Fortress First World

Issue 

BY SIMON BUTLER Picture

The New Zealand government has announced that an amnesty will be granted to up to 8000 immigrants living in the country without a visa. The Australian government has responded by attacking the decision, claiming that it amounts to "rewarding illegality" and will see "backdoor immigrants" coming into Australia. Australia's harsh immigration policy, it seems, is going international.

Under the New Zealand plan those who have lived there for over five years without a visa will win an amnesty and receive permanent residency. Children born in New Zealand and those married to a resident or in a defacto relationship for over two years will also qualify. Immediate family members of overstayers will similarly be given an opportunity to apply for a residency permit under the transitional arrangement.

Australian immigration minister Philip Ruddock has threatened that New Zealand's leniency could possibly lead to a review of freedom of travel across the Tasman. Currently there are no visa requirements for New Zealand or Australian citizens travelling between the two countries.

Ruddock claims that the New Zealand amnesty will send the wrong message to prospective immigrants and asylum seekers, leading them to think that Australia is likely to grant a similar amnesty in the future. This is, of course, out of the question for the federal government.

Australia v. New Zealand?

Ruddock claims New Zealand's "looser" migration requirements will mean a growing number of people from other countries migrate there, gain citizenship after three years and then migrate over to Australia.

Ruddock and his government are not so concerned that New Zealand citizens are migrating to Australia. They fear that New Zealand citizens born in the Third World might migrate to Australia. Statistics estimate that the overwhelming majority of the 8000 people who will receive the amnesty originate from Samoa and Tonga. The Australian government evidently finds the prospect of that number of Pacific Islanders coming to Australia seeking employment and a decent standard of living as something abhorrent.

The Australian government has also argued that because New Zealand has difficulty filling its immigration targets of 38,000 a year it is more likely to let in lesser-skilled migrants, thus exposing Australia to the "under-qualified". This would run counter to the government's stated immigration policy of favouring wealthier and better educated migrants, in line with demands from business and employer lobby groups.

The New Zealand immigration minister Lianne Dalziel has dismissed Ruddock's censure, arguing that there is no evidence that the amnesty will lead to a mass influx of immigrants into Australia. Some New Zealand MPs have gone further, accusing Ruddock of being motivated by racism.

The irony is that the two countries share a largely similar attitude towards migrants and asylum seekers. New Zealand's amnesty is merely a last chance measure, before it too introduces harsh Australian-style immigration legislation that grants the government greater powers to incarcerate and deport "illegals".

The argument between the two governments is not about whether or not to have discriminatory laws for immigrants and refugees; they both agree that they should. The difference is that the Australian government believes New Zealand should just deport the 8000 who will qualify for the amnesty.

Dalziel has been careful to not let herself be portrayed as "soft" on migrants and asylum seekers, telling the Australian on September 22 that she is "very respectful of Australia's position with respect to immigration policy generally". Ruddock meanwhile, according to the previous day's Sydney Morning Herald, has expressed his concern that the controversy will "not assist our objective to achieve a common border and harmonised immigration policies" with New Zealand.

The desire for a "harmonised", impassable Australia-New Zealand stronghold is symptomatic of the attitude of nearly all First World governments. The persecution of refugees and migrants from the Third World is increasingly an internationally coordinated phenomenon, with First World countries unashamedly inflicting suffering on people trying to flee war, persecution and impoverishment.

Internationalising persecution

In the European Union and the United States, tighter border controls and severe penalties for capture have impelled asylum seekers to go to extreme lengths to enter. Two thousand documented deaths have resulted from attempts to get into the EU since 1993. Countless others have been jailed or killed after being forcibly deported to the country they originally fled from.

Agreement is being sought within the EU for a common immigration policy for all its members, with the unstated but obvious goal of building an impenetrable "Fortress Europe".

One EU proposal currently under discussion, for instance, would ensure that those who travel across several European countries would not be able to claim asylum at their final destination, because they have not "directly" fled persecution.

The EU's Dublin Convention meanwhile introduced the "Safe Third Country" rule, which allows EU states to deport asylum seekers to a country outside the union. These specified countries are deemed safe, regardless of whether or not they have adequate asylum procedures.

The October Tampere EU summit concluded with an agreement on immigration "action plans" which will target six Third World countries. These countries will be subjected to political and economic pressure to agree to the EU's readmission plans, including accepting deportees.

Some of these countries, including several in Central and Eastern Europe, will receive grants, loans, favourable contracts and diplomatic agreements from wealthy European countries, in exchange for standing guard at the borders of the union and keeping unwanted refugees out.

Dogs, walls and deportations

The British government introduced its new refugee laws in April. Under the legislation asylum seekers are denied access to welfare while pursuing their claims for protection and are forced to shop with vouchers rather than cash. Any asylum seeker caught begging faces immediate deportation.

Last year Ireland introduced its own EU-approved immigration restrictions and proclaimed the goal of forcibly deporting 98% of the estimated 10,000 undocumented asylum seekers in a matter of months.

Under the Irish laws an asylum seeker can be deported if they are charged with any offence, even if found innocent, and anyone who aids an asylum seeker's entry into Ireland is liable to prosecution. The Irish government is also considering the introduction of high security refugee detention centres like those in Australia.

In Germany authorities have invested in electronic "sniffing" devices to complement sniffer dogs searching for asylum seekers at border checkpoints. Transport trucks are now compelled to install new devices that measure the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide emissions, in order to detect any people hidden in the cargo.

German government persecution of migrants continues for those who have attained residency. Two victims of neo-Nazi violence have recently been ordered out of Germany after their ordeals.

In one case an Egyptian who had resided in Germany for 10 years lost his pizza business when it was burnt to the ground by neo-Nazis. Authorities told him that he had lost his right to stay in Germany because his residency permit was dependent on his having a viable business.

In the other case an Algerian man lost his German residency on grounds of mental instability. But his fragile mental state was due to trauma he underwent in February 1999, when he watched as a friend was lynched by neo-Nazi thugs in the street.

Since the near-abolition of the right to asylum through the Asylum Act of 1993, more than 30 people have committed suicide whilst in detention, or due to the threat of detention, in Germany. The use of solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure for asylum seekers is commonplace.

In Melilla, a Spanish enclave in Morocco, residents have been busy constructing a wall over eight kilometres long around the entire city, in a bid to prevent any Africans from crossing the border.

Many thousands of people have died crossing the straits of Gibraltar and the Adriatic Sea in attempts to reach Fortress Europe. People traffickers are usually blamed for these deaths but it is the immigration policy of the EU that provides these traffickers their market and their power over people's lives.

At the S11 protests in Melbourne progressive forces in Australia took their place within the international movement against the rule of imperialist governments, international financial institutions and transnational corporations. It is essential that this growing anti-capitalist movement also champions the rights of asylum seekers and immigrants.

The neo-liberal doctrine of free trade demands the complete freedom for capital to ignore borders in search of profits. Yet at the same time the First World is determinedly restricting the movement of people.