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”.


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.

Reality Check on the Refugee Debates

25 10 2009

Xenophobia and Nationalist sabre rattling take up most of the debate about refugees.  All to often these people, who for whatever reason have decided to uproot and leave their homes for greener pastures, are portrayed as sub-human, without the appropriate paperwork, they have no soul.  Every Australian should be aware at the outrage and shock horror our most patriotic citizens have felt at the recent arrivals of boat people, the positions our politicians are taking, the cries against this horrible crime made by mostly Conservative, wealthy members of the community and the shear amount of rhetoric being used to score a few political points.

About a week ago I was with some friends and a few others.  People were talking and the subject of refugees came up.  I couldn’t believe my ears as I listened to these others talk of refugees as if they were sub-human.  The conversation had quickly become polarised between two positions; a Conservative and a Liberal.  The Conservative started smiling while announcing to the rest of the group that these refugees should all just be turned back in their boats.  I asked why, and he happily explained that the more we let in, the more our lives would become, ‘shit’.  I wanted to explore this thought further, but I could already guess the answer, ‘we only have so many resources and so much space, not to mention that these refugees will all, immediately, start taking Centrelink cheques’.  In other words, ‘my million dollar house in an exclusive suburb will be at risk if we allow too many to enter and they’ll live on welfare’ — which was surprising coming from an Italian whose own ethnicity faced the same discriminatory responses when they began arriving in this country.  I didn’t even know where to begin to tackle this absurdity that is just one step away from ‘they’re destroying our nation’s identity!’  It more or less relied on at least two basic assumptions; refugees are here to mooch and they have nothing to offer society. Never mind that the forces which make a person uproot and risk life and limb to relocate themselves and their families somewhere else means that they want to work because they want to live.  They are leaving their homes because it was so bad that they can no longer live as they wish.  Refugees, at least the ones I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, have never wanted to live off welfare, precisely because they want to live.  And again, all this makes me wonder about whether or not the same criticisms would be levelled against a large number of white refugees.  Would they be welcomed with open arms, or would they be round up and sent back home?

Then there was the Liberal, who otherwise lived in a fantasy world.  Granted, she took a position defending the refugees against the Conservative, but it was the manner in which she did so; she argued that the Australian economy was big enough to allow anyone in.  In short, she made such a weak argument against the Conservative that she was shot down in seconds and made it impossible for the Anarchist in the room to point out not only the intrinsic racism in the arguments of the Conservative but also the particularly arrogant assumption underlying all calls for increased, ‘hard-line’ border security that the world will get up and move to Australia if we just open the borders.  After all, people can’t resist coming to Australia even when there’s no reason to ‘begin again’ in their own country — and it should be well known that the energy and time needed to begin life over again, from nothing, is huge.  It’s a huge commitment but that only becomes absolutely necessary when your world collapses around you and prevents you from providing that better world for your partner and your children or your Self.

And so I woke up this morning, ate my cereal, started making myself coffee and turned on the TV. The glow bathed the living room and the familiar breakfast TV voices echoed in my ears. The presenters are interviewing a 60 Minutes reporter on a piece that will be aired tonight regarding refugees and they all seem to be talking, in depth about the business operations of those that bring the ‘boat people’ to our shores.

The Reporter was smiling and talking while the presenters asked him questions.  In short, he pointed out that the ‘boat people’ are ‘genuine’ refugees and he talked about those that bring the refugees to Australian shores.  He explained that these were mostly fishermen who found they could make a better profit by taking people to Australia instead of fishing.  It was pointed out that these people do not expect or even want to get to Australia; it is too dangerous.  They hope to be picked up by the Australian border guards so the people they are transporting will be taken to Christmas Island, they will be given a decent meal, kept warm and then given a plane ride home.  Are these people the evil monster’s that Kevin Rudd called them back a few months ago?  Are they profiting of human misery?  Sure, if you look at it from the perspective of, ‘Poor refugees, but they should wait in line while their world collapses around them instead of being goaded into doing something stupid be evil monsters’.  But this perspective doesn’t quite sit well with reality.  People want to get out and they want to get out now.  For whatever reason, they are willing to take the risk of coming by boat to Australia because they need to leave.  The ‘evil monster’ they turn to is a fisherman, just trying to make a living meanwhile the people, those poor refugees, are able to avoid much of the bureaucracy that may endanger their lives.  What these refugees are doing is something courageous and what the people who take them are doing is something heroic.

Then there is the fact that most people miss.  While crying ‘poor exploited boat person refugee who should have waited in line’ they ignore the fact that most of Australia’s refugees arrive by plane.  I would even go so far as to hazard the assertion that all those who treat ‘boat people’ as subhuman (evidenced in the very titled afforded them), should really think twice about their position on the basis that it may, one day, come back to haunt them.  After all, what happens if the lifestyle enjoyed in most of Australia suddenly goes to hell and many Australians look to escape?  Will they want to wait in line?  Will the rest of the world accept them or turn them back?

Borders and Border Protection are just codewords for xenophobia and do nothing but increase human suffering.  The more people call out for ‘regulation’ and ‘tougher laws’ to ‘combat’ the arrival of ‘boat people’, we will be helping to increase human suffering and misery.

EDIT:  Less than five minutes after posting this, I found the following:

Greens leader Bob Brown has told Channel Nine that if the Government wants to pursue a so-called “Indonesian solution” to deal with asylum seekers, it must seek assurances from the Indonesian government.

“I hope that Prime Minister Rudd will be calling on his Indonesian counterpart in Thailand to sign the international refugee conventions which guide basic ground rules for fast processing of asylum seekers,” he said.

Mr Brown says the Federal Government should be trying to improve detention conditions for asylum seekers in Indonesia.

