Turnbull champions government's harsh refugee policy

September 24, 2016
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull claims Australia's refugee policy is compassionate.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, has used speeches to the UN General Assembly and US President Barack Obama’s leaders’ summit on refugees to push Australia’s “compassionate humanitarian” solutions to the worldwide refugee crisis.

Yes, the country strongly criticised in numerous UNHCR and Amnesty International reports is using the UN General Assembly to proclaim itself a leader in “compassionate” refugee solutions.

Turnbull is using this “solution” as the cornerstone of a bid for Australia to sit on the UN Human Rights Council.

It is so out of touch with reality to sell Australia’s refugee solution as “compassionate” that one could be forgiven for thinking Turnbull is living in a parallel universe, has Alzheimer’s and is auditioning for a theatre of the absurd production.

It illustrates how far to the right Australia’s refugee policy has gone and crystalises the role it is playing internationally.

There is a worldwide refugee crisis. In that Turnbull is correct.

About 60 million people were displaced by conflict in 2014, with 19.5 million forced to flee to another country. That number is expected to grow rapidly as conflicts intensify and climate change makes populated areas uninhabitable.

For Turnbull to claim that Australia is a leader internationally in accepting refugees — “Australia increased our intake of refugees in the world’s third-largest permanent resettlement program” — is absurd, utterly absurd.

The claim that Australia resettles large numbers of refugees in comparison to the rest of the world is very misleading. Australia may appear to have one of the biggest UNHCR resettlement programs, but that is because very few countries — mainly Australia, Canada and the US — resettle through the UNHCR.

Less than 1% of refugees are resettled through official UNHCR programs. They accounted for 73,000 people in 2014.

It deliberately justifies and sidesteps Australia’s refusal to accept asylum seekers who come to Australia by boat.

In 2013, the number of asylum seekers coming by boat — the Australian government’s chief scapegoat — reached a high of 26,000. At the same time, 252,000 asylum seekers entered Ethiopia, while Lebanon, with a population of 4.4 million is home 1.2 million refugees.

The concept of accepting refugees who win the lottery and come to Australia the “proper way”, by being accepted under the UNHCR resettlement program, further entrenches the “we will decide who comes here and the means in which they come” Fortress Australia perspective.

The only aspect of the worldwide refugee crisis in which Australia is a world leader is the amount of resources it commits to stopping refugees.

This is the approach Turnbull is advocating at international summits; an approach based on the “three pillars” of “strong border controls, substantial resettlement programs and international and regional cooperation”, combined with “addressing the underlying causes of displacement”.

Strong borders in Australia means offshore detention centres, where human rights are systematically abused.

Strong borders means women sexually assaulted by guards, children physically abused, self-harm commonplace, denial of urgently needed medical treatment and living in hot, mouldy and disease-ridden tents.

It means turning boats around at sea and returning asylum seekers to the country they have fled.

Turnbull claims these strong borders and showing Australia is stopping the boats are what gives Australians the confidence to accept refugees.

The strong borders rhetoric around the Brexit vote and subsequent violence directed at immigrants in England illustrates it has the opposite effect.

By substantial resettlement programs, it means resettling people in Third World countries such as Nauru, which does not have the capacity for resettlement and where they are assaulted by locals, including children sexually abused at school.

Regional cooperation means giving the Sri Lankan government military patrol boats to stop Tamils fleeing. European powers are taking this approach of regional cooperation by signing a pact with Turkey to stop Syrian refugees entering Europe.

It is the very opposite to providing safe pathways.

Australia has been addressing the underlying causes by taking part in invasions in Afghanistan and Iraq while supporting air strikes in Syria — some of the greatest causes of the worldwide refugee crisis.

Turnbull’s speeches clearly indicate the solution to the global refugee crisis he and the Australian government are advocating. It must be opposed internationally and at home.

[Zebedee Parkes is a member of the Socialist Alliance.]

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