29 Jan 2013

How Can This Be Happening On Manus?

By Zoe Krupka
We may be outraged by the conditions on Manus Island - but are we prepared to face the truths about why our government continues to treat asylum seekers so abysmally, asks Zoe Krupka
As legal proceedings against the processing centre on Manus Island begin, and Sarah Hanson-Young prepares to visit to the detention centre, we're asking a lot of questions about the terrible conditions people seeking asylum in Australia are now forced to face. As the evidence of repeated suicide attempts mounts, we keep hoping for lessons to be learnt. Is it possible that we have learned the lessons from past human rights abuses? Can we face the possibility that what we are seeing in action is not ignorance but well-rehearsed cruelty?

There is a recipe for suicide. The most recent research on the conditions that encourage people to kill themselves names a number of key factors that together create such despair and hopelessness that death becomes preferable to living.  These conditions are created socially and interpersonally. In other words, we build them together.

The formula goes something like this. I need to see myself as a burden to my family and my community. I need to believe that people would be better off without me. If I then also suffer from alienation or isolation, if I feel apart and as if I don't belong, life becomes harder to bear. If I then find myself in situations where terrible things happen so often that they become commonplace, then hurting myself becomes more imaginable.

The detention facility on Manus Island and the current changes to asylum seeker support create an environment that encourages the despair, isolation and habitual violence that lead to suicide. Like turning back the boats with the nonsensical explanation that they are unsafe, the current campaign of deterrence encourages deaths for which we can avoid direct responsibility. The message is clear. You may die trying to come here. When you get here you will be unwelcome, unwanted and uncared for. If you stay here, you will be isolated, destitute and of no value.

The message of "no advantage" really translates as a message that there's no point. No point in asking, no point in trying, no point in living. Whenever your intention is to "send a message", you can be sure you're not communicating. Not in the two-way street version of shared conversation anyway. Sending a message is usually about not sending a clear message at all, but hoping that by your disinterest, avoidance, stonewalling or grandstanding the other person will somehow do what you want them to do. That they'll do you the favour of taking responsibility for your actions.

As some writers have astutely pointed out, the media outcry about the terrible conditions on Manus Island is simply facilitating the government's goal of deterring people from seeking asylum in Australia by spreading the word.  Even our crying out has become part of a system of well-targeted punishment.

But of course like the doomed heroes in a horror movie they have to knock on the door anyway. They've got no choice. That's the point.

One of the difficult tasks of therapy is to work with someone's conflicting choices. Usually one value is present and acknowledged — I want to spend more time with my kids, for example — and another is not acknowledged — for instance, working long hours is the only way I know how to feel good about myself.

Helping someone face that they are making decisions, some of which are based on hidden desires, is a delicate task. It's hard to face that you've had a hand in creating the very painful circumstances you now find yourself in. But if we don't help each other to face that we are not always acting in line with our stated values, then we just keep the cycle of irresponsible destruction going.

Our current asylum seeker policy is leading to a significant number of deaths. This is not primarily about ignorance or lack of concern. On some level we have to admit that some of us would prefer that people die rather than reach our shores and become part of our communities. We also have to admit that some of us have not bothered to take the plight of asylum seekers into account when we cast our votes. We had other priorities. We have to admit this because it is true. Anything else, any pretending that we are not a part of creating the ideal conditions for accidental death and suicide is farcical.

Our interest in the discussion about Manus Island continues to wax and wane — and we wrestle with facing the truth that waving our arms in outrage has been largely useless. We get stuck in a cycle of repetition when we imagine, like children, that if the powers that be could only see the hurt they're causing that they would surely just stop it.

How can this be happening? is never the right question. It is happening. Our asylum seeker policy is not the product of ignorance, lack of guidance or foolishness. It is the conscious creation of tiny-hearted people who have taken the lessons of other tiny-hearted people before them, honed them and put them into practice.

ABOUT THERAPY FOR NEWS JUNKIES: Why does the news make the news? Why do certain stories gain such traction? Therapy For News Junkies is a regular NM column which looks at why audiences react so vehemently to particular issues. Zoe Krupka is a psychotherapist who uses her knowledge about how we react as individuals to better understand collective responses to the events of the day.

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Posted Tuesday, January 29, 2013 - 11:21

There is a Record Number of 36 year old women commituing suicide because of the way the Government treats Dependent Mother (Solo's).

