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Australia: Stemming the tide of boat people

The prime minister is seen as repeating the sins of his predecessors by rejecting asylum-seekers.

"In Sri Lanka we used to use the term 'competitive chauvinism' to describe how the major political parties tried to outflank each other by whipping up anti-Tamil feeling," said Suvendrini Perera, an associate professor of cultural studies at Curtin University of Technology, in Perth.

“In Australia perhaps we should speak about 'competitive xenophobia’: who can make the most noise about protecting our borders, and who can generate the greatest fear and loathing about
asylum-seekers, either by casting them as terrorists and criminals, or by insinuating that they are undeserving and deceitful freeloaders who trade on Australia’s generosity.”

Human rights advocates are enraged the gates have been closed to Afghan and Sri Lankan refugees. “It’s regressive,” said David Manne the coordinator of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Center in Melbourne. “The policy constitutes a clear-cut and flagrant betrayal of government reforms, and detention reforms, which promised that Australia would bring an end to arbitrary, indefinite, and inhumane detention of asylum-seekers that occurred in the past.”

Furthermore, Manne is concerned that banning asylum-seekers from specific countries is radically at odds with Australia’s human rights obligations. The Refugee Convention prevents discrimination on the basis of a refugee's race or country of origin.

While refugees from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka are banned due to the “evolving circumstances” in their home country, little has evolved for Australians wishing to visit either area. The Australian government advises Australian nationals not to travel to Afghanistan and to
reconsider plans to visit Sri Lanka due to the “volatile security situation” there.

“I am at a loss, as to how the government will need six months to evaluate the situation in Afghanistan, when Australian troops have been there for eight years,” said Manne. “This policy is arbitrary. The detainees on Christmas Island are bewildered. Why do those that arrived to Australia a week ago receive visas on the basis that they face danger in their home country, but those that arrive today don’t?"

"This completely trivializes their plight, and the very real dangers that they face at home.”