17 Mar 2014

The Struggle For Refugee Rights Can Be Won

By Nick Riemer

'Enough of this madness against refugees. Enough suffering. Enough despair.' Refugee advocate Nick Riemer delivered this speech to the Sydney March in March rally yesterday

I’d like to begin by acknowledging that we’re meeting on the ancient land of the Gadigal people — land that was never ceded. There’s a clear link between Australia’s dispossession of indigenous people and its relentless persecution of refugees.

Congratulations to the organisers for making today happen. It’s enormously heartening so many people are here.

We’re here to say that enough is enough. Enough of this madness against refugees. Enough suffering. Enough despair. Enough of this blight on our society. We’re here to tell the major parties to end their cynical war on asylum seekers.

Friends, I don’t think I need to convince anyone here that we have to oppose Abbott tooth and nail.

But we also have to ask this — oppose him to put in who? It was Labor that established mandatory detention in the first place. Peel off Scott Morrison’s rubber mask and you’ll find a face underneath that looks a lot like Chris Bowen. Different styles, same basic ideas. Only the Greens have held the line on refugees and all honour to them for it.

If we let governments persecute defenceless people just for asking us for help, then imagine what precedent that sets for the treatment of other marginalised people — the unemployed, disabled people, single parents, indigenous Australians.

But we know that the minute we call for justice for refugees, the major parties’ hypocritical apologists will line up to lecture us about how “simplistic” or “naive” we’re being about what they call a “complex problem”.

Let’s not be taken in — those lectures serve no other purpose than to justify politicians’ cowardice. Tell Reza Berati how complex it is — he was brutally killed on Manus a few weeks ago. Tell it to the men who dug their own graves on Nauru. Tell it to Ranjini, locked up in despair in Villawood as we speak, never to be released.

Here’s the truth: refugees aren’t the problem; the Coalition and the ALP are. If countries like Germany or the UK can host far more asylum seekers per capita than us, and without mandatory detention and offshore processing, then we can too, just like we did before 1992. And when we do, we’ll free up billions and billions of dollars which could be used to make our society better, and not to break people’s lives like we’re doing now.

How do we get to there from here? First off, we need to see through this hollow talk of "saving lives at sea".

Why do refugees die at sea? Not because it’s somehow impossible to get here by boat from Indonesia. Only because our people-smuggling laws force them to use old and unseaworthy vessels. If our laws didn’t do that, there’d be no reason people couldn’t get here safely. No reason at all.

Labor and the Coalition obviously won’t accept those arguments: they have blood on their hands; they won’t budge. What we need is to create a groundswell in our society that’s broad-based and powerful enough to shift public opinion so that it becomes impossible for any politician to successfully sustain an anti-refugee agenda.

That’s an ambitious project, but there’s nothing unrealistic about it. The essence of public opinion is that it changes. But for it to change, we need a broad-based movement.

Friends, the seeds of that movement are here. Each one of us holds the key to welcoming refugees in Australia. The political ideas that ordinary people exchange among themselves are far more powerful — far more — than anything a career politician can say at a news conference before they’re whisked off in their Commonwealth car.

So, we need to be outspoken. We need to unapologetically insist that refugees are welcome here, and give confidence to the people around us to do the same. We need to expose the viciousness with which the major parties use refugees as scapegoats to distract us from their own indifference to creating a better society. We need to organise local initiatives in our own communities that unite people to build the momentum for change. We need to come together at more demonstrations, to put a public face to our campaign.

We can start with the demonstration we’re organising on 13 April, Palm Sunday in Hyde Park. Please consider coming.

We’re in a dark chapter of this country’s refugee history. But make no mistake: this campaign will win — just as so many other movements for justice and a better world have finally won. We have a long struggle ahead of us, but we will win.

We’ll win not because there’s anything especially generous or welcoming about Australians. Claiming there is just plays into the stereotypes that get used in a racist and jingoistic way to attack asylum seekers.

We will win because processing refugees in the community is the only acceptable long-term option that Australia has. The depraved system we have now rests on lies and contradictions. We’ll eventually crack those lies and contradictions so far apart that the whole murderous architecture of mandatory detention and offshore processing will collapse like the pitiful and shoddy lean-to it is.

Members of the Refugee Action Coalition are here — come and talk to us about how you can help us campaign for justice for refugees. Together, we will put an end to this madness. We will close the camps; we will end mandatory detention; we will install a more just and a more decent treatment of asylum seekers in this country — and we will all be the better for it.

But we’ll only do it if we act, if we act together, and if we start acting now. Thank you.

See NM's photo essay from the Sydney rally here.

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MJoanneS
Posted Monday, March 17, 2014 - 13:16

There is a depravity not only in the polity of this country but the MSM who never bothered to learn what refugee laws are, that we don't own the oceans and borders of the world and that it is not smuggling simply to help refugees when they ask for it.

 

Only Australia treats refugees worse than mass murderers with the blessing of the racist media.

O. Puhleez
Posted Monday, March 17, 2014 - 15:17

Are we all agreed then?

