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Australia: Asylum Seekers Inflame Detention Debate

This post is part of our special coverage on Refugees.

Debate about asylum seekers policies in Australia was ignited yet again by recent events in detention centres:

A rooftop protest at the Villawood detention centre in Sydney's west has ended after lasting for 11 days.

…The protest started when 100 detainees set fire to furniture and confronted guards.

Nine buildings destroyed by fire, with 22 people now in Silverwater jail awaiting questioning over their part in the disturbance.
Villawood rooftop protest ends after 11 days (ABC Online 30 April 2011)

The Refugee Action Collective organise a march and protest on Saturday 2 April, 2011, against children in immigration detention outside the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation at Camp Road, Broadmeadows. Image by Flickr user Takver (CC BY-SA 2.0).

The Refugee Action Collective organise a march and protest on Saturday 2 April, 2011, against children in immigration detention outside the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation at Camp Road, Broadmeadows. Image by Flickr user Takver (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Jack the Insider who blogs for The Australian daily newspaper sees the Gillard Labor government caught between those who want to see a get tough policy on so-called ‘boat people’ refugees and those who would like to see a more compassionate approach. The Liberal National Party opposition coalition wants a return to the Howard government’s Pacific solution on Nauru. Labor is sticking to mandatory detention while it clings to its fading idea of a regional processing centre in East Timor:

What we’re left with is a form of political stasis, a debate that cannot move on; mired as it is in some of the uglier elements of the Australian character. But it’s the government who has it all to lose.
Government fights for a no-win on asylum-seekers

One Nation Riverina is a regional blog ‘of Australia's only true nationalist political party’. Craig Hesketh puts the minority party’s view, which has often been attacked as part of the ‘uglier’ side:

The Australian people have had enough. We need strong government not gross political correctness and weak kneed policy aimed to appease imported terrorists and delusional refugee advocates.
Villawood Riots

Dave Bath at Balneus appeals to rationality, a quality often in short supply with regard to immigration issues:

Checking out the latest UNHCR statistics on applications for asylum, I’m having a problem understanding hairy-chested pronouncements from Canberra, the failure of the mainstream media to inform the public, and the majority opinion.

The problem with asylum seekers

At group blog Larvatus Prodeo, Kim bemoans the get-tough, knee-jerk reaction of the government:

‘Doing something’ is supposed to break the cycle of what is thought to be negative publicity for the government. Yet every time they ‘do something’, all they do is reinforce the framing of the story, and set the scene for escalating demands for further policy shifts on the run. The end point is Howard era policy, but even then, that would be unlikely to satisfy the hungry wolves.

So, we have something that is wrong, politically futile, and bad policy.
The endless cycle of asylum seeker politics

The 120+ comments on this post indicate the depth of feeling surrounding the asylum seeker controversy. These comments capture some of this:

Greg Clancy, at the Australian Conservative, has his own solution that he believes targets the real culprits – people smugglers:

…any unauthorised boat arrival …will be treated precisely as others have in the past – with two exceptions. Should passengers claim refugee status, this process will be undertaken, not by Australian immigration officials, but by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In the event of a successful claim, the country of destination for that refugee will be determined by consultation between Australian and UNHCR officials – but it will not be Australia. The cost of removing both successful and unsuccessful refugee claimants will be supported by the Australian government.
How to stop the boats

Clancy and the Green Left Weekly’s Jay Fletcher are poles apart:

It’s not a crime to resist injustice — the refugees who have taken it on themselves to revolt inside Australia’s mandatory detention system must be defended and supported for their stand.

It’s not a crime to seek asylum. Every single person with a well-founded fear for their safety that comes to Australia and requests asylum, even if they have the wrong identity papers or no papers at all, has a legal right to do so.

On the other hand, detaining people without charge, trial or sentence is criminal.

It is an outrageous crime to carry out large-scale state violence against people who, under international law, are entitled to government protection.
Mandatory detention is the real crime

It is a very messy and complex issue. Mandatory detention, offshore processing, temporary protection visas, and character tests are just some of the contentious aspects.

The government seem to be caught in the middle – a very uncomfortable position that their supporters would like them to vacate.

This post is part of our special coverage on Refugees.

Thumbnail used is from the Flickr page of Takver used under CC License Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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