1st the idiots from the Libs and Labour hand out $5000+30000.00 op. for a lot of scalpal births and now the government is beating them around the head for having had Kids, yet despite it all the Nation has a policy of must have a 10% Unemployment rate, no matter what.

Any idea why the crime rate and suicide rates in society is going up.

Yes we can feel sorry for these people, but lets demand some responsible Government and sustainability Policies before we shed crocodile tears for a popular Media issue.

When NM starts flogging Assylum issues then we have to ask, can't you find something else to wtite about.

lets look at some of the suicide statistics for the unemployed youth, unemployed and too often vilified Moms, everybody is always after the Moms what about the other Egg that was needed to make the Kids.

Lets have some balamce, there is a lot of people suffering undue stress because of no fault of their own.

Lots of disfunctuanal Families and Pedophilia, so come on, I'm sick of Boaties. Most are Blokes and lieing Morrons anyhow. Their human, humans lie, some more then others.

Posted Tuesday, January 29, 2013 - 13:13

jackal01, I am utterly disappointed with you and your little badly spelled article above.
Sometimes you really do speak sense, but this time, you just show total ignorance and a total lack of compassion for other human beings.
Indeed, we have a mongrel government, the leaders in it all having lost all sense of propriety and human rights.
They are treating some of their own citizens, the weakest ones, with utter contempt, with a total lack of compassion and understanding, in a totally misguided effort to appeal to the Far Right voters in sections of Sydney, and of course they are treating refugees even worse, because being racist, they do not consider them to be human beings. Only as such could any Government treat people in desperate need and fear of torture, imprisonment and death as this Gillard Government is doing.
The thought of Abbott and his troglodytes as a Government is enough to horrify me and a lot of people, but a couple of years of Julia Gillard and her crew has shown us that there may indeed be worse people than Tony Abbott and his crew of thugs. I yearn for a real alternative. Certainly, I will vote Green, but nasty propaganda aimed at the Greens by both major parties has had an effect on the Mindless Millions, and they will vote with their fears and prejudices.
So there is no real choice, unless the Greens hold absolute balance of power, we are set to have as a Government a VERY BAD ONE. Again. Must be something about Australia, if it is true that we get what we deserve.
And I urinate on Australia Day! Jingoism at it's worst. Wow, don't the yobbos come out and play. And, unfortunately, they can also vote (sort of).


Posted Tuesday, January 29, 2013 - 16:53

I agree with some aspects of the article but also with some of the comments above. 'Asylum seekers' has become a trendy topic much like homosexuality, they are important but receive much more press than they deserve in the scheme of things. Look, at the end of the day we know these people are 'prosperity seekers' rather than asylum seekers. They are wanting to improve the future prosperity for their families (don't we all) which is why they pick countries like Australia and risk everything. I'm not against bringing in refugees, I took my family to Thailand for an extended period and have been in the the camps.
-I've seen the desperate and hungry.
-I've helped in an orphanage where the managers purchased kids ($20-25) to avoid them going into prostitution and other forms of slavery.
-I've held a baby whose mother walked around a village trying to give him away because she couldn't feed him.

and I'm proud that Australia takes a quota of these people and offers them a new start. I am however annoyed that people can 'jump the que' - the people I met had witnessed their families and villages being murdered, raped and hacked with machetes by the Burmese government. They managed to escape to Thailand, they are genuine asylum seekers but without the resources of the ones who come here.

I'd like to see us take more of these people through official channels rather than the 'passport burners'. This would discourage the boat people and bring in more people who we have been able to do checks on. Accepting more and more boat people is just plain bad practice - encouraging/condoning people in desperate circumstances to sell up and put all their precious little resources into the hands of dodgy boat runners, for me this is very hard to promote and defend morally. It is like we have set up a 'boat people lotto' - take the chance and if you succeed you can get in - if you lose all your money, your daughters are raped and your sons killed and tossed overboard - bad luck, try again next time.

Posted Tuesday, January 29, 2013 - 19:02

GrantD. I could hope that one of these days you will be desperate and in need of help, and people look at you and spit and come out with drivel as you have just written.
I can see that you spend a lot of time reading The Australian, and listening to Alan Jones.
Ah, but you can get in one of those queue's, hey? The ones that DO NOT EXIST! Good luck.


This user is a New Matilda supporter. O. Puhleez
Posted Tuesday, January 29, 2013 - 21:40

Zoe has made a reasonable case here for Australia to withdraw from the International Refugee Convention. Our membership of it is the real problem. It generates the percieved obligation to admit all comers, as they come and by whatever means.

