Australia: Being cruel to refugees doesn’t strengthen multiculturalism

I find Minns somewhat over the top. There is a correlation between confidence in immigration and border management, to deny this is counter to the Canadian experience.

This does not justify some of the anti-immigration and anti-refugee rhetoric (and some of the Australian government’s initiatives) but denying any link and not taking border management seriously is another matter:

There are now dozens of statements from United Nation bodies, condemning Australia’s refugee policies as harsh, inhumane and detrimental to the health and safety of the refugees.

In the face of this criticism, over the last two years, the Australian government has developed a new rationale for this extremely harsh treatment. They now claim that the measures used against boat arrivals – mandatory detention, permanent exclusion and being sent (now for five years for some) to Nauru and Manus Island – are, paradoxically, the very things that reinforce public support for immigration and multiculturalism.

The Prime Minister’s website quotes him as saying that: “Strong borders allow the government to maintain public trust in community safety, respect for diversity and support for our immigration and humanitarian programs.”

His blog reiterates the message: “Strong borders are the foundation of our high-immigration multicultural success”. Peter Dutton made the same point in a speech in London last year.

In fact, government figures have shown few reservations about wading into Pauline Hanson’s territory when they have felt it is in their political interest to do so. In November 2016, Dutton claimed that Malcolm Fraser made a mistake in allowing Lebanese Muslims into the country – not fundamentally different to Hanson’s call in the election that year for a total ban on Muslim immigration. In the same year he said that “illiterate and innumerate” refugees would take Australian jobs or “languish” on the dole and Medicare. Hanson’s 1996 maiden speech said that “immigration must be halted in the short term so that our dole queues are not added to by, in many cases, unskilled migrants not fluent in the English language.”

Citizenship Minister Alan Tudge suggested earlier this month that mulitculturalism is at risk unless tougher English-language tests are introduced for potential migrants. He argued that those from a non-English-speaking background are often concentrated “in particular suburbs… with a considerable absence of English being spoken or understood.” Again, Hanson, speaking then of Asian migrants, said that “they have their own culture and religion, form ghettos and do not assimilate.”

Last April Dutton introduced a bill to require permanent residents to wait four years, instead of one, to apply for citizenship. He plans to reintroduce it this year. It is another signal to the electorate that we should be suspicious and fearful of new arrivals. It is a move in the direction of Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives, who are opposed to multiculturalism and want to extend the waiting time for permanent residents before applying for citizenship to ten years.

Both Turnbull and Dutton raced to condemn Sudanese youth gangs in Melbourne in January. Although the Federal government has no jurisdiction over the matter and despite the fact that crime in Victoria was down nearly 5 per cent in the year to last September, Dutton claimed that people were afraid to go out to restaurants. Again, fear is stoked, insecurity deepened and small, easily identifiable, non-Anglo groups blamed. In this soil, it is inevitable that broader hostility to immigration will grow – something that Tony Abbott, ever the opportunist, has noticed and taken advantage of with his call for deep cuts to immigration.

The claim that our government is staunchly defending a tolerant multiculturalism by taking necessarily harsh action against asylum seekers is difficult to sustain.

The international record on such action and its effect on the broader society is also informative. When the years spent in squalid refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan and elsewhere finally became too much and exploded into large refugee flows into Europe in 2015 and 2016 some governments took brutal and exclusionary actions. Hungary sent troops to force refugees back from its border. Today its Prime Minister Viktor Orban rejects taking any refugees in coordination with other EU countries, calling them “Muslim invaders.”

The Polish Law and Justice Party fought and convincingly won the 2015 election on the basis that it would not accept even one Muslim refugee. In so doing it has legitimised racism and Islamophobia. As many as 60,000 took part in a march in Warsaw last November organised by a movement called “White Poland”. With banners such as “White Europe” and “Clean Blood” they outnumbered the official Independence Day celebrations.

In Austria, Sebastian Kurz became Chancellor late last year after campaigning on a hard anti-immigrant policy, including seizing money from asylum seekers to pay for the costs of their temporary accommodation. Now, he has joined in coalition with the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ). Its leader, and now Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache has continued the attack, calling for asylum seekers to be shut up in conditions which some have described as chillingly reminiscent of concentration camps. The party’s General Secretary Herbert Kickl has spoken of plans to create “camps” for refugees “to keep them concentrated in one place”.

The evidence from Europe is consistent with our experience in Australia. Right-wing populism, anti-immigrant sentiment, suspicion of and hostility to people simply because they are Muslim, cannot be effectively challenged by cruelty towards refugees. On the contrary, such refugee policies legitimise the fears on which that brand of politics thrives. These policies not only harm the refugees, they also harm the society in which we live.

There are alternatives to the current Australian refugee policy which do not amount to open borders. We know this is the case, because, in this country, we implemented many of these alternatives for decades very successfully. Thousands of Canberrans plan to march on this Palm Sunday to call for our leaders to do so again.

via Being cruel to refugees doesn’t strengthen multiculturalism

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: