A policy of death and horror for asylum seekers

Following the brutal murder of Reza Berati, 23, an Iranian asylum seeker detained in Manus Island detention camp last week, political observers said his death is inevitable, an example of  a policy that works—that is deterrence. Operation Sovereign Borders reiterates the message: Do not attempt to take a boat to Australia.

A migration agent who is working on the island said the detention center is intended for indefinite detention, not as a processing centre as promised. Liz Thompson, one of the agents hired by the Australian government to prepare the processing of applications, said the  process is fake.

Thompson said the facilitity is designed as “an experiment in the active creation of horror” to deter people from trying to take the chance to get into Australia. She spoke to Mark David on Dateline on Tuesday night to unveil more of the horror in the detention camp.

She initially stated:

Manus Island is…. the active creation of horror in order to secure deterrence. And that’s why I say again, Reza Barati’s death is not some kind of crisis for the department, it’s an opportunity to extend that logic, one step further – to say ‘This happens, but deterrence continues, Operation Sovereign Borders continues.

Riots broke out on Manus Island last week after detainees were briefed of resettlement to Papua New Guinea (PNG). In actuality, there is no processing going on. Thompson said the asylum seekers are smarter than the script they were instructed to say. About a hundred detainees were injured following an attempt by 35 to escape. Violent clashes followed leaving Berati fatally injured in the head. Local PNG residents were alleged to have attacked the detention center resulting in clashes between the detainees, the guards, and police.

Investigation is ongoing while Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has been under fire from various groups for his “incompetence” to do a high profile job.

A shrine for Reza Berati during a candlelight vigil in support of asylum seekers in Brisbane, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014. The nationwide vigil was held to mourn the death of the 23-year-old Iranian who died in a detention centre on Manus Island after he sustained a fatal head injury outside the centre on February 18. (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

Waleed Aly, in his column at The Age, earlier said the death of Berati is the logic of the policy– to sanction horror.

This is the very logic of our asylum seeker policy – which is built on the sole rationality of deterrence – to create horror. We’re banking on it. That’s emphatically the point. So now, let us make this calculus finally explicit: whatever these people are fleeing, whatever circumstance makes them think they’d be better off chancing death on boats hardly worthy of that description, we must offer them something worse. That something is PNG.

The worse it is, the more effective it is destined to be, and the more it fulfils the philosophical intentions of the policy. Put simply, this tragedy is not any kind of evidence of policy failure. It is, in fact, the very best form of deterrence. This is what it looks like when the policy works.

Grassroots hold rally

Rallies and vigils were held nationwide to condemn the current government policy. Last Friday, more than 2,000 people marched in an emergency rally in Melbourne to press the government to shut down Manus detention camp.

Thousand of people march in Melbourne to condemn the death of an asylum seeker in Manus Island. (Photo: Daniel Taylot/Socialist Alternative

The demonstration began at the State Library and was culminated at the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. The crowd included Greens MP Adam Brandt; Mohammad Baqiri – a refugee detained on Nauru under John Howard; Michele O”Neil – state secretary of the Textile Clothing and Footwear Union; and Pamela Curr of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.

Speakers condemned the policy as well as the complicity of the Australian Labor Party (ALP). The ALP, under the then Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd governments transacted the re-opening of Manus detention camp.

Protesters stormed the building of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Melbourne. (Photo: Daniel Taylor/Socialist Alternative)

Abbott nailed the fate of asylum seekers on Manus when he won the federal election in September last year.

O’Neil said what is going on in Manus is currently in the hands and responsibility of Abbott and his immigration minister.

Curr urged, “We have to maintain the rage because, if we don’t, they will just wipe over and Reza Berati will be just another victim of a brutal Australian regime….”

Protesters chanted “Close Manus now!” Some threw fake blood on the windows of the building while the crowd chanted “Abbott, Morrison: Blood on your hands”.

Protesters will hold another rally to demonstrate refugees rights March 1.

Candlelight vigils nationwide

On Sunday, about 20,000 people joined in candlelight vigils held in major cities and districts all over Australia. About 5,000 people turned up in Melbourne, while about 4,500 lighted candles in Sydney. Organized by Getup, Light the Dark is a demonstration of solidarity against inhumane treatment of asylum seekers. Participants said the brutal slaying of Berati does not speak of majority of Australians.

SamMcLean said Australians have been really shocked to see somebody who came seeking protection but to instead brutalized to death.

Candlelight vigil in Sydney (Photo credit: Amnesty Australia/GetUp)
Light the Dark vigil at Federation Square, Melbourne (Photo: from GetUp)

Tasmanian Asylum Seeker Support Network spokeswoman Emily Conolan, who spoke at the Hobart event, says a message needs to be sent to policy-makers. She said the death is not the first under Australian care and what it represents is a “catalyst or a flash point” which has mobilised Australians “who are shocked and disgusted and outraged at the events that have led to this.”

UN’s response

The United Nations refugee agency highlighted the need to address “significant shortcomings” in the process by which Australia moves asylum-seekers to Papua New Guinea (PNG) and called for a probe into the incident on Manus Island.

Babar Baloch, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva that the agency is “very concerned” about the recent developments on the detention center.

Based on three visits to Manus Island, UNHCR has consistently raised issues around the transfer arrangements and on the absence of adequate protection standards and safeguards for asylum-seekers and refugees in PNG. The last visit was in November last year.

Baloch said that “significant shortcomings” in the legal framework for receiving and processing asylum-seekers from Australia remain, including lack of national capacity and expertise in processing, and poor physical conditions.

“We also highlighted that detention practices are harmful to the physical and psycho-social well-being of transferees, particularly families and children.”

He stated that UNHCR stands ready to work with the Governments of Australia and PNG on how best to ensure that asylum-seekers, refugees and stateless persons receive appropriate protection

Foreign Minister proposes Cambodian Solution

While tension over the death of an asylum seeker escalates, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop asked her Cambodian counterpart Minister Hor Namhong to take in some of the boat arrivals.

Cambodia, one of the world’s poorest nations also saw the exodus of refugees escaping war and starvation in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The ministers raised the possibility of Cambodia to return the favor of housing refugees.

However, Labor and Greens mocked the proposal. Australian Greens leader Christine Milne, while acknowledging Cambodia was a signatory to the UN refugee convention, is concerned about the country’s political climate.

“Here is Julie Bishop appeasing a regime engaged in human rights abuses,” she told reporters in Canberra adding there had been a crackdown on dissent.”

Blog Link: The Green Journal

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