“We’ve looked at the Australian-funded holding place in Indonesia, it’s got no power, it’s got none of the amenities we would expect for a decent jail, let alone a decent holding place,” he said.

“Some people are being held there for many years – five to 10 years – and that’s not acceptable.”

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has also defended the move, amid claims of extremely harsh conditions and beatings in Indonesian asylum seeker camps.

“We have carried out all of our obligations and continue to carry out all of our obligations,” Senator Conroy told Network Ten.

He says Australia has contributed almost $8 million this year towards improving conditions for asylum seekers being held in Indonesia.

So we’re taking people who have escaped one hell and thrown them into another.  Three cheers for Nationalism!

Boat people

18 04 2009

What is it about migration that causes people to get their knickers in a twist?  The simple act of moving house over the bridge to the other embankment where the grass is greener, rainbows appear routinely every morning and no one wearing military garb or carrying an RPG is trying to shoot you is something evil.  And so are the people that provide the bridge, according to Kevin Rudd.

Yes, more boats of refugee’s have showed up on Australian shores and the whole continent goes up in arms.  Conservatives, nationalists and all sorts of others have speculated this and that, the Liberal party has gone on public record saying that the Labour governments ‘soft’ stance on illegal immigrants is giving incentive for these people to come here and so on.  What is it about boatloads of people fleeing from areas of war, destruction and persecution gets these people up in arms?  The only answer that comes to mind is the obvious; they’re afraid these rag tag boats of asylum seekers are going to pull a tactic used by the British when they used to own the world.  You know, way back in the day when ‘settlers’ arrived at Botany Bay and all that, turned to the native people and said, “You, you and you. Fuck off.  You don’t exist.  This is our land now.” and ‘settled’ the place.

People smuggling, is something universally condemned.  But what about the people choosing to enter a country illegally?  Little attention is ever paid to the circumstances these people are fleeing from in the first place, which ties into the old Anarchist argument that red tape is red precisely because it’s dripping in blood.  The only comment that is properly given is that “they should have waited in line.”  Strictly speaking, getting on a rickety old boat and venturing onto the high seas is a fairly desperate solution, so you can only imagine the intensity of the circumstances these people are running form.  Something in these people tilted the balance away from politely waiting patiently in line while bullets whizzed over head, and tipped the scale in favour of doing something illegal to get out of harms way.  But mention this to a champion of tighter border security and watch the response that follows.  They simply don’t care.

Then we get onto the issue of people smugglers.  The ones providing the bridge to greener pastures.  Kevin Rudd, our fearless leader, even went on record saying, “People smugglers are the vilest form of human life because they trade on the tragedy of others.”  Funnily enough there is no mention to the cause of much of that tragedy, possibly because it can almost, always be traced back to the actions of a government.  And I suppose a portion people smugglers must be of a rather unpleasant character.  If you break it down, tighter regulation on anything tends to introduce an action to the criminal elements of society.  Just look at the drug trade.  There are notorious criminal gangs dealing just as there are small, independent entrepreneurs just looking to make some cash and get stoned.  You can’t fault them for that.

While I will concede that people, especially young women, may not end up in their final destination and that the smugglers themselves may be charging exorbitant prices, they are filling a need that governments don’t.  They provide these people with transportation, albeit not always in the best condition, and the chance to escape their immediate circumstances, while a government bureaucrat would prefer to make them wait.  But how can you wait if you are being persecuted?  I can personally guarantee that if an individual believes there is a significant threat to his or her life and that they are not safe, even if they have gone underground, they are going to find some way to get the hell out.  Legally or not.  It’s a fact of life.

Even still, migration is natural.  For centuries human beings have naturally known that if you are suffering in one place, maybe it would be a good idea to move to another place where you won’t suffer.  For centuries humans have done this freely, until government decide to place a lock and chain on the natural act of human migration and, by consequence, another fundamental aspect of individuality.  It is criminal.

But of course the great defenders of tight border security argue that these people could be terrorists!  Slipping into our borders to attack us at home.  Needless to say that nearly every major terrorist attack performed on the domestic soil of America, Britain and elsewhere were performed by people who entered the country legally.  If you’re looking to perform subversive activities, do you really think you’re going to risk having your operatives captured mid-mission by asking them to board a rickety old boat to sneak into a country illegally.  The risk is too great.  Either you’re going to recruit citizens or you’re going to have them do the paperwork so they appear legit.

Then there’s the argument that these people, speaking in general terms, come to a country, park their ass on a couch somewhere and become a burden on the system.  This neglects two facts.  Most refugees want to get away from terrible circumstances and want to start a new life.  They’re not the lazy or parasitic caricatures of human beings portrayed by conservative types because to build a new life for you and your family you need to work for it.  Yet even then there are always a minority who fit the stereotype, as it has to be born somewhere.  However these people wouldn’t be a problem if the welfare state didn’t exist to enslave people via dependency in the first place.  All too often centrelink cheques come with a catch and because money’s being handed out without any real work, there is an incentive to maintain that state in order to bring in the free money.  The problem lies not with people, as it’s a direct result of human nature (give a man a fish a day and there’s no reason to go out and catch fish).  The problem lies with the system handing out fish.

Oh and the last argument to always be levelled and this people is the traditional and timeless, ‘they’ll steal our jobs’ by-line of xenophobes.  I need not mention that it’s all too often illegal immigrants that wind up doing the shit-work that no natural-born citizen wants in the first place, allowing them happily to apply themselves to some other occupation that requires more training.

And for what it’s worth, if this is how the country reacts to a couple boatloads of people fleeing adversity, I hate to imagine what the reaction is going to be when Kim Jung-il kicks the bucket.  North Korea will open up and people will flood out into the surrounding regions in the thousands.  I’d like to see the government justify deporting North Koreans.


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