Australia’s Operation Sovereign Borders, the policy of turning back the boats carrying asylum seekers has proven to be effective against people smuggling, at least, from the point of view of Australia’s right-wing Coalition Government.
This explains why the government is unmoved by hunger strikes, self-harm, and suicide threats by detainees at the Manus Island Detention Centre in Papua New Guinea.
Human rights advocates have criticised the deplorable conditions of detainees. In Manus, two have been killed: Reza Berati, an Iranian, was murdered in February last year inside the facility, allegedly by members of staff who were supposedly keeping the detainees safe; and in September last year, Hamid Kehazaei, another Iranian, died of a foot infection (septicaemia) due to apparent medical negligence.
Last week about 700 detainees launched another hunger strike drawing media attention worldwide. Desperate and hopeless, reports said they want to die. Some sewed their lips, ate razor blades, and attempted to hang themselves.
Abbott boasted the success of the operation 100 days after he took his oath of office despite criticisms from human rights advocates. His operation has also been causing strains on diplomatic relations with neighbouring Asian countries, including Indonesia, Malaysia, and India.
The Prime Minister claimed victory with his no-boat policy. He said he had stopped boat arrivals.
“We can say to all of the people who scoffed, we can say to all of the people who said it couldn’t be done … that it was just a simple slogan – that it can be done,” Abbott said.
The Liberal Party also posted on its Facebook page a statistic comparing the number of boat arrivals in 2013 before Abbott took office against 2014 figure after he took office.
Labor MPs are now seeking to unwind the Abbott Government’s successful border protection strategies that are stopping the boats.
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Liberal supporters making comments on the post said asylum seekers are economic refugees who paid people smugglers to bring them to Australia by boat. They accused asylum seekersof being parasites looking for dole outs from the government. One supporter commented:
Most people I see on here who oppose what the libs have done with border control need to get out in the real world! Most of these people are economic refuges looking for had outs from our goverment… Anybody that does not believe there are no sleeper terrorist among these people, I have some fairies in my garden I want to sell you.Well done Morrison these people have no idea the great job you have done!
The Coalition government can only reiterate that Manus detention centre was inherited from the previous Labor government of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.
Various dumping grounds have been considered since Abbott rose to power, including non-signatories to the UN Convention on Refugees, like Cambodia.
In early 2014, Abbott struck a controversial $40m deal to resettle refugees in Cambodia. The deal was signed in September, but many of the details are still unknown or unclear. Under the deal, Australia pledged to provide refugees with settlement support for 12 months, including basic needs and daily subsistence, language and vocational training, education in local schools, and health services.
Critics lambast the deal, including human rights groups in Cambodia, who argue the country is poorly suited to accept and support refugees. For one thing, Cambodia remains one of the world’s most corrupt nations (156th on the Transparency International list of 175 countries) and has, according to Human Rights Watch, “a terrible record for protecting refugees and is mired in serious human rights abuses”.
India has also been considered as a dumping ground – causing uproar from “a proud and sometimes unruly democracy of 1 billion people, which is unlikely to appreciate being used as Australia’s people-dumping ground.”
A retired senior Indian intelligence official said, “We have tens of thousands of Tibetan, Myanmarese, Sri Lankan refugees and many millions of Bangladeshis, possibly an Australia in terms of numbers.” A foreign policy expert and director of the Takshashila Institution in Bangalore also commented that Australia’s legalistic argument about a migration exclusion zone “does not befit a liberal democracy” and that he is “sympathetic to Australia’s need to prevent illegal immigration but this is a moral and legal sleight of hand.”
Barrister Julian Burnside wrote in the ABC Drum:
There is not much doubt that our treatment of asylum seekers in Manus constitutes a crime against humanity. This is a matter of legal analysis, not political rhetoric. The hard facts about the horrific conditions on Manus Island that I’ve outlined above may not be enough to shock us, but the one thing that really might shock us is to see Abbott, (Tony) Morrison and (Peter) Dutton prosecuted in the International Criminal Court for those crimes. That’s a pro bono case I would gladly prosecute.