Last Friday (February 28), video was released showing the aftermath of an “incident” in which Australian forces on Manus Island, home to one of Australia’s concentration camps for asylum-seekers, apparently “lost control” of a local riot squad which then opened fire on the “detainees”, leaving at least one asylum-seeker dead and dozens wounded. This is merely the latest in a series of reports detailing the atrocities being carried out by the Australian government against refugees and other asylum-seekers under the guise of an eerily-named “Pacific Solution” to Ausralia’s immigration “problem.” This program has existed for more than a decade, but it is being stepped-up under Tony Abbott’s government, in conjunction with a new campaign called “Operation Sovereign Borders” (or as Australian Minister of Immigration Scott Morrison recently said in a rather apt Freudian slip, “Operation Sovereign Murder”). The number of refugees seeking asylum in Australia—particularly from Third World countries in the Pacific and the Middle East, has skyrocketed in the last five years. “Operation Sovereign Borders” is intended to “stop the boats” after Tony Abbott “declared war” on asylum-seekers. Among other things, the “operation” involves measures to turn away refugee boats, including sending sending Navy ships into Indonesian territory to head off refugees. Although the government has denied it, there are reports that these Navy vessels have even fired upon refugee boats.
Asylum-seekers who do make it to Australia, if they are not forced into a lifeboat and told to go back to where they came from , are rounded up and placed into concentration camps. The conditions in these camps are horrific. Living facilities are intensely overcrowded and personal space is nearly nonexistent. In the sweltering heat and extremely high humidity, asylum-seekers are deprived basic access to water. In Manus Island’s largest compound, detainees are given only a dozen bottles of water a day to share between everyone—the equivalent of 500 milliliters of water for each person, or merely a sixth of the clinically recommended amount. Medical treatment is poor to nil, both in the camps themselves and in the facilities where refugees await transfer. A report late last year from 92 doctors working on Christmas Island (one of the “detention centers”) revealed that refugees are typically dehydrated, exhausted, and filthy, but in the rush to transfer them to one of the main concentration camps, many patients can only be examined for as little as five minutes. Requests made by doctors for drugs are not met. Prenatal care is unsafe, and pregnant women (including at least one woman who miscarried after having her reports of pain dismissed) have been told to “lower their expectations.” Patients with serious medical cases are supposed to be transferred to mainland hospitals within two weeks, but even this low standard is rarely met. Moreover, medical records of asylum-seekers have been thrown away, medications have been confiscated, and aids such as glasses and prosthetics are routinely taken away and destroyed.
The treatment of children in the camps is also deplorable as one might expect. Unaccompanied asylum-seeker children are forcibly moved to “secure detention sites,” where children report being subjected to abuse and generally witnessing disturbing scenes. The mental and physical health of these children is far from adequately cared for. This treatment easily meets even the UN definition of human trafficking. Moreover, the Asylum Seeker Resource Center reports that children born in the concentration camps are not being given birth certificates, but rather are assigned numbers based on the boat on which their parents arrived. This kind dehumanization is typical of those who are guilty of genocide.
It is easy to pin these atrocities on the Tony Abbott government. Yet, the measures put in place by the current regime are merely extensions of a long-standing, genocidal campaign against Third World peoples attempting to escape unbearable conditions where they lived. More fundamentally, although the Abbott government is generally extremely unpopular in Australia currently, the immigration policies themselves are not. According to a recent poll, 60% of Australians are in favor of “increasing the severity of treatment for asylum-seekers.” Frankly speaking, mass support for genocide is far from uncommon in the First World, especially in settler states like Australia. White Australians enjoy the second highest standard of living in the world at the expense of the internal aboriginal colony and the global proletariat at large. The influx of asylum-seekers from the Third World is perceived as a threat to the living standard and security of the Australian worker, especially in a time when some of the privileges workers have long enjoyed are being dismantled. Thus, Australian workers are falling on the side of extreme reaction, putting themselves at complete odds with the global proletariat.
What is happening in Australia illustrates the danger of the politics that dominate much of the First World “left.” The objective conditions in imperialist centers lead to a propensity for workers to ultimately side with the bourgeoisie. Organizing which appeals to First World workers’ narrow interests only exacerbates the process through which the imperialist “working class” is divorced from the international proletariat. The consequence of this is a mass base for social-democracy at best, and at worst, mass support for genocide as we see in Australia today. If we have any hope of challenging this trend, we need revolutionary organizing which stands firmly opposed to First World chauvinism and economism, is based on the doctrine of class suicide and which works to merge the long term interests of the progressive sections of the labor aristocracy and petty-bourgeoisie with the immediate interests of the nationally oppressed, global proletariat.
– Freya B. and Niko M.
1. Oliver Laughland, 2014. Manus Island a ‘war zone’ on night of unrest, video footage reveals. The Guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/01/manus-island-a-war-zone-on-night-of-unrest-video-footage-reveals?CMP=twt_gu
2. Oliver Laughland, 2014. Revealed: G4S guard says he invited in PNG police dog squad before Manus riot. The Guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/25/revealed-g4s-guard-says-he-invited-in-png-police-dog-squad-before-manus-riot
3. George Roberts, 2014. Indonesia demands Australia stops risking violation of territory, increases navy patrols. ABC News. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-01-17/indonesia-says-it-regrets-violations-of-waters/5205974
4. George Roberts, 2014. Government rejects reports Navy fired warning shots at asylum seeker boat; Indonesia’s Marty Natalegawa says lifeboat plan a ‘slippery slope’. ABC News. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-01-16/morrison-rejects-reports-navy-fired-warning-shots-at-asylum-boat/5202340
5. Paul Toohey, 2014. How the lifeboat was first discovered on shore in West Java. News Corp Australian Network. http://mobile.news.com.au/national/how-the-lifeboat-was-first-discovered-on-shore-in-west-java/story-fncynjr2-1226815344168
6. Amnesty International, 2013. The truth about Manus Island: 2013 report. http://www.amnesty.org.au/refugees/comments/33587/
7. David Marr, 2013. Doctors reveal ‘harmful’ standards of medical care for asylum seekers. The Guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/19/revealed-doctors-outrage-over-unsafe-refugee-patients
8. Greg Jennett, 2014. Leaked report reveals ethical fears of doctors conducting health checks on asylum seekers at Christmas Island. ABC News. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-12-20/leaked-report-reveals-fears-of-doctors-examining-asylum-seekers/5169374
9. David Marr & Oliver Laughland, 2013. Woman who miscarried on Christmas Island told to lower her expectations. The Guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/23/woman-who-miscarried-on-christmas-island-told-lower-expectations
10. Linda Briskman & Chris Goddard, 2014. Australia trafficks and abuses asylum seeker children. The Age. http://www.theage.com.au/comment/australia-trafficks-and-abuses-asylum-seeker-children-20140224-33cxs.html
11. Asylum Seeker Resource Center, January 2, 2014. Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/Asylum.Seeker.Resource.Centre.ASRC/posts/653685734669576
12. Philip Dorling, 2014. Australians want boat arrivals treated more harshly: poll. The Sydney Morning Herald. http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/australians-want-boat-arrivals-treated-more-harshly-poll-20140108-30g97.html