For Australia, Refugees In Its Detention Camps Are Less Important Than The Ones In Iraq

Fatimah Mazhar
August 13, 2014: There is ample proof that the Australian government is hypocritical.

Aussie Government

It seems world’s leading nations including the United States and Australia are ready to overlook their own problems to help Iraq get rid of the notorious militant group, Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL).

The United Nations stated that up to 30,000 people trapped on the Mount Sinjar region of northern Iraq are facing “potential genocide” within days or hours.

Despite pressing issues at home and the public’s widespread unwillingness for further militarily intervention in the Middle East, Barack Obama has reignited American involvement in Iraq.

U.S. air strikes were launched, hitting a target northwest of Erbil, against militants on Friday to protect civilians and refugees.

Jumping on the aid and rescue bandwagon, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot also offered to help – what he stressed – is a humanitarian cause.

However, some long-existing realities and certain recent developments suggest that Abbot is a hypocrite. There are equally horrifying humanitarian abuses being carried out in detention centers run by the Australian government.

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As part of policies pertaining to mandatory detention in Australia and laws aimed at stopping “boat migrants,” asylum seekers are sent to camps for indefinite periods of time.

The two main centers are situated in Papua New Guinea and the tiny South Pacific nation of Nauru where refugees face long periods of detention while they are processed.

The cruel treatment of people at the hands of security staff at these camps is a well-documented fact.

This week, around 190 experts and human rights advocates issued a collective statement accusing Australia of 'inhumane' treatment of asylum seekers following distressing revelations by Dr Peter Young, former chief psychiatrist, assigned to monitor mental health of asylum seekers in the detention centers.

Young accused Australia's immigration department of "deliberately inflicting harm" on vulnerable people, describing the environment as "inherently toxic."  He stated the process can affect the asylum seekers' mental health over time.

Aussie Government

There have been countless protests, hunger strikes and riots against the frustrating uncertainty surrounding the fates and lives of the trapped migrants.

Further, Australia, which is ranked among the top 30 countries in the world for freedom of press has actively started blocking media personnel from entering the facilities – similar to how the U.S. restricts media access at its detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Recently, a letter written by a child in Australia’s Nauru detention centre was released by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).

The asylum seeker, whose name has been withheld, angrily criticizes the Aussie government calling it “racist” and “a bunch of liars.” The note ends with an impassioned plea for freedom.

AHRC received over 200 such submissions from migrants to help the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention – an investigation launched by the president of the commission, Professor Gillian Trigg to look into the ways in which life in immigration detention affects the health, well-being and development of children.

Apart from this, the policies concerning asylum seekers have become more severe under Tony Abbott’s rule. His draconian and much-criticized “turn back the boats” program allows Australia to use its naval forces to forcibly tow boats back to Indonesian waters.

He even drafted a controversial Code of Conduct for “boat people” in January, threatening to deport them over trivial offenses such as spitting and swearing.

 “We fled from cruelty in our countries but you did something worst in million time with us. You have to help us,” the letter from the child in the Nauru camp stated at the end.

Sending aid to refugees in Iraq is no doubt noble. However, ignoring the desperate pleas of refugees suffering in Australian detention centers is something Tony Abbot should be addressing foremost.
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