It is the Great Attractor. Thge irony is, once out of it we will more likely be able to accept more refugees than we presently do.

Posted Tuesday, January 29, 2013 - 22:41

dazza point taken, but please chill out.

Frankly I agree with GrantD's dribble,

dazza you said.
total lack of compassion for other human beings.

I said:
Lets look at some of the suicide statistics for the unemployed youth, unemployed and too often vilified Moms, everybody is always after the Moms what about the other Egg that was needed to make the Kids.

Lets have some balamce, there is a lot of people suffering undue stress because of no fault of their own.

How does that equate to lack of compassion.

You speak as if you know every Boatie personaly, do you.
They are only human, like the rest of us, so don't turn them into Jesus Christs.

Anyhow, I'll chalk this one up as you having a bad week and that your just venting, hope its working.

Posted Wednesday, January 30, 2013 - 10:35

A well thought out article but perhaps that is just because I agree with a lot of it.

It is happening because we, the ones who care what is happening to asylum seekers, have been, and continue to be, incapable of coming up with arguments or strategies that convince the people we call yobbos etc that we are right. Abusing them, ignoring them, insulting them clearly doesn't work.

Governments in democracies respond, and always have, to numbers. We don't need to educate and convince all of the ignorant. Just enough so that whatever government we have will respond positively. Given that we are smarter than they are it shouldn't be that difficult, should it?

Posted Wednesday, January 30, 2013 - 12:06

How obscenely ignorant to call the Assylum Issue "trendy". It is exactly this type of discompassionate small-minded heartlessness that the article addresses! But that's Yobbo Australia for ya; well summarised by the bumper sticker "I fish, and I vote". Insular narrow-minded self-interest is the hallmark of of the RedNeck voter that both sides of Oz politics is pandering to, and there is no surprise at all that the behaviour of parliamentarians has sunk to the gutter level of the RedNeck voter with a RedNeck government & opposition. You get what you vote for.
My soul bleeds for the loss of Don Chipp and the ethos that created The Australian Democrats. If ever there was a time for a political party in Australia that upheld such ideals and values, and made the current lot accountable, it is now. As it is, the two sides of politics are playing political ping-pong with our fellow humans, indeed making a very good living from it, while refugees from genuine torment and horror are systematically abused to keep the RedNecks on-side. Hell, you'd think that Australia was still a Penal Colony!
Ethical Matilda Party, anyone?

Question Authority

Posted Wednesday, January 30, 2013 - 12:57

kanzen, I wish that you were right, but numbers in general do not mean much these days, when the concentration is on 'balancing electorates', especially those on the outskirts of major cities like Sydney. Just a few votes either way in these electorates can win or lose elections, and all the Parties know it.
Our supposed 'democracy' has been worn away by Party Politics, where a win at all costs mentality will fling millions at some 'workers paradise' suburb, with no services, no playgrounds, no nothing, they are just nursery suburbs holding the cannon fodder for the factories (yes, I know, they are disappearing) in the Big Cities. Probably the majority of the people in these suburbs are uneducated beyond a certain level, they watch sport on commercial TV, listen to Alan Jones, read The Australian on weekends. And eat Pizzas, Meat Pies etc. and probably drive Holden cars.
They breed like rabbits, so are very concerned about Hospitals, Child Care, Gestapo (Centrelink) assistance, and any putative Representative has to pander to these wants and needs. These are the people that win and lose elections for Parties. So they are getting the lions share of Party attention.
The Majority of Citizens of Australia do not like what Gillard and Co. are doing, either with Refugees, Indigenous Peoples, Nursing mothers, pandering to Religious groups and giving them our Taxpayer dollars and exemption from Anti-Discrimination laws. But to Labor, and to the Tories, this is utterly meaningless, because, as I have stated, we probably do not live in the targeted electorates. Our votes are predictable, and are ignored.
I really do not think that the Human Race has much longer to go, we are well on the way to joining the dinosaurs, but we die from our own hands. So I suppose it really does not matter that the people who control who wins our elections are mostly mindless morons, and deny Global Warming.
Otherwise, I would be more worried about The Population Bomb, which is also about to explode. And we go bananas over a few thousand refugees NOW.
Poor Fellow, My World.
p.s. I agree, Bazzio101. But we do have the Greens, if only we could get over the prejudice of our Media, and ignore the bleats of the Lib/Lab Party hacks. The Democrats died when they played footsie with The Right, John Howard. My hope is that the Greens DO NOT play footsie with either Right Wing Party to get political kudos. The LibDems in Britain tried it, and have been (or will be) exterminated. The Democrats in Australia were exterminated by the Howard GST. The Greens now are our only hope. I really do wish that Christine Milne could get and hold media attention like Bob Brown did. She and her voice have just about disappeared, thanks to 'our' Media. And she has been making far too many 'accomodating' noises to my liking. There lies death!
I give notice, I was a Member of the Democrats, and I am a member of the Greens.

