Thursday, January 1, 2015

'Stopping the boats' a fiction as Australia grows ever more isolationist on asylum

Ben Doherty The Guardian December 31, 2014 Comments 414
‘Have the boats stopped reaching Australia?’ is the wrong question to ask. A better one by which to judge the success of its policies is this: are more people safer? Or fewer?

A comic produced by Australia aimed at deterring asylum seekers. Photograph:
The boats have not stopped. They have stopped reaching Australia but people are still drowning in seas in our region and across the world.
More than 350,000 asylum seekers boarded boats in 2014, the UN has found, leaving their homeland to seek protection somewhere else. Of those, 54,000 people boarded a boat in south-east Asia – Australia’s ‘neighbourhood‘, in the words of the foreign minister.
At least 540 people died on boat journeys in that neighbourhood – starved, dehydrated or beaten to death by a crew member and thrown overboard – or drowned when their unseaworthy vessel sank.
The great majority of those travelling in Australia’s region were Rohingya, a persecuted ethnic minority from Burma, who are brutalised by their own government, denied any rights to citizenship, to education, banned from having more than two children and from work in certain industries. Regularly, Rohingya villages are torched and their occupants forced into remote tarpaulin camps, where malnutrition and disease are rife.
Australia has signed an agreement with Burma with the aim of ‘boosting Myanmar’s immigration and border control’ – essentially to prevent Rohingya from leaving.
In 2014 Australia stopped 441 asylum seekers in 10 vessels, the UN says, forcing them back to the countries they last departed.
The government regards these figures as evidence its policies are working. Thanks to boat turnbacks, offshore processing and regional resettlement, the argument goes, boats are no longer able to reach Australia. The people smugglers no longer have a product to sell: the ‘sugar is off the table’.
But that view fails to look over the horizon. It ignores – because Australia knows they are there – all the unseaworthy boats, and their desperate passengers, still looking for a safe port to land or dying in the seas to our north.
Even allowing (almost certainly over-generously) that several times that figure of 441 were deterred from trying to come to Australia, this country’s boat arrivals remain a tiny fraction of the world’s figure…………
Ordered migration and seeking asylum are separate issues, and should not be conflated, but Australia cannot fail to recognise more people are moving now than at almost any time in history. There are more displaced people in the world – 51.2 million – than at any time since the second world war: continued conflict, discordant economic opportunities, climate change – all will force more people to move, and more often.
As the world urges closer cooperation on the issue of mass and irregular migrations, Australia grows ever more isolationist. Moving the problem over the horizon is not the same as addressing it. The boats have not stopped.
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