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SO THIS IS REFUGEE POLICY? December 27, 2013

Posted by wmmbb in Australian Politics, Human Rights.

According to The Guardian, doctors are reporting mistreatment of refugees, specifically unaccompanied minors, as well as health issues related to pregnant women and children. The Guardian has recorded a series of recent reports.

As the responsible minister, Scott Morrison, the Minister for Immigration and Border Control does not appear to know what is going on. Oliver Laughland and David Marr’s article includes the picture caption:

Christmas Island acting site manager is alleged to have told doctors, ‘one day there will be a royal commission into what is taking place’.

Apparently, Mr Morrison is not forthcoming at his regular weekly news conferences.

Refusing to answer questions is standard practice for Scott Morrison. He and his press team are hard at it day and night. Keeping us in the dark is not, apparently, about saving the government embarrassment but thwarting people smugglers and protecting asylum seekers from prying eyes.

From Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean to Nauru in the Pacific, a curtain of secrecy has been drawn over the operations of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. And things are getting worse. Always short on answers, Morrison is now shy with questions.

The transcript he posted after his often-heated Operation Sovereign Borders press conference on Friday doesn’t record 23 of the questions put to the minister. Guardian Australia recorded them all, but the official transcript says these 23 were “inaudible”.

The Guardian recorded the full press conference held on 20 December 2013.

A 92 page “letter of concern”, signed by 15 doctors has been sent to the Minister and obtained by The Guardian. According to Oliver Laughland and David Marr:

The letter contains damning allegations about medical procedure inside the detention centre.

The doctors write: “Decisions made by minister Morrison have direct and significant impacts on the health and well being of our patients.”

The letter writers go further and state that the Minister “is poorly informed regarding the current health situation on Christmas Island.” They reference specific answers given by the Minister to media.

The treatment of pregnant and post natal women and their babies appears to be evidence of systematic cruelty, ignorance or stupidity. There are now 14 pregnant women on Nauru. You would hope that in these circumstances the Minister would follow the advice of the doctors. Instead the Government has reversed the previous policy of not sending pregnant women to Nauru on the basis as the Minister explained in October:

“The previous government sent very few people to Manus Island and Nauru for offshore processing because they didn’t really believe in it. . . The difference between the Coalition government and Labor is that the Coalition is actually implementing offshore processing properly.”

Similarly in regard to the treatment of children the doctors have called for a change in the application of policy. There are now 15oo children and adolescents in detention. The doctors alert the Minister to evidence of stress from incarceration among this population, which was foreseeable.

The Minister has said that he is working through the issues raised. It appears that the policy is wrong headed, blind to human consequences and unworkable. There is a moral, and I would guess legal, implication in the public advice offered r by the doctors to the Minister. Presumably, governments and ministers are not above the law. The facilities on Manus and Nauru are subject to creation and control by the Australian Government which suggests that they, as on Christmas Island should be subject to Australian and International Law.

The position was clear – and worth as ever repeating – “This is our country and we determine who comes here” – and those people seeking asylum will have no recourse to appeal:

Slippery slopes and thin edge of the wedges do not come into it – except as experience was always going to illustrate, they do.


The SMH reports the Minister will no longer hold press conferences, and will now issue a weekly written statement, without the opportunity for Media questions. He is suggesting the evidence of arrivals points to success of the Government’s policy.  This seems to suggest the press conferences were a failure from the Minister’s and Government’s point of view.  While the application of a brutal policy may stop the boats, it is unlikely to stop the negative headlines. The only way this policy can wrong, involving as it does denial of basic human decencies and human rights, is by dehumanizing the refugees and asylum seekers. In this case the violence we do to others is also violence we do ourselves and our society. That outcome arrives with a considerable cost, and one we must never accept.



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