1. Declare Australia's borders open; 2. Start on-shore 'processing' (ie trying to establish who these maritime arrivals are, given they have ditched the identity documents they used in order to get to Indonesia); 3. Minimise the risks involved in the sea crossing from Indonesia to Australia by starting a low-fare, taxpayer-subsidised (say weekly) ferry service from a suitable Indonesian port to Darwin; 4, Get ready to start a massive building program (with jobs galore) to house all the new arrivals, mainly in Sydney and Melbourne; 5. Finance all this whichever way is most politically acceptable;  6. Deal with the clamour to bypass the International Refugee Convention and to allow whoever is claiming refugee status to nominate their country of final settlement - inevitably this one; 7. At some stage when a spare moment can be grabbed, decide if Australia will take all comers, or whether we need a population policy. 

In the words of Riemer: "But we know that the minute we call for justice for refugees, the major parties’ hypocritical apologists will line up to lecture us about how “simplistic” or “naive” we’re being about what they call a 'complex problem'." 

Well, there is no simplistic naivete about what is set out above. Just open the borders, and watch whatever happens.

MJoanneS
Posted Monday, March 17, 2014 - 17:07

Go away Puhleez, what you have described is Australian law whether you like it or not.

O. Puhleez
Posted Monday, March 17, 2014 - 19:35

 

MJoanneS:

"There is a depravity not only in the polity of this country but the MSM who never bothered to learn what refugee laws are, that we don't own the oceans and borders of the world ..."

Well said. But should you happen to travel OS in future, I suggest you tell that to Passport Control and Customs, particularly when on your way back in.

Also for consistency, best remove the front door to your home ASAP. The back door as well.

aaron
Posted Monday, March 17, 2014 - 19:52

Abbott has stopped the boats, there will be no need for detention centres once there are no illegal arrivals. Face the facts whingers, Abbott's policies worked.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. DrGideonPolya
Posted Monday, March 17, 2014 - 20:09

Excellent speech.

Those who ignore, excuse, support or are otherwise complicit  in the highly abusive  indefinite imprisonment of mothers and children without charge or trial in remote, disease-ridden  concentration  camps  have crossed the line separating decent humanity from Nazi-style barbairity.

Evidently a sick, sick majority of voters in Tasmania and South Australia have done so.

GraemeF
Posted Tuesday, March 18, 2014 - 00:01

aaron says "Abbott has stopped the boats, there will be no need for detention centres once there are no illegal arrivals. Face the facts whingers, Abbott's policies worked."

I'm sure if you put a bullet through the head of every speeding car driver then you would stop speeding pretty pronto. The fact that you have used cruel and inhuman sollutions or undue force to solve a problem is irrelevent if the ends justify the means. 

We have signed the Refugee Convention and we claim to be civilised people. Our actions go against both of those.

If you want to live in a society that no longer wants to recognise that people fleeing persecution need to be sheltered and that instead we should use any means, violent or otherwise to stop them then fine. Lobby the government to withdraw from the Refugee Convention and institute a law of the jungle, with a red in tooth and claw asylum seeker law. Then you can shout out proudly to the rest of the world that we are a bunch of mongrel curs who will tear you to shreds if you dare touch our soil. You can even express it in 'colourful terms' once 18c is removed from legislation. 

Until then we have an accepted standard of behaviour that allows us to claim the mantle of 'civilised people' who live by the rule of law. We should not break international laws for crass political point scoring. Abbott is not above the law.

MJoanneS
Posted Tuesday, March 18, 2014 - 01:10

Asylum seekers are not required to have bloody passports, why does the whiney o puhleez think they do still?  If they did that would entirely negate the refugee convention for millions of people,

O. Puhleez
Posted Tuesday, March 18, 2014 - 13:45

Yes, well said graemeF.

Except for the boat arrivals. The Indonesian ferrymasters try to bring them to points where they become the responsibility of the Australian taxpayer, one way or another.

According to the UNHCR:

The 12th edition of the Statistical Yearbook reports that 45.2 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide due to persecution and conflict at the end of 2012, the highest number in almost 20 years. Some 15.4 million people were refugees, 10.5 million under UNHCR’s mandate and 4.9 million Palestinian refugees registered by UNRWA. The global figure included 28.8 million internally displaced persons and some 928,200 asylum-seekers.

Most of the people represented by the above statitstics are in refugee camps of one kind or another. The tiny minority of them who choose to come here by boat have chosen not to hang around with the other 50 million or so in a refugee camp waiting their turn for resettlement in some country not to be nominated by them. They have opted for fast-forward, (and who can blame them?)

For far more than the cost of a first class plane ticket from Indonesia to Australia they get into a leaky boat. And so try to jump the queue.

Problem is, for every one who makes it to Australia and is granted permanent residence in some form, two or three or more set out to do the same. And so we get the situation that caused Gillard to try her various offshore solutions: an exponential increase in boat arrivals.

So, graemeF:

1. how many of that 50 million or so would you admit before you called a halt, and

2. what would you do with the surplus arrivals?

