The misappropriation of language and abuse of semantics in reference to ‘perceived people smugglers’ has to begin to change so we do not further erode compassion, and continue to skew the moral compass, bend and circumvent the rule of law- domestic and international.
People who are assisting people in their flight from persecution and in the right to asylum, in accordance to our laws, domestic and international, should be honoured as the heroes they are. The wait for this should not be a generation removed, as is generally the case in the unfolding of social justice and in the eliminating of racism and various abominable prejudices.
There is nothing more honourable than living the moral conviction of saving the lives of others. The 600 souls who have drowned since 2007 in their flight to our shores are the fault of the policies of the Australian government.
Winton Higgins in his book - Journey Into Darkness - describes a visit to the Holocaust Museum in Israel where a note from Australia rests. It is from the Evian Conference 1938 where 22 nations of the Western world convened to discuss the Jewish refugee ‘problem.’ Australia’s response, from T.W. White, is captured in 13 words alone on that note – “We don’t have a racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one.”
Contemporaneously, equivalent racism is mangling the Australian national consciousness. Many are arguing we don’t want to import the ‘Muslim faith’ when this should not even be a discussion point. What has this got to do with humanity? I have interviewed hundreds of Asylum Seekers and all they are seeking is a shot at life and liberty. Most of them don’t practice Islam, just like most Australians do not practice Christianity, it’s a moot point. It does not matter whether someone does practice a particular religion just as much as should not matter what the pigment of someone’s skin is. However to the biased and prejudiced it does matter.
Helping refugees is actually lawful, however magistrates are faced with mangled imposts upon their judgments generated from within the chambers of parliament, by political parties withdrawn from moral leadership and mongered by electoralism; a vicious cycle.
The tenuously political, and racist, mantra of “breaking the people smugglers’ business model” has caused unconscionable damage. I was stunned when a GetUP! Campaign against the Malaysian option quoted, “it is understandable that the Minister cannot offer a blanket exemption to any class of asylum seekers, for fear that the people smugglers will exploit it to their advantage.” Of the hundreds of Asylum Seekers I have interviewed each said to me there was no way to find safe passage from persecution and oppression and the prospect of death without the assistance of those demonised as people smugglers.
They are not people smugglers, they are heroes, whether a few make a quid out of this or not. No one is being smuggled to Australia, and rather people are being saved from the prospect of death or from being conscripted into for instance the Taliban. Australia has deported Asylum Seekers back to Afghanistan and Sri Lanka who were soon murdered.
These heroes are taking great risks and paying enormous amounts of money to officials, police and border controls, and various others, for them to turn a blind eye or to assist with the passage of desperate people, of families.
International human smuggling laws defines itself as human trafficking for prostitution and indentured labour, the forced removal of peoples across borders for “gain, slavery or exploitation.” So, why can’t our news media pick up our parliamentarians on this?
I do not question whether a very few have supposedly profiteered in assisting Asylum Seekers however is this a crime? Migration agents get paid for their services. Ali Jenabi did not profiteer.
If we want to buy into the misappropriated terminology and the myth of a business model then let us consider the words of the Director of Refugee and Asylum Law at the University of Michigan, James Hathaway, “Canada and other developed countries created the market on which smugglers depend by erecting migration walls around their territories. The more difficult it is to get across a border to safety on one's own, the more sensible it is to hire a smuggler to navigate the barriers to entry. Smugglers are thus the critical bridge to get at-risk people to safety. Which one of us, if confronted with a desperate need to flee but facing seemingly impossible barriers, would not seek out a smuggler to assist us?"
However we have to start having a good look at ourselves and what we have bought into - racism of course - when we label people as smugglers for merely saving lives, of families and children we have a real problem of identity and of morality.
Many perceived people smugglers were asylum seekers and refugees and they understand the predicament of their peoples, those persecuted and displaced. Iraqi Ali Jenabi's brother was killed by Saddam Hussein's forces. He arrived in Indonesia penniless and to earn passage for his family to Australia, and which included his mother, sisters, brothers and an uncle he worked for perceived people smugglers. His family finally arrived in 3 separate boats.
Ali Jenabi's humanity continued and he has since helped many others seek passage, including those with no money. He is a hero to the Iraqi communities of Australia however a perceived people smuggler to Prime Minister Julia Gillard. He could face ten years in prison.
Paragraphs 232 and 233 of the Migration Act support the right to Asylum and for Asylum Seekers to be assisted. A few years ago 27 legal experts explained to a Senate Estimates Inquiry that indeed there is nothing unlawful in assisting people with safe passage to foreign shores.
By 1938, about 150,000 German Jews, one in four, had already fled Germany. After Germany annexed Austria in March 1938, an additional 185,000 Jews were brought under Nazi rule. Many Jews were unable to find countries willing to take them in.
Many German and Austrian Jews tried to go to the United States however they could not obtain the visas - there were no "queues". Though news of the violent pogroms of November 1938 was widely reported, Americans remained reluctant to welcome Jewish refugees. In the midst of the Great Depression, many Americans believed that refugees would compete with them for jobs and overburden social programs to assist the needy.
In 1924 the US Congress had set up immigration quotas limiting the number of immigrants and discriminated against groups considered racially and ethnically undesirable. These quotas remained in place even after President Franklin D. Roosevelt, responding to mounting political pressure, called for an international conference to address the refugee problem - the Evian Conference, 1938.
