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We are links in the chain of asylum seeker cruelty

  • 18 November 2016


Many Australians are dismayed with our acceptance of the national treatment of people seeking asylum, in a chain which is designed to be endless and painful and cruel, and succeeds amply. To what extent are we complicit?

My perspective comes from sustained contact throughout life with many links in the chain, having worked for over 40 years in a range of levels, roles and agencies with refugees, migrants and people seeking asylum.

Having a sense of something as right or wrong, good or bad, is the essence of humanity. We get it from home, from education, religion, friends, the media.

It's the sniff test or the pub test or the gut feeling or the Bible or Quran or Torah. It might arise slowly, that itching nagging feeling that something is not quite right. Or it might come suddenly as a revelation, a flash of troubled insight. We all have it.

Just as people have a sense of right and wrong, we also have a very good humbug detector, and it's clanging loudly when politicians unctuously claim all their 'stop the boats' strategies are driven by desire to prevent drownings at sea.

The chain of complicity starts at our sea border. A boat enters Australian waters, carrying people seeking asylum — men, women and children. Perhaps it makes it to a remote Australian island or the mainland, which now happens rarely.

In the past, naval vessels may have intercepted it, rescued the people, taken them ashore. It was naval officers who tried hard but unsuccessfully at the time of the Tampa to present the truth about children overboard — that it just didn't happen. Some of them doubted the ethics of what they were being commanded to do or to keep silent about it.

These days, since the election-driven distortions of Howard and Beazley on the Tampa, and all subsequent governments, we see Border Force boats with their sullen determination of turnbacks, or detention on a naval boat at sea.


"If the price of preserving business is silence or acquiescence, or active perpetuation of a system that is at odds with personal and organisational values, the compelling issue is why they should be involved at all. "


If a boat isn't sent back, what next? Border Force may put them on planes to Nauru or Manus, where contractors such as Ferrovial (Broadspectrum) and IHMS employ many subcontractors and staff — case workers, catering, security, recreation, interpreters, doctors, nurses. Most are positively