This week, compassionate Australians have been shocked at the secrecy of their Government regarding the outcome of a boat load of refugees bound for the Australian shore. Today, we learn that the High Court is giving the Government a run for its money, contesting that the Government is acting within International Law, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Refugee Convention of which Australia is a signatory. To place some weight behind the High Court claim, more than 50 legal scholars from 17 universities were signatories to statement claiming the actions of the Government to be in violation of International law. Somehow, the fearless Australian Leader Tony Abbott has still had the audacity to claim that “what we do is consistent with our legal obligations and safety at sea.” Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison has similarly claimed that the policy implemented to “Stop the Boats” has been successful, and has in fact saved lives that may have instead died at sea. While I am certain this is technically true, it is a thinly veiled white lie by omission of the reality for those refugees returned to their home country so “safely”. It is all enough to make thinking, compassionate Australians shift uncomfortably in their softly padded sofas.
Christians, humanitarians, lawyers, psychologists, refugee rights groups and others have all criticised the Government for their contemptible policy, and yet the Government hails its policy a great success, stopping the boats, turning back “illegal” immigrants and hitting the people smuggling trade. Meanwhile, the price of this policy in monetary terms seems inconsistent with the claims by the Government of a “Budget Emergency”. Claims before the September election spruiked the idea that Labor’s Offshore Processing policy was expensive, and the only solution to save money in this area was to “Stop the Boats”. Unfortunately, this Myth has been busted, with figures showing that allowing a genuine refugee to live in the community costs nearly a quarter of a million dollars less than offshore detention/processing. One can only begin to comprehend the cost of involving the military to continually guard the seas, “protecting” Australians from the influx of desperate people wanting a safer, better life in our beautiful backyard.
All of this is much more galling when one considers the fact that the fearless Australian Prime Minister hails from a Catholic belief system. It seems unfathomable that not only is this policy shaming Australians on the International stage, but also Catholics on the secular stage. Internationally, Australia has been slammed by news agencies such as the BBC, al-Jazeera, the Irish Times, India’s Business Standard and Zee News. As Catholics, we can barely utter the words “Tony Abbott is a Catholic” without feeling utterly betrayed, when his policy on Asylum Seekers is so distant from the compassionate position of the Australian Catholic Church.
Morrison’s claims that the refugees have been safely returned home into the hands of Sri Lankan police should send chills up your spine. In the same breath, he will also tell you that those refugees have broken Sri Lankan law by attempting to leave the country illegally, and he may also suggest that each refugee has less than 50% chance of torture or death upon return, and so therefore were deemed safe to return to their homeland. This does not mean that each person has less than a 50% chance of torture or death, but that up to 50% of those refugees are highly likely to be tortured or killed. How anyone can claim this to be a successful policy leaves me breathless.
The biggest criticism of the Government has to be the completely inadequate screening process which took place at sea. Four questions were asked of the boat people, including “Why are you coming to Australia.” Apparently the response “to find work” was sufficiently enough evidence to condemn the entire boat back into the hands of the Sri Lankan government. Although at face value, one might use this as purely and simply evidence of a group of people attempting to gain access to the rich employment fields of a first world country, it cannot be judged as such. It may actually be true that they are seeking work, however it is due to the persecution faced in their home land which prevents them from being lawfully employed, and not simply to climb the World’s Richest Person ladder. For instance, the Sri Lankan government uses discrimination techniques to severely limit employment opportunities for the Tamil minority group as a way of dispiriting them and maintaining control over their social status. And so, although their initial response was not “to flee persecution”, it may have been discovered through more rigorous questioning.
Sri Lanka is known for its Human Rights violations. To turn around a boat full of vulnerable, fearful and persecuted individuals, and put them into the hands of a government known to imprison, torture and kill ethnic minorities and others fleeing persecution is morally contemptible. To say they have been returned “safely” back to Sri Lanka is utterly detestable. We must stand up against this reprehensible government, and pray that the High Court creates a precedent which makes them reconsider their position before we have more blood on our hands.