Asylum seekers: No room at the inn

[Green Left Weekly, #812, September 26, 2009]

With seven boatloads of asylum seekers intercepted in September, Australia’s Christmas Island detention centre is fast filling up. It now holds 677 detainees. ALP Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor told a conference that people smuggling was one of the key threats facing the country. But even he had to admit that the primary reason people seek refuge is because of "push factors" such as "war, civil conflicts, famines".

Tens of millions on move

The world is in chaos. Within countries and between countries, tens of millions of people in the Third World are on the move, fleeing war, oppression, and climate change. They are deperately looking for a way out.

As climate change bites deeper and deeper, the "push factors" are going to get radically worse resulting in very large-scale population displacement.

In Bangla Desh, for instance, whole areas are becoming uninhabitable due to daily inundations by sea water at high tide. A recent TV newsclip showed villagers waist deep in water, reaching down to grab handfuls of mud to build a precarious levee on which they could live — if only for the moment.

And in southern Iraq, two million people have just about run out of water as the Tigris and Euphrates rivers dry up. Mexico is currently being ravaged by a drought of unprecedented scope and severity.

Misery caused by West

The misery of the Third World is a result of the rapacity of the giant Western corporations and the wars fought by the Western powers to maintain their world empire. Climate change is fundamentally due to the mad, unsustainable profligacy of the major Western capitalist countries and their refusal to make the urgent large-scale transition to renewables that is necessary to avert catastrophe.

Australia is an integral part of this apparatus of madness. It has been a loyal supporter of the United States in its criminal war in Afghanistan and it supported the Sri Lankan regime in its war against Sri Lanka’s oppressed Tamil minority — two conflicts which have generated the largest part of the recent crop of asylum seekers trying to reach Australia. And as the world's highest per capita emitter of greenhouse gases and the world's largest exporter of coal, Australia is a significant contributor to climate change.

The solution is really very simple. We need to reverse course and work to create a better world — a world without war and misery — and take urgent steps to tackle climate change. Then people wouldn't be forced to make desperate attempts to find sanctuary in faraway places.

Building walls

But the Western governments are going the other way: they won't change course and they are building walls around their countries to hold back the tide of refugees. There is definitely no room at the inn. Costa Gavras wonderful new film, Eden is West, shows the journey of one young asylum seeker as he travels from an unknown country to Greece and eventually to Paris, in constant danger of apprehension by the police and deportation back to his starting point.

Our government fans the hysteria over "border protection". A major task of our navy seems to be the interception of wretched boatloads of refugees. And being really proactive, our government now pays Indonesia to intercept refugees planning to travel to Australia and send them back to the misery they came from.

There is even a popular reality TV show — Border Protection — that is doing its bit for Fortress Australia. Of course, the real threats to Australia's working people come not from outside our borders but from inside — from the capitalist corporations and their Lib-Lab governments which are steadily destroying our economic security and civil liberties and now the very climatic conditions which make life on earth possible. And all the while they sow hatred and division to divert us from a struggle against the profits-before-people system which is responsible.

The government must be forced to change its policy on refugees. For a start: it must shut down all the detention centres, both on Christmas Island and the mainland. Allow all asylum seekers to immediately apply for asylum in Australia. Let all asylum seekers who seek refugee status be accepted into the community.