Posted Wednesday, January 30, 2013 - 13:20

The increasing refugee problem is world-wide and was predicted as long ago as 1966, when the planet's population was one third what it is today. Like climate change, rising seas, running out of water, overcrowding/overpopulation/ increased likelihood of disease/ bigger floods, longer dry periods, more wars, more social unrest, peak oil, degradation of soils, poisoning of water supplies, poisonous air... more cyclones... all these have been predicted, some more than a century ago and so we have all been warned... but humans don't believe warnings, they are, for the most part, unable to comprehend the "precautionary principle". So all these catastrophes are arriving, no one is coping, millions are suffering, chaos is just around the corner and we're wringing our hands and saying something must be done! Yes, it must. Each individual must take responsibility for themselves and, if they have them, their children. Why are people with nothing to live for still breeding? Why has a woman in a refugee camp on the brink of starvation had three children in five years? Infanticide or abortion is a gift to the child in that situation - but our closest allies, our dearest friends who murder thousands of children with drones call abortion a crime against decency... Get real. We've helped create this situation and so have the people fleeing terror or floods if you've built your house on a flood plain. Cope with it.

K Brown
Posted Thursday, January 31, 2013 - 01:25

Zoe Krupka

All asylum seekers on Manus Island voluntarily boarded a boat in Indonesia and arrived in Australia after the Government announced the regime of offshore processing under the “no advantage” principle which meant they would likely be kept in immigration detention for a prolonged and indeterminate period. They were clearly warned of the consequences of their actions and should have been psychologically prepared for that. They have no cause to suddenly feel that they have become a burden to their family and society in the manner you have postulated.

There is not one iota of evidence that “Our current asylum seeker policy is leading to a significant number of deaths” and I challenge you to substantiate this claim! No asylum seekers being processed offshore have committed suicide and there is no data that shows refugees processed offshore under the Howard Government’s “Pacific Solution” suffered higher levels of suicide or mental illness than the general refugee population. There are more suicides by refugees and asylum seekers being processed onshore than there are offshore and 99% of reported suicide attempts on Nauru and Manus Island are stunts and fabrications by asylum seekers seeking publicity and sympathy. The only signifant number of asylum seeker deaths are those who are drowned at sea on leaky boat trips from Indonesia. Detering these voyages will save lives.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. O. Puhleez
Posted Thursday, January 31, 2013 - 08:19

K Brown:

Well said.

Posted Thursday, January 31, 2013 - 09:29

Zoe Krupka has done the pro asylum seeker movement, a great favour by highlighting the mental health risks of prolonged detention, especially on places like Manus Island and Nauru. The people who were sent there were largely tricked, thinking they were moving elsewhere on the Australian mainland and finding themselves where they are. Even the government admits that the facilities on Nauru and Manus are unacceptable and are embarking on a building program.But you have to remember that many of the asylum seekers there have been on the refugee trail and been interned before. Many have been through terrible times before reaching Australia. Read The People Smuggler by Robin de Crespigny and whatever else you can get your hands on, and then make informed comment not insular self serving patter based on lies about asylum seekers.

Why is Australia doing this? Because we can, and because our government can get away with it with the voting population.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. O. Puhleez
Posted Thursday, January 31, 2013 - 18:19


The real tragedy for the asylum seekers is that they have been led to believe, by people smugglers interested only in relieving them of substantial quantities of cash, that once landed on Australian territory they would become Australia's responsibility. Moreover, they have been led to believe that our responsibilities under the International Refugee Convention (IRC) would lead to permanent resettlement for them here, as was the case with those sent to Nauru in Howard's time.

The fairest thing Australia can do at this stage is withdraw from the IRC, increase the refugee quota, and welcome a more diverse range of refugees: not just those escaping from the wars endemic to the Islamic world. There are many others who could do with a new start, such as victims of Burmese military regime repression.