Bipartisanship responsible for asylum-seekers’ pain, suffering and deaths

Issue 
Asylum seekers being held at the Delta Compound on Manus Island.

The shocking bipartisan cruelty towards refugees and asylum-seekers continues to expose the moral bankruptcy of the federal coalition government and the equally culpable ALP opposition.

The latest despicable acts of criminal neglect and denial of human rights by our government towards asylum-seekers have been tragically playing out in a Darwin detention centre and in the Australian detention centre on PNG’s Manus Island, to our daily horror and disgust.

Iranian asylum-seeker “Martin” is now at a point of no return after more than 80 days on hunger strike in a Darwin detention centre.

As at January 20, between 700 and 900 asylum-seekers on Manus Island, including some who have been granted refugee status, have been on hunger strike for more than a week.

According to the Refugee Action Coalition, tensions had been rising prior to the hunger strike as most of the asylum seekers approach 18 months of detention on Manus Island. There have also been threats that those who have been determined to be refugees will be taken by force into insecure accommodation at Lorengau in PNG, where they fear they will be vulnerable to attacks by locals.

In response to the Manus protest, asylum-seekers have been subject to cruel punishments, including raids by guards and PNG police, being denied bottled drinking water, beating by prison guards, solitary confinement and forcible removal to PNG’s Lorengau prison, where 58 men are still detained at the time of writing. Evidence is emerging that most of these men have suffered beating while imprisoned.

Meanwhile in Darwin, Martin is close to death, having lost 30 kilograms (40% of his body weight) and “is suffering horrendously, both mentally and physically”, according to Asylum-Seeker Resource Centre CEO Kon Karapanagiotidis, in a statement on January 16.

Karapanagiotis said “Martin” told him he had fled Iran to escape being locked up and tortured – only to suffer the same fate in Australia.

“He has lost all hope for his life and his future and has made a conscious decision to die on his own terms rather than endure being locked in detention any longer.

“The Government could intervene at any time to alleviate this young man’s suffering by releasing him into community detention while he waits for an upcoming judicial review of his refugee case,” Karapanagiotidis has stated, “But they continue to do nothing to help him.”
The Australian government must be held criminally responsible in the event of this young man’s death.

Former police officer and newly installed Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton has a willing accomplice, it seems, in Richard Marles, the ALP Shadow Immigration Minister. Marles has released no media statements in relation to the hunger strikes or protests on Manus to date.

The ALP’s silence signals their complicity with the Federal government’s refusal to intervene to save Martin’s life and its refusal to close Manus Island detention centre and end this nightmare.

That is why we desperately need to build a left, political alternative to Labor.

Australia, along with other wealthy, developed countries, is busy building fortresses, while the poorest, most underdeveloped nations take the bulk of the responsibility for sheltering asylum-seekers and refugees.

The rise in displaced persons worldwide to 51.2 million (as at June 2014) is caused by wars, natural disasters, conflicts over control of resources and land and the denial of human rights by draconian regimes. The impacts of climate change will create more and more displaced people across the globe, even if we avoid the worst that science predicts. Asylum-seekers and refugees are global victims and the issue demands an international response.

The Socialist Alliance stands for an end to the cruel, bipartisan regime of the mandatory detention of asylum-seekers. People fleeing war, persecution and the impacts of climate change should be welcomed to our shores, not locked up or deported back to danger. Asylum seekers should have equal access to the full range of social security, health, housing, transport, education and employment services as other Australians.

Visit Socialist Alliance’s website for further detail of Socialist Alliance’s refugee policy.

[Susan Price is a national co-convenor of the Socialist Alliance and a refugee rights activist in Sydney.]

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