Australia’s policies relating to the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees have become an election issue. Not because there is a huge difference in the positions of the major parties, in fact both support offshore processing, detaining refugees, and boat turn-backs, but because discussing refugee policy in Australia presents an opportunity for political fearmongering on regional security matters.
The politics of fear and the ongoing demonisation of select groups of refugees and asylum seekers (including those currently in Australia’s care) continues to cause psychological and physical harm to some of the world’s most vulnerable people. Whilst some groups of refugees are locked up indefinitely, others are welcomed through fast-tracked processes. This dichotomy makes a mockery of the humanitarian values and standards that should apply to all people seeking asylum in Australia—irrespective of nationality, race or religion.
Perhaps even more alarming is that both major parties view offshore processing and indefinite detention as a successful policy and a model that other countries could consider adopting. In fact, the UK is moving to do just that right now. However, we at MSF strongly disagree with this version of reality. Instead of saving lives, the offshore processing policy has inflicted immeasurable suffering on those detained offshore (and onshore) for nine years. It has been at enormous moral and financial cost to Australia.
In recent months, in the face of sustained and substantial public support for ending the suffering of those living in detention nightmares, the Government has quietly released those detained in “prison hotels” and has agreed to a long-offered deal to resettle 450 refugees in New Zealand.