The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Nikki McWatters Headshot

Australia's Refugee Shame

Posted: Updated:

Today, as I read the newspapers, I have a sinking feeling in my belly. I realise that I am not proud to be an Australian. Long known for our laid back barbeque and surfboard lifestyle, our friendly mateship and love a cool ale, we are shifting toward a more sinister archetype. If our elected representatives are anything to go by, the typical Australian is fast becoming something shameful and embarrassing - a misogynist, racist, cruel and stupid yokel. We are being reduced to a mob who more resemble southern-cross tattooed Cronulla rioters, shouting bloody towel-heads piss off home.

A changing of the guard in Australian politics has seen a conservative right-wing attitude take hold and the basic human rights of Article 31 of the Refugee Convention are being ignored and people fleeing from persecution are wrongly being labelled 'illegals', a move destined to ingrain a little more hatred and fear of these 'others' who don't look like white men in suits and blue ties.

And now the rest of world is beginning to become aware of how we treat foreign asylum seekers. The appalling story of Latifa, a thirty-one year old woman, seeking asylum from her homeland of Myanmar, has reverberated about the global media. She recently gave birth to a little baby who is suffering respiratory dysfunction. Four days after the caesarean section birth, the mother and child were separated and the mother can only see the child during designated visiting hours.

This new government has now taken what seems to be an even more diabolical step. In 2012, the biggest source country for refugee boats to my country was from Sri Lanka, a place still reeling from a violent civil war. It is very common for people to be fleeing post-war conditions. It happened in Europe in the aftermath of World War One and Two. The bombs and bullets may have stopped but the conditions that caused the conflict continue to simmer. Bala Vigneswaran, a spokesman for the Australian Tamil Congress, has said 'People disappear, the militarization of the northern east of Sri Lanka continues and people are still in trouble.'

So, given that more than six thousand asylum seekers sought refuge in Australia in 2012, what does our government now decide to do? In an unconscionable piece of arse-holeness, the government under Tony Abbott has decided to give a couple of 'retired' navy boats to the Sri Lankan authorities so that they can nab the very people who are running away from them. Seriously?! That is akin to us giving some big nets to Hitler to help him catch the fleeing Jews so that we don't have to deal with them when they come knocking on our door requesting sanctuary from persecution. And to add insult to injury, it is from within the Sri Lankan navy ranks that the worst of the people smugglers have been weeded out and convicted. So, ironically, Tony Abbott's gift boats might just end up being used as people smuggling vessels. Instead of stopping the boats, he's inadvertently giving them the boats! It would be funny, if it wasn't so not funny.

The UK's PM, David Cameron, is in Sri Lanka visiting the victims of the bloody, twenty-five year long civil war. He acknowledges that people are still suffering and he is using his trip there to highlight and raise awareness of the human rights abuses still going on. Meanwhile Tony Abbott is giving these human rights abusers the keys to his old boats to hunt down and capture those foolish enough to try to flee for their lives. No doubt the persecuted will then be further persecuted for their 'crime' of trying to run. Nice one Tony! Move over Bashar Assad, we've got a new bad boy on the block!

There will always be poor and oppressed people, struggling, seeking safe havens. To stop people from seeking legitimate asylum from persecution is to engage in it and perpetrate it. If you had to stand by and watch Jewish children loaded onto wagons for the concentration camps, what would you do? What could you do? I have no muscle and a small voice. But I'm raising it in anger and frustration.

To those people, men, women and children, from all corners of the globe, who come to my shores seeking aid, just like Mary, Joseph and Jesus did in Egypt during Herod's reign, I say sorry. We are not all monsters here. You deserve respect and empathy, something sorely lacking in our new Australian Ship of Fools Government.