The AJDS recently distributed the following letter widely. Among our recipients were Malcolm Turnbull, Josh Frydenberg, Michael Danby, Mark Dreyfus, Mike Freelander, Stirling Griff, Peter Dutton and Shayne Neumann. We implore these parliamentarians to vote against proposed legislation that will make Australia’s asylum seeker policy even more cruel than it already is. We’ll keep you posted when and if we receive a reply:
To the honorary … MP,
Recently the Turnbull government announced its proposed legislation that will subject adult asylum seekers who have made their way by boat to Australian waters since July 19, 2013 to a lifetime ban from receiving any and all Australian visas. Prime Minister Turnbull has stated that these new measures follow on from bipartisan support for the policy of deterrence, further asserting that: “We have one of the most generous, humanitarian programs in the world. But the only reason we can do it, the only reason it has the public acceptance that it does, is because we are in command of our borders.”
But the contrary is true. Australia’s offshore processing policy has come under increasing local and international condemnation as constituting gross human rights violations, and faces considerable opposition from refugees, asylum seekers, Australian civil society and the general public.
The UN has condemned Australia’s refugee policies, and a recent report by Amnesty International asserted that the Australian Government has “designed a system of deliberate abuse.” The conditions wherein asylum seekers are placed in detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru are deplorable and amount to torture and abuse. These detention centres sit in contravention of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, to which Australia is a signatory, under which refugees should not be punished for their mode of arrival. The new proposed legislation, as well as current measures of deterrence such as indefinite detention and boat turnbacks enacted by the Australian government are in clear breach of this principle, as well as international legal prohibitions against the refoulement of asylum seekers. Despite rulings that the vast majority of asylum seekers in offshore detention are refugees, they all remain stuck in hopeless conditions within an abyss of effective government policy.
In April this year, the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea ruled that detaining people on Manus Island camp was illegal. Despite political rhetoric placing the blame for the treatment of asylum seekers on Nauru and PNG, the High Court of Australia has found that Australia is implicated in the treatment of refugees in offshore detention. This is an Australian policy, funded by Australian taxpayers.
Contrary to the Prime Minister’s claims of public acceptance, recent polling suggests otherwise. A poll by The Australia Institute in June 2016 found that 63% of respondents opposed the policy that refugees who arrive in Australia by boat should never be allowed to settle in the country, instead saying those found to have a valid claim for protection should be brought to Australia. Only 22% of respondents supported the position. Disapproval of Australia’s offshore detention centres is not only reflected in public polling, but by the numerous companies who are withdrawing from their involvement with these detention camps. Despite this, money spent on detention has amounted to $9.6 billion between 2013 and 2016, and in between $450,000 and $1 million per year for each detainee imprisoned on offshore detention. Australia is currently spending more money on detaining refugees and asylum seekers than the total UNHCR budget for South East Asia.
This amount of expenditure for a policy which abuses human rights, is in contravention of international law, and is unwanted by the Australian public is outrageous. This money could be better put to use providing safe passage for asylum seekers as a humane response to drownings at sea, and in establishing integral services to foster the multicultural and ethnically diverse country that politicians claim to pride themselves on. Extensive economic studies across the world have found that refugees are not a drain on local economies, but in fact contribute to the economy. There is simply no sound reason for the current detention regimes to continue, amidst the knowledge of the devastating impact it has already had on thousands of asylum seekers who are fleeing persecution.
No asylum seeker or refugee should be in detention, either offshore or onshore. Processing people’s refugee claims in the community, giving them the proper financial and community support they need, is more just, more humane and more economically sensible.
As a member of parliament/senator, we implore you to stand up for the rights of asylum seekers and refugees and bring them here, instead of escalating the racist and xenophobic rhetoric and practices underlying the inhumane policies of detention and deterrence. As numerous organisations in our civil society have made clear, there is currently a policy vacuum. We ask that you take this opportunity to be more open to new ideas, to listening to new approaches, to seeing refugees and asylum seekers who seek to come to Australia not as a problem to be solved, but as a group of people to live amongst.
We call on you to vote against this upcoming legislation, and to work with us and others to develop new, just, humane, and respectful policies towards asylum seekers and refugees who seek to come to Australia.
Executive of the Australian Jewish Democratic Society