Material World: Desperately Seeking Safety

Racism and xenophobia are not specifically Australian personality traits, for racism isn’t biological or innate. It was created to rationalise and justify slavery and colonialism, exploiting pseudo-science to persuade people that racial superiority is natural. There is nothing natural about it. The attitude of today’s government contrasts with the reception given to the Vietnamese boat-people in the 70s and 80s. Back then, Australia honoured its obligation as a signatory to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. The 2006 census recorded 173,663 Australian people of Vietnamese ancestry who were first or second generation Australians. The logistics of accommodating newcomers is something that Australia has repeatedly demonstrated it is capable of achieving.

Hamid Kehazaei, a young Iranian asylum seeker, has been declared brain-dead following his emergency medical evacuation from the Manus island detention centre. Dr Peter Young, the former director of mental health services at IHMS and one of the most senior doctors working in immigration detention, explained he would not be surprised if there were delays to Kehazaei’s medical care.

‘Whenever people are placed in a remote place like this, where there isn’t access to local services on the ground, it inevitably creates a situation in which there are going to be delays when people have deteriorating conditions and when higher level, tertiary care is required. That’s just a characteristic of being in a remote location and that’s leaving aside the issues of the logistics when someone needs to be moved out and the bureaucratic delays when approval needs to be sought through multiple agencies’ (

Draconian immigration policies are increasingly being imposed by various countries around the world. Australia detains refugees who arrive by boat to seek political asylum on Christmas Island and in camps in Papua New Guinea and Nauru. Australian governments, both Liberal and Labour parties, have demonised boat people for 15 years, defying international law.

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the new United Nations high commissioner for human rights, accused Australia of causing human rights violations through its policy of detaining asylum seekers offshore:

 ‘Australia’s policy of offshore processing for asylum seekers arriving by sea, and its interception and turning back of vessels, is leading to a chain of human rights violations, including arbitrary detention and possible torture following return to home countries. It could also lead to the resettlement of migrants in countries that are not adequately equipped… Human rights are not reserved for citizens only, or for people with visas. They are the inalienable rights of every individual, regardless of his or her location and migration status.’ he declares (Sydney Morning Herald, 7 September).

Admiral Chris Barrie, responsible for border protection under the Howard government, said the demonising of asylum seekers in Australia’s detention centres was a central concern for him:

‘I’m not sure we should continue to use the term ‘mandatory detention’ when we actually mean jail. At least in Australian jails the incarcerated have rights of access to legal support and representation. In these jails no such rights exist.’ He continued: ‘Australians are doing their utmost to extinguish hope, the most powerful of human emotions’ (Sydney Morning Herald, 4 September).

Why do some Australians ‘hate’ asylum seekers? Many are led to believe they are one of society’s biggest problems. Little wonder. The media claims Australia is under siege from asylum seekers and they are blamed for higher taxes, increasing crime, rising house prices, longer hospital waits, cheap labour, as well as terrorism and disease. Mainstream politicians promote such stories.

Even if all the boats were stopped, even if they were all sent back into Indonesian waters, even if all asylum seekers were locked up in detention camps situated in puppet countries, none of that would increase wages or pensions, increase the numbers of nurses and doctors in public hospitals, make the education system any better, or make more affordable housing available. The campaign against asylum seekers won’t lead to a single affordable house, a single hospital or a single school being built. Everybody knows this deep down, yet asylum seekers are the scapegoat for the ignorant and aggrieved. It is a campaign of fear to cover-up the failures of capitalism.


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