Howard never “stopped the boats”

10 05 2011

If I had a dollar for how many times any given Liberal politician says the phrase “Stop the Boats”.

Refugees and Asylum seekers are back in the spotlight after Julia Gillard has come up with her “Malaysia Solution” — which isn’t going to help anything.

Of all the myth, the legend, the sheer fabrication that gets thrown around in the discourse over refugee and assylum seeker, the most damaging, the most disturbing of the lot remains the belief that John Howard “stopped the boats”.

Bullshit.

During the period towards the end of John Howard’s esteemed leadership of this fine country, that is, between 2002 and 2005 there was a global reduction in the number of refugees.

According to the UNHCR, the total number of people of concern fell from 20.8 million people in 2002 to 19.4 million in 2004.  The total number of refugees fell from 10.6 million to 9.2 million people.  During the period between 2002 and 2004, the global population of refugees dropped by 24%.

During that same period Germany (35 610) recorded its lowest number of arrivals in a decade, United States (52 360) and Switzerland (14 250) recorded the lowest arrival of assylum seekers since 1987 and The Netherlands (9 780) recorded its lowest arrival of applicants since 1988.

Why was this?

Because during this period the situation in Iraq, Serbia and Montenegro and Afghanistan, was largely improving.  These are places where large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers originated.  It was only in the following years that things started to get messy again, in a wide variety of places.

During this period John Howard’s Pacific Solution was in full swing.  It was claimed the hard-line treatment of asylum seekers, termed “boat people”, had “stopped the boats”.  Apparently it still is.  If not an outright lie, I’d say dishonest was a fair assesment.

John Howard never stopped the boats.  He just took credit for a global trend, and that point is emphasised by the very fact the countries which also experienced a reduction in arrivals have implemented systems which were much less restrictive than the “pacific solution” under Howard.

What has caused an substantial increase in the number of people seeking assylum in this court is a change in situation.  The brutal crackdown on protests in Iran, Burma and Thailand.  The crushing of the Tamil Tigers in Shri Lanka, increased the numbers of people who may seek to escape repression.  The conflicts started by Australia and its allies in Afghanistan and Iraq, as they dragged on over a period of a decade and resistance began to mount, have caused more people to leave.

So, yeah, there is going to be an increase. at. some. point. (i.e. right now)

The discourse is only going to become more polticised over the next few months and all those people with their stories and the real, present danger to their lives, will be forgotten beneath the figures, labels and hard-line rhetoric as political parties try to pander to the right-wing nationalist tendencies that have become, to some extent, normalised.

As much as I’d like to think people might cut the crap, I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon.





A simple solution to stop Andrew Bolt:

18 03 2010

Deport him.  See how he appreciates it.

Australia’s answer to Bill O’Reilly has done it again.  Reading his latest column, well you can see what I’m getting at.  Bolt tackles the mammoth subject of asylum seekers and refugees in an argument that amounts to a gross mischaracterisation of… pretty much everything.

In no particular order,

Bolt insinuates, bluntly, that the Pacific Solution under Howard was the answer to Australia’s refugee problem.  Fewer refugees came to the Australian continent, therefore it must have worked.  Unless of course there was a global downturn in refugees towards the end of Howard’s reign while the Pacific Solution was in place.

  • Deterrents will stop people from coming

Imagine for a moment that you’re a father.  Your wife is dead, killed in local unrest.  Your life is ruined, your home burned and the lives of your children and yourself are under threat.  You gotta be a man, stand up, take care of the family.  What are you going to do?  Get yourself on a boat and look for a new future.  That’s what drives you to leave.  Chances are, you’re not going to know how the legal system operates in whatever country you are destined for.  You don’t know your rights, what can or can’t be done.  All you know is that you need to try.  So called ‘push’ factors have a much larger role than any ‘pull’ factors that Liberal Party members, Nationalists, and Conservatives like Andrew Bolt seem to play on.  No matter how brutal you get on these people, they’re still going to give it a shot because it can’t be worse than being gunned down, blown up, raped, set on fire — or any of the other evils you suffer back home.  Which brings me to my next point…

  • Queue Jumpers

It is safe to say that anyone who believes there is a ‘queue’ is seriously misinformed.  Simply, there is no queue and often the governments that have persecuted these people have no interest in giving them the passports and other documents they need to travel.  As I have observed before, if you have no documents, you have no soul and virtually don’t exist.

