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Monday, 22 July 2013

“Not in my backyard”: Australia refuses Asian boat refugees entrance and instead immediately sends them to Papua New Guinea.

What's the point in caring for you?
You're gonna die anyway

“With great power, comes great responsibility”

There is an enduring and enlarging trend that rich countries try to bar refugees from poor neighbouring countries or overseas, even if these people ran away in order to save their own lives.

Infamous examples have been: 
  • Mexicans who tried to pass the United States border in order to find work and have a better economic future or to get away from the drug-related violence in their neighbourhoods;
  • African refugees, who tried to reach Ceuta and Melilla (Spanish territory), Malta or Lampedusa (Italian territory). Often these people were immediately sent back in their wobbly and dangerous boats by the European coast guard, where an almost certain shipwreck or dehydration awaited them. Others were kept in special imprisonment camps for refugees, sometimes under inhumane circumstances, waiting for their abolition.
Many Mexicans and numerous Africans perished in their attempts to reach ´safer shores’. Hundreds of Mexicans died, while trying to cross the American, fortified borders and at least 20,000 Africans drowned in their attempts to reach Lampedusa alone.

Today, the Australian PM Kevin Rudd decided that Asian boat refugees will never be welcome to the Australian mainland anymore, but will be sent immediately to an island near Papua New Guinea instead.

The Dutch newspaper ‘De Telegraaf’ wrote on this story:

Last Friday, the Australian PM Kevin Rudd stated that the country will not accommodate any Asian boat refugees anymore. Everybody who arrives on a boat without a visa, will be sent to a shelter in Papua- New Guinea (PNG) and will never get a residence permit in Australia anymore. Rudd stated this in Brisbane, accompanied by his colleague from PNG, Peter O´Neill. Rudd closed a new deal with O´Neill in order to prevent Australia from frontier-running and human trafficking.

Rudd acknowledged that it is a tough decision, which is nevertheless inevitable.”Australians are fed up with people drowning in the waters at the north of our country”. Parliamentary elections will be held in Australia at the end of November.

Many boat refugees drown in the waters between Indonesia and Australia, when they try to seek asylum at Australian shores: already five during the last few days. Recently, opposition leader Tony Abbott admonished to “stop those boats”. The constant influx of boat refugees has already been a big concern for decades in Australia. The conservative opposition thinks that the Rudd administration is not able to address the problem.

The ineffective approach towards frontier-running was an important issue for the adversaries of Labor. Only last year, the Gillard administration (predecessor of Kevin Rudd) decided to reopen shelters for asylum-seekers abroad. Those shelters were an invention of the conservative John Howard government (1996-2007). Now, Rudd wants to accommodate all boat refugees in such shelters. Even when these people are eventually recognized as refugees, they cannot come to Australia anymore and will have to settle themselves in Papua-New Guinea.

Let me begin by stating, that I understand that the problems, concerning the Asian boat refugees, should not be underestimated. The European Union has to deal with the same issues at Lampedusa, Ceuta and Melilla, where the influx of boat refugees is also considerable. Large numbers of poor refugees from other countries could eventually destabilize a rich country, especially when the numbers of original inhabitants are quite small and new minorities might gain political and societal influence very quickly.

On the other hand: these potential new inhabitants could also become an opportunity, instead of only being a burden. In the eighties and nineties, The Netherlands had to deal with substantial numbers of Tamil refugees from India and Vietnamese boat refugees. Both these groups of people settled quickly and very successfully in Dutch society. Especially among the Vietnamese refugees, there have been many, very successful entrepreneurs, who established a firm position in Dutch business life. I have little doubts that the Vietnamese and Birmese boat refugees could do the same in Australia too.

Perhaps logical, but nevertheless still unfortunately, both the EU and Australia show an extremely high ‘not in my backyard’ (NIMBY) rate in their reasoning. The sentence by PM Kevin Rudd – “Australians are fed up with people drowning in the waters at the north of our country” – says it all: “we don’t want to see it, so it should go away”. Let’s all assume the ostrich position and put our heads in the sand…

This is a very naive thought by Australia (and Europe), as these Birmese and Vietnamese boat refugees won’t go away, just like the North-African boat refugees won’t go away. You can put them away in a shelter on Papua New Guinea (I don’t want to call it a ‘concentration camp’, but such a shelter remains a nasty phenomenon), cleanly out of sight of worried Australians, but you won’t solve the refugee problem with this. The same goes for North-African refugees, who are ‘accommodated’ in Algeria, Morocco or Tunesia, in order to prevent them from coming to Europe. You might not see these refugees anymore, but you know by heart they are still there, to haunt you.

The current world-wide trend is that countries and continents retreat between their own dikes and borders and leave other people’s problems to other people. The times of the sometimes overly idealistic and optimistic development aid and the ´constructable society´ seem definitely over.

This is a logical consequence of the current, pragmatic, societally sparked developments world-wide, but it totally lacks the pinch of idealism, which is desperately needed to solve the refugee problem for good… Especially from Australia, which started a few centuries ago as a refugee camp/shelter for exiled British prisoners, I would have expected a little bit more civil courage, but alas…

Nevertheless, I am afraid that the Australian and European expectancies, that actions like the one by Kevin Rudd will diminish the number of boat refugees eventually, will be in vain.

The last thing that you can take away from people in despair is that little glimmer of hope. If you have nothing left in life and you live in a country that hates you or neglects you, than you have nothing left to lose. This is the reason that many boat refugees step into their wobbly boats after all, even if their chances for success are very, very dim.

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