By Kieren Kresevic Salazar – SMH –
Asylum seekers in Indonesia say they will no longer attempt to reach Australia by boat because the federal government turn-back policy has been so effective.
The representatives of asylum seekers say this would not change even if refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island were resettled.
The boat turn-back strategy – a crucial part of the Abbott government’s signature policy Operation Sovereign Borders and implemented by then immigration minister Scott Morrison – is repeatedly cited as the reason why Australia is no longer considered a viable destination.
Asylum seekers say the message that Australia ‘‘is closed’’ has also been successfully reinforced by an extensive advertising campaign. And no one is prepared to spend the thousands of dollars to buy passage on a dangerous boat when it will be turned back.
Domestically, the fate of refugees on Nauru and Manus Island continues to play into political and humanitarian concerns.
A 12-year-old had to be medically evacuated from Nauru to Brisbane last week after refusing to eat for 20 days. Another seriously ill child has reportedly been ordered off Nauru by an Australian court on Friday.
Turn-backs … That’s the reason, not keeping people in offshore detention.
Mozhgan Moarefizadeh, an Iranian refugee and advocate.
Former home affairs minister Peter Dutton argued in June that the ‘‘single act of compassion’’ of bringing 20 seriously ill asylum seekers to Australia from Manus Island and Nauru for medical treatment would be seen by people smugglers as an open invitation to re-start their trade.
But asylum seekers say the Nauru-Manus deterrent plays no part.
‘‘Making [Nauru and Manus] like a zoo that everyone is seeing around the world, [saying] ‘Don’t come to Australia or else this happens to you’ – this is not the thing that is impacting people not to come,’’ said Mozhgan Moarefizadeh, an Iranian refugee and advocate.
Moarefizadeh said the decisive factor was “[Boat] turn-backs … That’s the reason, not keeping people in offshore detention.”
Moarefizadeh, tried and failed three times to reach Christmas Island by boat in 2013, before the boat turn-backs began late that year.
“It was seeing what’s going on and hearing the news and we were like, ‘OK then, it’s risky, it’s dangerous, crossing the sea is not a joke in those kinds of boats’.
“’And people are saying that even if you make it there, you’ll be turned back, so what’s the point in going’?” said Moarefizadeh, who went on to co-found the Refugee and Asylum Seeker Information Centre to help others in her position access legal aid and community support in Indonesia.
“Australia is not accepting people. Their border is closed. That’s it, we don’t go,” she said.
Shawji Ramadhan, a Sudanese refugee and former microbiologist who has been in Indonesia since 2011, agrees that Manus Island and Nauru are simply not on the minds of refugees and asylum seekers in Indonesia. “I think Australia is thinking, ‘If I take those people [in offshore detention] to Australia, maybe a lot of people [will be] coming again’,” Mr Ramadhan said.
“But, you know, nobody here is thinking about refugees in Manus, because everyone knows about the border being closed.
“Even my friends in Sudan know that. So many people here don’t know about Nauru and Manus at all”.
Operation Sovereign Borders
Offshore detention centres were reopened by the Gillard government in 2012, but arrivals by boat kept increasing, from 17,204 that year to 20,587 in 2013.
It was not until the advent of Operation Sovereign Borders in late 2013, which started turning boats around, that the number of arrivals dropped dramatically. Actions under that policy included allegedly paying people smugglers to steer their boats back to Indonesia.
Part of the deterrence was a series of highly publicised sinkings. Another was the reality for asylum seekers that they would pay a people smuggler the going rate at the time of $US5000 to $US6000, only to find themselves back where they began.
Some asylum seekers who have arrived more recently in Indonesia have no idea that Australia detains former “boat people” to dissuade them from making the same journey.
“So many people here don’t know about Nauru and Manus at all,” said Abbas Wafa, a refugee community leader and former humanitarian worker, who fled ethnic violence against Hazaras with his wife and now five-year-old daughter.
Since 2013, offshore detention has cost Australian taxpayers more than $5 billion. It costs more than $570,000 per year to detain one refugee on Manus Island or Nauru.
The government is profoundly culpable for engaging in policies which are deliberately damaging to children and their families.
Former Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs
According to the leaked Nauru Files, some have suffered sexual assault, physical and psychological abuse, mental illness, self-harm and suicide attempts, including among children.
Twelve refugees and asylum seekers have died as a result of suicide, self-immolation, medical neglect or unprovoked violence while in offshore detention. Recently, a number of cases have been reported of resignation syndrome among children, a type of severe depression characterised by progressive withdrawal from life.
Today, 117 children are still living on Nauru, around 40 of whom have been born on the island. The government resists all attempts by activists to bring them off the island, arguing that it would lead to boats again crossing from Indonesia and people drowning at sea.
But former Human Rights Commission president, Gillian Triggs, told Fairfax Media that, “holding children and their families … on Manus and Nauru, that is not what is stopping unauthorised maritime arrivals”.
“The government is profoundly culpable for engaging in policies which are deliberately damaging to children and their families for extensive and unprecedented periods of time,” she said.
Politicians in Canberra “are well aware of the consequences of what they’re doing but will say that they have their own political advantages either personally or to their party to continue these policies,” Professor Triggs said.
“They see their political futures being dependent upon their offshore processing policies.”
Neither the department nor the former minister’s office responded to a list of questions.
Peter Dutton was until Friday the face of Australia’s offshore detention policy, and new Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, was the progenitor of the boat turnbacks policy.
However, both the government and the opposition have rejected calls to resettle those detained on Manus Island and Nauru in Australia.
They argue people smugglers would leverage such a move to convince asylum seekers overseas that they too could make it by boat to Australia.
In turning down New Zealand’s offer to resettle 150 of the refugees on Manus Island and Nauru, then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said it would be used “by people smugglers as a marketing opportunity.”