Women’s rights debased in bid to vilify refugees

Scott Morrison called for "behaviour protocols" for refugees.

The federal Coalition has used the alleged sexual assault of a young woman on Macquarie University to call for increased monitoring of asylum seekers.

Police have charged a Tamil asylum seeker with the attack, which allegedly took place when the man broke into the woman’s room and put a hand down her pyjama pants while she was asleep. He fled when she woke up and screamed.

The private company that owns the student accommodation where the woman lives also has a contract with the federal government to house 80 asylum seekers in the same place. The men have bridging visas and are waiting for their refugee claims to be processed.

However, the alleged attacker did not live in the campus housing, but shared accommodation with other refugees in Parramatta.

Liberal immigration spokesperson Scott Morrison has used the attack to call for a freeze on bridging visas and the introduction of “behavioural guidelines”, which would notify police and local residents when asylum seekers were housed nearby.

This irrational proposal shows the Coalition is not really concerned about the issue of violence against women, and is using it as a pretext to attack asylum seekers and further its election campaign.

Sexual assault is a big problem on university campuses across Australia. It is an issue that desperately needs more attention.

But it is doubtful politicians would be debating it in the national media if the episode did not provide them with an opportunity to further vilify asylum seekers as dangerous or criminal.

Generally, asylum seekers are much less likely to commit crime compared with people in the rest of society. Fairfax said on March 1 that of 12,100 asylum seekers who have been released into the community on bridging visas since November 2011, five or less have been charged with a crime. This is 45 times less than the number of people charged with a crime in the general population.

But this fact wouldn’t stop Morrison, or the right-wing media, rallying for hatred and fear.

2GB shock jock Ray Hadley has devoted much of his time on-air in the last week to portray groups of asylum seekers as potentially dangerous to young Australian women.

Hadley spoke on radio about the young women living on Macquarie University on February 22. He said “the young women feel both intimidated and frightened having the men in close proximity, there are accusations the girls feel intimidated as they are stared at and watched closely by the men, who basically have not much to do”.

There is a good reason why the men don’t have “much to do”. Under a change of rules by the Julia Gillard government, any asylum seekers who arrived in Australia after August last year cannot work or study.

Other asylum seekers who are subject to different rules have to wait two years before they can work, and have had to give up their paid employment.

This draconian policy prevents asylum seekers from supporting themselves and their families. They are forced to rely on limited welfare; most must turn to charities to survive, while others become homeless. It can also cause mental health problems and make it more difficult to find employment once they have been granted a permanent visa.

A new campaign called “Right to Work” has been launched to pressure the government to extend the right to work for all asylum seekers on bridging visas.

This campaign has been supported by Amnesty, GetUp, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, the Refugee Council of Australia and many other groups.

The highly publicised assault case has now wiped out two places of housing for about 100 men living on bridging visas. Macquarie University accommodation provider Campus Living Villages, owned by Transfield, terminated its contract with the Red Cross to house asylum seekers, and a squatter-style flat was raided in Parramatta and refugees evicted on March 1.

Forcing refugees to live in poverty like this is a deliberate “deterrent” tactic, used by the Labor government as part of its “no advantage” regime. Spreading fear and hatred is a natural extension of policies that are a conscious punishment of people who arrived by boat to engage Australia protection obligation.

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