The Australian Government today decided to open more detention centres in remote areas of Australia to hold the supposed hoards of unwanted and unwelcome immigrants arriving on rickety boats from mostly war torn countries. It seems like we have only one policy for these people regardless of who is in government – lock them up because they are supposedly a threat to the fabric of society.
However there are some things that I think that we need to remember:
- Seeking asylum is nor illegal (in fact is protected under Australian and International law.)
- The overwhelming majority of asylum seekers who arrive by boat – 90 per cent – are found to be legitimate refugees, many are traumatised and/or have suffered torture.
- Detaining traumatised people in remote locations far from support services has long term negative impacts on their mental health.
While I am not a fan of detention centres – I accept that there may be a need for temporary detention while people are being processed but this detention should be near support networks and services. Generally this would be in or near a capital city, not in remote or regional areas where these are not available and often the local community can be resentful and hostile. Secondly an enormous amount of money is required to accommodate these people in remote areas. It would be a lot cheaper to have them housed in or near capital cities where the costs are cheaper. Thirdly the processing should be quick and efficient and the asylum seekers should receive the same rights as any one else under Australian law. We should not have a situation where asylum seekers are indefinitely locked up in detention centres as occurred under the previous Coalition government.
I think that our irrational fear and hysteria of ‘hoards’ of boat people arriving has clouded our Government’s judgement. Let’s face it – we are not trying to punish these people for being asylum seekers. Detain them temporarily if you must – but make sure that you give good living conditions, full access to services and legal rights. And don’t locate them in remote or regional areas so that they are ‘out-of-sight, out-of-mind’.