Compassion for people seeking asylum – not cruelty

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By Steph Hodgins-May, Federal Greens candidate for Melbourne Ports

Since the Fraser government launched Australia’s first formal refugee policy, we have seen a dramatic shift in the way our governments treat people seeking protection.

The Labor and Liberal party continue to compete over who can enact a more degrading and inhumane barrier to people fleeing war and persecution, and Australia’s two offshore detention centres – in remote Nauru and the Papua New Guinean island of Manus –  are the site of consistent reports of violence against asylum seekers, including the sexual assault of children, and the rape of men and women in detention.

The most recent tragic chapter is the fate of the thirty-seven babies born in Australia to asylum-seeker parents who, at the time of writing, are destined to be sent with their families to Nauru as “illegal maritime arrivals”.

The Australian Greens reject the policies of the current and previous federal governments and believe that they have sent people seeking asylum into hardship instead of safety. The boats haven’t stopped – the Australian Government has just shifted the ‘problem’ elsewhere, to Greece, Italy, Germany and Turkey where the thousands arrive by the day.

Melbourne Ports has a proud history of multiculturalism, with around 33% of residents being born overseas. The Greens do not support the policies that have been pursued by the Liberal Government and the Labor party which go against this proud history and treat people like criminals, not vulnerable people escaping hardships and horrors few of us can begin to imagine.

The Greens will continue to call for policy based on compassion because we believe that most of us strive to treat others the way we’d want to be treated. If we feared for our life or for our family we’d like to know that others would help us to safety. We believe that we must end the cruel practice of offshore detention and ensure people’s basic right to live in peace and free from danger. By creating a fair and efficient asylum process we can show that, when people are in harm’s way, we’ll do the right thing. When we treat people seeking asylum with compassion and dignity, they can get on with rebuilding their lives.

The only way to make sure refugees don’t take a perilous boat journey is by establishing safe and official ways to seek asylum in Australia. The UNHCR and other groups who have been working with refugees have been calling for this for years, and the increasing overcrowding and deplorable conditions in camps, not to mention the heightening of the war in Syria, has meant more and more people have taken that journey by sea.

Putting people, including children, in camps on Manus or Christmas Island is not a solution. Putting aside the extreme cruelty of this, the economic costs for doing this could be spent on actually helping people. In recent years, Australia has been detaining asylum seekers for longer and longer periods at a cost to the taxpayer of up to $400,000 per person each year, according to the National Commission of Audit. It found that the cost of detention and processing has increased from $118 million a year in 2009-10 to $3.3 billion in 2013-14.

The Greens know there is another way. We have a proud history of this in Australia with building regional solutions such as Malcolm Fraser did with refugees escaping the war and hardship in Vietnam. We want to fund safe UN assessment centres to quickly process claims and to urgently resettle more refugees once claims are approved.

Melbourne Ports shows immigration and people escaping hardship bring a richness, vitality and ethic of wanting to prosper in our community.

The Greens’ approach to people seeking asylum will save lives by offering a safe, legal and humane alternative to dangerous boats – instead of just more cruelty.

 

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