In 2012, miniscule resettlement quotas blight the prospect of humanity and the coalescing of peoples - the concept of civil society is much pummelled by the Commonwealth government and its jurisdictions however it is not the lived experience. Because of the migration walls, people who should have been granted asylum will continue to be deported at higher rates than ever before - even when compared to the Howard/Ruddock years - many of the deportees will be cruelly persecuted and many will be murdered, as has already been the case with some. In protecting migration walls our governments will continue to rely on Kafkaesque principles - building brick by brick these migration walls with mortar that is the blood of those they keep out; who will die in transit, at sea, in detention centres and refugee camps, or languish destitute with no prospect of a helping hand. In an effort to wipe the blood from their hands governments will continue to deny their racism, their disconnection with humanity, and describe those who openly, and with great risk to themselves, assist refugees and displaced peoples in their flight to asylum, as people smugglers - and that they are 'evil scum'.
PhD researcher Australian Custodial Systems, Masters Social Justice Advocacy, Masters Human Rights Education, Refugee Advocate
0430 657 309
Recent update (15.8.2012):
Human Rights Alliance media release:
After having read the report by the three stand alone members of the ‘Expert Panel’ we have found no grounds to suggest that any lives will be protected or saved from returning to the Pacific Solution, and in a form and manner which evidences policy more draconian than John Howard’s Pacific Solution.
Vietnamese, Cambodian and other Indo-Chinese refugees were resettled between 1979 to 1996 predominately through regional camps, such as Galang in Indonesia, and Hei Ling Chau in Hong Kong, amongst others, however there were protections in place which the Panel’s report lacks. Importantly, these camps were overseen by the UNHCR and other government and non-government organisations, and nations such as Australia minimised bureaucracy and resettled expeditiously, comparatively, and in terms of resettlement numbers did not maintain a premise of quota however ventured by a needs-basis.
The regional camps are harsher in conditions, and in the taking of lives, than the Australian Detention Centre network, which in the last two years has cost 7 lives, 6 of them of very young men, and which has led to thousands of people enduring trauma, multiple trauma – acute and chronic, breakdowns – physical and mental – multiple breakdowns, self harm and multiple self harm, languishment in depressions, the onset of various clinical disorders, suicide attempts, multiple suicide attempts, and suicides. Regional camps have higher suicide rates, higher death rates than Australian detention centres – hopelessness is matched by the endemic illnesses and host of diseases, some borne from malnourishment.
The Panel’s report appears heading in the direction of turning back the boats when the boats will nevertheless come, and in the numbers they have been coming, which is in effect nevertheless only a trickle of humanity and of negligible impact upon the Australian society.
Australia’s nearly ten billion dollars, not five billion, of expenditure on mishandling and maltreating Asylum Seekers can be averted by leaving alone domestic legislation in relation to the Migration Act, by accepting those who come to our shoes in pursuit of Asylum and by processing their applications through community within 60 days. The Australian Detention network should be dismantled, Australia should resettle no less than 30,000 people per year and preferably 50,000 each year and set an example to the rest of the world, and invest monies saved from the dismantling of the Australian Detention Centre network in resourcing and assisting regional camps that already exist and all round just help people and save lives.
People die waiting while Australia pontificates over our standards of living and a selfish economy and puts humanity and what’s right last. The debate should not be skewed by racism and seen for what it is really about – that we are small and selfish population and this is what we are trying to protect, and in do so we are trying to disconnect from humanity and the moral compass.
PhD Law researcher, Australian Custodial System and Deaths in Custody
Human Rights Alliance spokesperson
0430 657 309
THE moral panic stirred up by the recent Four Corners story about Captain Emad, an alleged people-smuggler, was predictable.
A couple of weeks later, it was boatloads of Tamils floating towards Christmas Island that we were told we had to fear. Sadly, these are just the latest instalments in a national moral tragedy that has been running for two decades with no sign of a happy ending.
The "business model of migrant smuggling" was developed by me and a few colleagues at the Migration Research Unit at University College London during the mid 1990s.
So in some senses it has been gratifying to hear Prime Minister Gillard speak about "smashing the people smugglers' business model" including in her recent interview with CNN — academic research doesn't often make it into prime ministerial speaking points.
What is less gratifying is that the Prime Minister doesn't appear fully to understand the model, and thus her Government's efforts to "smash" it are unlikely to be effective.
Refugee advocate Ian Rintoul has likened people smugglers to WWII hero Oskar Schindler. Mr Rintoul made the comments on 6PR's Drive program following revelations people smugglers have been granted visas and are running their illegal business in Australia.
Who are ‘people smugglers’? Some so called ‘people smugglers’ are asylum seekers themselves or relatives of asylum seekers acting from compassion for no financial reward. Others are mpoverished Indonesian fishermen who have lost their livelihood to large scale industrial firms running factory ships which have depleted fish stocks in the area. Some do it for noble motives,
wanting to assist those in need; some are members of criminal syndicates after large profits. All kinds of people might engage in people smuggling for all kinds of reasons.
Do not cast a pall of aspersions on everyone who sacrifices much to help people seek Asylum – would parliamentarians want a swathe of aspersions cast upon them all by the Australian people in response for the misdeeds and improprieties of several of their own?
Let us honestly remind ourselves of the 1970s and 1980s in how we treated and resettled our Asylum Seekers, and who really stood up for them however let us not revise the past in some Camelot like myth as is happening by some and by others too young to remember, and by people ignorant of Galang and Hei Ling Chau and other like regional camps.
Australia breaks Convention on the Rights of the Child