Tuesday, August 19, 2014

‘Stop the boats’...but for how long? Mounting Humanitarian Crises and Australia’s Asylum Seekers

Around the world, when natural and man-made hazards meet human vulnerability there are devastating consequences. The impacts of climate change, rapid urbanisation and a growing economic divide will undoubtedly force more people into conditions of extreme disaster risk. It is inevitable that many of these people will attempt to find safe and secure living conditions for their families, away from exposure to disaster risk.

At the same time we are witnessing an explosion of conflict and instability on the global stage. Across multiple continents, people groups are divided across religious, cultural and ideological lines, and as a consequence violent conflict rages. Adding fuel to the fire, spending on global militarisation has grown exponentially in recent times. The impact of this 'arming-to-the-teeth' is felt around the world where such weapons are put into use, usually far away from countries that produce them.

The number of people displaced by conflict and persecution grows daily, as a constant flow of refugees are forced from countries like Iraq and Syria. Those displaced are mainly hosted in adjacent countries but are often hoping for permanent settlement in a safe country, fleeing conflict, persecution and an absence of human rights. In the coming years people will not only flee conditions of disaster risk. They will flee climate change impacts. They will flee conflict and persecution. They will flee poverty and inequality. It is clear that we are facing mounting humanitarian crises in the years to come.

What are the key drivers of these conditions humanity finds herself trapped in? Lack of education? Corruption? Geopolitics? Neoliberal economics? Crony capitalism?

As the international community faces up to an age of human displacement, Australia stands determined to prevent anyone reaching its shores, no matter what they may be fleeing from. A shift towards a military-style border defence operation since the Coalition government took office in 2013, as well as the offshore detention policy carried over from Labour, has drawn widespread criticism from national/global watchdogs. The use of Manus Island and Nauru as a ‘deterrent’ or ‘punishment’ for seeking asylum from the conditions outlined above has brought Australia under the spotlight in the international press. Will cruelty against the victims of global humanitarian crises that arrive in Australia do anything to prevent more and more asylum seekers being produced in future?

Has cruelty ‘stopped the boats’? Or is there a military operation massively invested in locating, stopping and returning the boats? How is the horror of offshore detention making any difference, apart from diminishing Australia’s reputation on the international stage? Is the current cruelty a ‘necessary evil’? What are the other options? Instead of considering a more compassionate way to participate in solving the global displacement crisis, Australia is focused on shipping off its existing refugees arrived by boat, while ensuring that there are no further arrivals by pushing boats back to Indonesia and refouling asylum seekers to Sri Lanka

Ask yourself this: If you feared for your own and your family’s safety, would you not use whatever means you had to protect them? If you had the financial means to secure passage to another country to seek asylum, would you instead choose to seek out a refugee camp and wait for 5-10 years for resettlement? We must not ignore the suffering of those asylum seekers with means, simply because there are others without means to do the same thing.

The question is, therefore; for how long can Australia maintain a 'push-back' policy in the face of increasing human displacement, due to mounting humanitarian crises caused by multiple hazards, both rapid and slow-onset, as well as increasingly chronic human vulnerability and global economic inequality? 

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