Many of the people who find themselves in refugee camps like Kakuma, where violence and hunger is still common.  For some strange reason, people seem to be under the strange belief that life in a refugee camp is safe, happy and temporary.  Something akin to a holiday camp.  People may live half their lives in these refugee camps before they are even offered the chance to settle elsewhere.  Half a life spent behind razor wire, under the threat of being raped or killed if you leave the boundaries, battling hunger and then the possible divisions that exist inside the camp.  Although I do not claim this is universal, given the alternative, it’s understandable why people will do whatever they can to leave.

  • They can pay, so they must not be that well off

Bolt makes this observation, and in response I point out that asylum seekers may be able to pay for a people smuggler to take them across the water to Australia, but notice how they don’t bring much of anything with them?  I don’t know what Bolt imagines when he thinks of refugees, but I can guarantee you that they aren’t dipping into their Swiss bank savings accounts to escape.

  • We should turn the boats back.  They ain’t ‘genuine’.

Well, I hate to say it, but that would be a breach of Australia’s obligations under international law as we are party to conventions that state, strictly, that a country cannot turn back refugees that are seeking assistance.  That’s the whole point of the refugee convention when, you know, a lot of the world wanted to ‘turn back’ boatloads Jewish refugees when Hitler was causing a bit of a ruckus in Europe.

That is, and there is a catch, if they land on Australian soil.  So this is why the Australian government has sunk millions of dollars into building, maintaining and expanding a system where the navy intercepts boats and hauls them off to detention at Christmas island; they are offshore.

And it is worth mentioning that this underscores the difference between a ‘asylum seeker’ and a ‘refugee’ in international law; ‘asylum seekers’ are ‘refugees’ that haven’t had the chance to be processed by the UN.  The major reason why they haven’t been processed is, as I mentioned earlier, the fact that there is ‘no queue’ and that these people had to flee their homes, in other words, they had to get out fast, or die.  So much for not being ‘genuine’.

  • Housing them at Christmas Island cost big $$$.  We should send them back.

The biggest irony about this argument made by Bolt, is that he cites statistics provided by a refugee advocate service, which are traditionally used to explain why excessive border control is absurd and impossible to defend.  Secondly, the source of the statistic has the effect of goading people to believe that Bolt is being fair and balanced, and certainly if Bolt has been snooping around the publications and websites put up by refugee advocates, he most certainly would be familiar with their myth-busting work.

However, Bolt uses these statistics to paradoxically defend the mega-money needed to fund navy to patrol our waters to protect Australia from the life-threatening, doom-bringing, evil of evils, boat-travelling asylum seekers.  On top of this exists the ancillary costs associated with advertising, logistics, persuading foreign governments to go along with the plan, feeding/accommodating/deporting all those that arrive by plane (there are far more asylum seekers that arrive by plane) and the untold cost to Australia’s international reputation.  These all compound every time we decide to get ‘tougher’ on border protection.

Sometimes it seems it would be easier to just let them all in.

Oh, and Bolt’s solution to the whole issue?

So here’s a simple plan to fix everything – a plan first suggested to me by Family First Senator Steve Fielding to stop the boats dead without being at all cruel.

Let’s announce that from today we’ll send every boatload of “asylum seekers” we intercept to some refugee camp in Indonesia, Pakistan or whichever other country we can persuade to take them.

Yes, you’re right. Those countries won’t want our rejects, so let’s make them an offer they can’t refuse.

For every single boat person they take from us, we’ll take two genuine refugees from their camps.

What could be fairer? We’ll be twice as kind, we’ll send the boat people to safety and we’ll reward not those who’ve pushed in but the refugees who have waited the longest in line.

Two refugees for every boat person. Guaranteed to stop the flood like nothing Rudd has ever tried.

Don’t you just love it when Bolt calls them ‘rejects’?  Nothing like a bit of callous disregard for human life to get you hot under the collar.








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