Please do not try to evade either question.

Marga
Posted Tuesday, March 18, 2014 - 14:58

Nick Riemer:  Germany among others requires asylum seekers to ID themselves.  In this way they for example found that one African A.S. was wanted in Spain for drug-related crimes.

Also, note the comments in German newspapers:   the people are not happy with the velvet-glove treatment of arrivals - just like here.

Graeme F:  Yes, Australia should withdraw from the IRC and so should all western countries, forcing the UN to come up with something more workable and more inclusive.  Why, for example, can a country be a member of the UN but not a signatory to the Convention?  Either one is a member of the UN or one is not.   Choosing to be a member only where one benefits, must not be an option.  

In general and as has again been shown last night on 7.30 - boat people tend to be economic migrants or leave their country for personal reasons.   In fact it became crystal clear to me last night that the reason why these people are so desparate is that they paid big money to organized crime in the belief to purchase an entry ticket into Australia.  Now that will not be the case but the money will not be refunded.  Bad deal!

So, don't confuse people who flee conflict/war and a persecuting regime with people who may have 101 reasons why they want to leave their homeland,  but war and persecution are not part of that.    Just note that genuine refugees and IDPs have no greater wish than to return home.  

Samatha Watson
Posted Tuesday, March 18, 2014 - 15:06

Well said Graeme. 

I vote for an Australia that is civilised in it's treatment of people fleeing persecution.

Samatha Watson
Posted Tuesday, March 18, 2014 - 15:10

@Marga: Can you point me to research showing boat people are primarily economic migrants? I assume 7:30 is basing their reporting on published research?

O. Puhleez
Posted Tuesday, March 18, 2014 - 16:18

Samantha Watson:

As graemeF appears to be unavailable, perhaps you might like to answer my above question.

How does admitting boat arrivals avoid compounding the boat arrival problem? For a problem it is. For every one who makes it to Australia and is granted permanent residence in some form, two or three or more set out to do the same. And so we get the situation that caused Gillard to try her various offshore solutions: an exponential increase in boat arrivals.

So, :

1. how many of that (UNHCR) 50 million or so would you admit before you called a halt, and

2. what would you do with the surplus arrivals?

Any ideas?

Marga
Posted Tuesday, March 18, 2014 - 17:26

Samatha Watson:

They say so themselves.   I have heard it time and again on NDR, SBS and ABC as well as in documentaries.   And you know that as well as I do.

You have to ask 7.30 for their line of research.  I don't work there.

billgale
Posted Tuesday, March 18, 2014 - 21:26

Even if a boat is full of asylum seekers or even those who might say (but unlikely)  I am an economic refugee and theya re on the high seas and our navy takes them in tow or even puts a hand on them in an agressive act isn't that form of piracy under international law.

there seems to me to be a fundamental international law being broken quite apart of whether we are treating the occupants in a manner befitting a citivilised coutry

MJoanneS
Posted Tuesday, March 18, 2014 - 21:34

Marga, how on earth can you keep spewing out the same racist garbage day in and day out.   The fact is that refugees, economic migrants or criminals all have the same human rights.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. grevillea
Posted Wednesday, March 19, 2014 - 10:30

GraemeF: I'm sure if you put a bullet through the head of every speeding car driver then you would stop speeding pretty pronto." Yes, it would, because the only people left alive in this land would be those who cannot drive (because, for example, of age or disability) and the very, very few who drive within the speed limit. I reckon we'd be down to maybe 5 million people. The very noisy road outside my place would be oh so much quieter. 

O. Puhleez
Posted Wednesday, March 19, 2014 - 11:48

MJoanneS:

"Marga, how on earth can you keep spewing out the same racist garbage day in and day out.   The fact is that refugees, economic migrants or criminals all have the same human rights."

Good trick. Next time you are coming through Passport Control with no passport, I suggest you tell them that, and in no uncertain terms.

And see how far it gets you.

Marga
Posted Wednesday, March 19, 2014 - 11:57

MJoanneS:

.... but only after they have first fulfilled their human responsibilities.   None of them have.

 

EarthFan
Posted Friday, March 21, 2014 - 16:02

MJoanneS: Accusing other writers of 'spewing racist garbage' testifies to your inability to argue rationally.

An increase in population, refugee or otherwise, increases the demand for goods and services. So more stuff can be sold at higher prices.  At the same time, population increase, especially of the unskilled and semi-skilled, keeps wages down. Lower wages and more sales at higher prices are really good for the owners of businesses. They get the profits, but the high cost of bringing in refugees, is carried by the whole community.

Likewise, the hike in the price of housing that comes with population increase, is great for property investors who are rich enough to own more than one home. Not good for Australians wanting to buy or rent a house.

So, I am left wondering how much of the urge to import able-bodied men, is based on the fear that they will be killed if they go home; and how much is the profit motive. When people start making accusations of 'racism' or 'xenophobia', against those who don't want Australia to be turned into another overpopulated hell-hole, I suspect that the display of compassion masks simple selfishness and greed.