It’s been ten days since Rudd announced his solution for stopping the boats: to ship everyone off to Papua New Guinea (a country itself still considered to be developing) to live in tents and then eventually be resettled far away from Australia. Ten days and I am still raging inside, to the point where I have refused to watch the news in order to somehow manage not being consumed by frustration.
The question that’s been burning in my mind is this: why are we not talking about refugees anymore? Why have we stopped thinking about the people who are actually matter in this issue?
Of course, that question might seem somewhat confusing, because the PNG solution and people smugglers have been the constant focus of media attention for the last two weeks. But that’s exactly it – the media coverage, the policy, Rudd’s message – they’ve all been directed to people smugglers.
No-one is talking about refugees anymore. Refugees and asylum seekers have somehow slipped off the radar, become invisible under all the focus on these ‘people smugglers.’ Is that what politics has become now? Making policy without even considering the people actually affected?
It is not illegal to seek asylum in Australia, regardless of how you get here – which is something that I know Tony Abbott has never been able to acknowledge. Now it seems that even the PM Kevin Rudd can’t see that, because all of a sudden we’re shipping every single refugee off to another country. Because stopping people smugglers has become more important than the welfare of actual asylum seekers. In the debate about refugee rights and asylum seekers, actual refugees and asylum seekers don’t feature anymore. They’ve been buried in rhetoric informed by election anxiety with subtle, but pervasive undercurrents of racism and xenophobia.
And of course, under the current plan, none of the refugees brought to PNG will be resettled in Australia. I just don’t understand how it is acceptable for Australia to push all asylum seekers arriving by boat onto other countries, especially ones that have less facilities, infrastructure and resources than we do. I do think that asylum seeker policy should be considered on an international scale in the south-east Pacific. But to simply push the problem off our backs and onto someone else’s seems deeply unfair to both the receiving countries and the people seeking asylum.
I think it’s time that our government started recognising the people behind the rhetoric and the people smugglers. Maybe it’s easier for the government to say they’re cracking down on people smugglers because it’s easier on their conscience, easier to sell to the public. But the people smuggler rhetoric obscures the existence of actual refugees, who simply fall off the radar.
And that, at least for my perspective, is unconscionable.