Letters to Eureka Street

A refugee problem

Two years ago I attended a forum with Peter Mares (journalist) and Jeremy Moore (activist lawyer) as keynote speakers and bought Peter’s book Borderline.  I sat and read that book twice through and have read it a dozen times since.

Throughout the past two years I have come to work with some of the most decent people in this country as they have worked pro bono to release those incarcerated in places like Woomera.

I have read and written millions of words about refugees, asylum seekers, SIEV X, the children overboard affair, Woomera and children in detention and I have a refugee problem.

My first family members came on boats in the 1850s as refugees from the Prussian army, the next wave came in the 1890s as migrants from poverty in England, Wales and Cornwall with the last arriving on a boat from England in 1920. Given that all but the Indigenous owners of this land have similar tales, this is my problem.

What gives us the right to write laws  which make it impossible for people with real problems to reach our shores and claim asylum?

There is a reluctance on the part of the nations who wrote the refugee convention to live up to their obligations.

I don’t have a problem with anyone but fellow Australians who use refugees for political gain; who imprison innocents and call it border protection; with those who fail to understand that in the absence of travel documents refugees must have ‘illegal’ transport; and the stupidity of criminalising asylum.

Peter Mares says in Borderline that ‘the more we seek to deter asylum seekers and refugees through harsh treatment, the more Australia comes to resemble the repressive nations from which they flee.’

Marilyn Shepherd
Kensington, SA

Misguided intelligence

Important findings of the parliamentary inquiry into intelligence on Iraq include the following:
Mr Howard cited UK and US documents from which ‘the uncertainties had been removed’ and which relied heavily on ‘new and largely untested intelligence’.

‘Government presentations were in some areas incomplete’, notably in relation to some significant UN information. Not mentioned were judgements that Iraq ‘was only likely to use its WMD if the regime’s survival was at stake’ and that ‘war would increase the risk of terrorism.’

The government argued, ‘Iraq possessed WMD in large quantities and posed a grave and unacceptable threat.’ Yet this is ‘not the picture that emerges from an examination of all the [intelligence] assessments provided to the Committee’.

‘Assessments by Australian agencies about possible degradation of agents and restricted delivery capability cast doubt on the [government’s] suggestion that the Iraqi “arsenal” represented a “grave and immediate” and a “real and unacceptable, threat”.

The inquiry’s report reinforces early criticisms of the government. It exposes the selective use (and hence misuse) of intelligence and information, and the portrayal of Iraq as a greater and more immediate threat than logic and the balance of intelligence and information justified.

Brent Howard
Rydalmere, NSW

Post script

As Eureka Street goes to press, the people of Madrid are marching in protest at the recent terrorist actions and families gather to bury their dead.

The import of the event was brought home to us at Eureka Street as our much loved roving correspondent Anthony Ham and his wife Marina live and work in Madrid. We spent a nervous 24 hours waiting to hear news.

‘Es una barbaridad ... We’re all fine. It was something of a frantic morning, as we couldn’t get through to my wife’s family as the mobile system was overloaded. Marina’s dad had just passed through Atocha not long before [the explosions] and her sister lives 100m from one of the other stations affected. A couple of anxious hours later, we’d finally tracked down all family and friends, all of whom are fine. As one of them said, there’s a ‘special silence’ right now in Madrid.

‘Needless to say, we’re all devastated and plan on joining millions on the streets of Madrid tonight. It’s a very special place for me, as are its people, so I confess to feeling a bit lost today. As I send this email, all work and everything is stopping around Spain for 15 minutes. And every one of us has an uncontrollable desire to weep.’

Anthony Ham
Madrid, Spain



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