Asylum! A socialist view of the refugee crisis

June 3, 2022
Photo: Zebedee Parkes

Asylum! A socialist view of the refugee crisis
By Dave Holmes, Sam Wainwright, Nathan Akehurst, Chris Slee, Sue Bolton & Niko Leka
Resistance Books, 2022, 44pp, $10

“Our world is in chaos” says the introduction to this timely pamphlet. “Within countries and between countries, tens of millions of people in the Third World are on the move — they are fleeing war, oppression, gang violence, grinding poverty and escalating climate change. They are desperately looking for a way out.” But the rich Western countries are confronting them with bitter hostility and fortress walls.

Asylum! provides a socialist take on the global refugee crisis.

Sam Wainwright argues that the current refugee crisis is fundamentally a product of capitalism, a “profoundly unequal” global economic system that divides the world along the lines of poverty and wealth.

Rich countries prevent the social and economic development of less-developed countries to maintain power. “It is both violent and requires violence to be maintained,” Wainwright says.

The 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, while a representing a “major step forward” for the rights of refugees, has been disregarded by wealthy nations in favour of the “vilification and criminalisation of migrants” as part of mainstream politics in countries such as Australia.

This has inevitably resulted in poorer countries shouldering the responsibility of harbouring refugees, further entrenching the inequality and divisions of capitalism.

The outsourcing of the refugee crisis to poor Third World countries is a theme continued by Nathan Akehurst, who examines the militarised borders of Europe, above all the Mediterranean which has seen thousands of asylum seekers perish as a direct result of boat “pushbacks” over recent years.

Forcibly confining refugees to poorer countries allows wealthy countries to keep the violent enforcement of borders far away from their citizens and from public scrutiny. Additionally, it transfers the political and economic costs elsewhere.

The threat of climate change intensifies the geopolitical causes of the refugee crisis. Akehurst also highlights grassroots resistance to this inhuman system.

Dave Holmes argues that the supposed “threat” from asylum seekers is merely “carefully designed political propaganda” aimed at distracting people from the actual threat that capitalism poses here and now. Holmes points to the difference in treatment of asylum seekers who arrive by plane with the demonisation of “boat people”.

Fundamental social change is the key to solving the refugee crisis, above all serious action to prevent climate change. Holmes explains that the hysteria around “border security” has been manufactured to keep people fearful and divided. Socialists argue for the free movement of people across borders and solidarity in place of racism and xenophobia.

Australia has a long and shameful history when it comes to treatment of refugees. Chris Slee explores the history of government policy on refugees, beginning in the 1970s with the policies under Malcolm Fraser.

Slee discusses the assaults on refugee rights in Australia by successive Coalition and Labor governments, including the introduction of mandatory detention, the excision of Christmas Island to prevent asylum seekers claiming refugee status and more recently, Operation Sovereign Borders.

These policies have resulted in great suffering. Refugees have been murdered after being deported back to the countries they had fled; under temporary visas refugees have been denied any opportunity for family reunification; people simply fleeing oppression have been incarcerated for years.

One of the more recent and draconian additions to Australia’s refugee policy is the Migration Amendment (Clarifying International Obligations for Removal) Bill 2021. Sue Bolton examines the dangerous implications of this new law which legalises further denial and removal of rights for refugees.

Finally, Niko Leka refutes various carefully cultivated myths that have been a key part of Australia’s demonisation of refugees and asylum seekers over the years.

The pamphlet concludes with a presentation of the Socialist Alliance policy on migrant and asylum seeker rights. This is a useful list of the demands needed to end this shameful chapter in Australia’s history.

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