By the Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project, www.BASP.org.au
There was almost a conspiracy of silence about refugees and asylum seekers during the election campaign—except for a few forays into the ‘control of our borders’ with both major parties assuring us that they would be the best at managing this. This can presumably be translated into ‘we will continue the harshest treatment we can’ towards anyone daring to seek protection in Australia.
Whoever forms Government, they will have to negotiate with some of the ‘others’ in the Parliament. We have the anomaly that these include the Greens (long term supporters of a more humane approach), some Independents who are also in favour of a compassionate and a changed deal for asylum seekers and the flip side of the coin including the vociferous Pauline Hansen and her One Nation party.
All those, we at BASP are trying to support in their quest for some security ask, ‘What does the election mean for us? How is it going?’ So once again, we have this relatively small group of people, asking only for safety and kindness, at the mercy of the domestic political turmoil. We have suggested before, and reiterate again, that it is necessary to move the discussion on asylum, people smuggling and refugee movements to a neutral space. We suggest the establishment of a new structure that has the management of asylum seekers separate from border control and determined by objective, eminent citizens acting under another government department, for example the Justice Department. The Immigration Department is responsible for the movement in and out of Australia of millions of people each year and the policies surrounding immigrants to Australia. Protecting people’s rights to request country resettlement under the Refugee Convention lies outside this major responsibility and has proven to be at odds with a preoccupation with ‘border control’. Asylum seekers are not immigrants, so by definition they should not fit under our immigration policy.
We ask for leadership that is conscious that every time a minister or person makes a statement about Australia not accepting asylum seekers, there are people in a state of total insecurity listening for clues about their future. Statements about refugees being illiterate and looking to take jobs from the rest of the population both denigrate and frighten the poor people here waiting for answers about their future.
At BASP, we face, almost daily, the consequences for people who have been detained both on the Australian mainland and in offshore detention. We therefore hope the settling of the present black holes in the treatment of asylum seekers will be a high priority for the new government. This could involve establishing open reception places for asylum seekers rather than putting them indefinitely in detention. It would certainly mean taking people off the islands on Nauru and Manus and bringing them to Australia.