I left everything, my life, my country, everything… now I’m thinking all my life depends on one paper. So where is the humanity? We can see they don’t care. And after that people think about suicide.” (www.refugeecouncil.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/State_Nation_2017_FINAL.pdf, pg. 10)
This situation is disgraceful and demands action. RCOA does host a collection of resources and given funding cuts there is a greater need than ever for volunteers, writing to your federal representatives is always important. If we are going to make a change we all need to become involved to bring about a change for the better.
Sam Gillespie is a composer, programmer and PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales.Sam Gillespie's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/sam-gillespie.html