Australia is a 'refugee maker'

July 26, 2013
Australia has helped create millions of Afghan refugees.

In their relentless race to the bottom on refugee policy, the two big parties in Australia try their best to focus the public's attention on a so-called battle to stop the “people smugglers”.

This is supposed to justify the policy of indefinitely detaining, torturing and expelling the few thousand desperate refugees who try to get to Australia on leaky boats from Indonesia.

But what about targeting the real criminals, the refugee makers?

The UN refugee agency estimated at the end of last year that there were 15.4 million refugees worldwide and a further 28.8 million internally displaced people. Most of these were driven from their homes by wars. The war that displaced the most people was in Afghanistan, where Australia is part of a military occupation.

A quarter of all the world's refugees in that year were Afghans and 95% of them had fled to neighbouring Pakistan and Iran.

The governments of Australia and other rich countries are responsible for many ongoing wars around the world, pursued in the interest of profits for giant corporations. These are the leading “makers” of refugees.

This article was inspired by this message I received from a friend who had gone from Australia to visit her home in Iran: “I'm writing to you from Iran, visiting my country after three years.”

“I witness the hardship of life here upon tough sanctions on Iran. The rise in the number of Iranians seeking asylum is mainly due to crippling sanctions that had been intensified in the past two years.

“As a small example, not having enough access to medicine has affected the lives of six million Iranians suffering from cancer, MS [multiple sclerosis], etc.

“A 16-year-old boy suffering from kidney disease lost his life 10 months ago due to not having access to dialysis instruments on [a] daily basis. These are being banned from export to Iran because of the sanctions.

“In 2009, we had the suppression of the Green Movement in Iran, which caused the highest number of political refugees after [the] 1979 revolution. But that was three times less than today.

“Considering the majority of the people arriving on boats recently are Iranian nationals, I wanted to please ask you to have placards with some slogans such as: 'Stop sanctions against Iran' and 'Sanctions is silent war on Iran' at the coming at the refugee rights protest.”

This is not the only “silent war” in which Australia has been involved. The cruel sanctions that preceded the 2003 invasion of Iraq were another “silent war” that killed more than 1 million Iraqi women, men and children even before combat started.

Then there is another “silent war” that Australia, the US and some other rich countries are pursuing: the climate change war. As a major exporter of coal, oil and gas, Australia has conspired with other leading climate rogue states to block any serious international action to respond to the climate change crisis.

The rise in “extreme weather events” is already displacing millions of people every year. The UN refugee agency said that in 2011, 14.9 million people were displaced by weather catastrophes. Over the past decade the number of extreme weather events doubled from an average of 200 to 400 a year.

The report said climate change was acting as a “multiplier of existing threats and vulnerabilities and will worsen the situation in parts of the world that already experience high levels of stressors to livelihoods, food security, and resource availability, among other societal impacts.”

So when people ask those of us who oppose the cruel and immoral attacks on “boat people” and “people smugglers” what sort of refugee policy we should advocate, we should put at the top of the list real policies to end the creation of the global ocean of human fear, misery and desperation that is the refugee crisis.

The first step would be to bring an immediate end to all forms of Australian support for and participation in all imperial wars (including “silent wars” of sanctions and support for tyrants) and occupations.

Second, Australia should implement foreign, trade and aid policies that put people’s needs before corporate greed. Australia should then end its rogue climate nation status by beginning the phasing out of coal and other fossil fuels and building renewable energy alternatives here and around the world.

Last, it should take immediate responsibility for the refugees caused by Australia's wars, occupations and support for tyrannical regimes, end mandatory detention and allow refugees to settle in the community with housing, health care and support.

This is the least we can demand from refugee-making states.

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.