After a decade of breaching international law by detaining asylum seekers who arrived by boat on poor island nations, the Australian government is continuing to hold around 130-odd refugees offshore: 88 in Papua New Guinea and 51 on Nauru.
These people, who arrived in Australian waters about 10 years ago, were some of the Earth’s most desperate when they showed up, and yet, our nation has slowly and purposely tortured them, via indefinite detention, a failure to provide safe asylum and the imposition of deplorable conditions.
Greens Senator Nick McKim introduced a piece of legislation, the Migration Amendment (Evacuation to Safety) Bill 2023, which provided a set of laws, drafted in accordance with Labor policy settings, that permitted the Albanese government to simply bring the remaining refugees to our country.
In the interim period between the introduction of the legislation early last month and its being put to the vote last week, two remaining refugees on Nauru attempted to starve themselves to death in protest of their ongoing confinement and were eventually brought here due to their conditions.
But when the bill was put to the vote on 8 March, the supposedly rights-forward Albanese government voted against bringing these people to Australia, even after ten years of psychological and physical harm, with no clear reason as to why.
Indeed, coming straight after the hunger strikers were airlifted to safety, the bipartisan decision to vote down these laws has sent a clear message to the remaining offshore detainees: the only way off their island prison is via extreme self-harm.
Who’s running the show?
“They’ve been attacked on the islands. They’re in fear of their lives from local gangs,” said People Just Like Us spokesperson Fabia Claridge. “They can’t make any plans. They’re just in limbo. And this is a deliberate policy.”
The advocate questions why Labor voted to keep these innocent people on the islands, when the party had promised a more humane approach to offshore detainees pre-election, as well as to put an end to punishing asylum seekers regardless of what mode of transport they took to Australia.
While long-term refugee rights supporter Jane Salmon makes clear that the refugees left offshore have been singled out arbitrarily as the last remaining hostages.
“When the wellbeing of vulnerable people is sacrificed to intellectual laziness or strategic furphies like ‘Stop the Boats’, you don’t have a democracy worth defending,” asserted Salmon. “This is crucifying refugees for the benefit of golden ticket immigrants who buy up investment properties.”
Both ardent refugee supporters raised questions as to why Labor would be continuing to treat the remaining people in such a manner, suggesting that either Coalition opinion still weighs heavily in the Home Affairs Department, or else it’s the current Defence team steering the ship.
No choice but to starve
Another offshore detainee, Monir Ullah, started a hunger strike on 5 March. So, Salmon wrote to home affairs minister Clare O’Neil last Friday, alerting her to the man’s deteriorating health and requesting that he be brought to Australia for the medical treatment he’s long been seeking.
“Is it going to be that they have to put their own lives at risk? He’s already sick. All of them are sick. Those in PNG and Nauru are already sick, both mentally and physically,” Claridge told Sydney Criminal Lawyers. “Where do we go from here?”
“And what does this mean for Labor?” she questioned in conclusion. “Many of us in the sector believe it is just going to see thousands more voting for independents and Greens, because Labor has completely abandoned human rights.”