Not since the Second World War has there been displacement of people on the scale that occurred in 2015; nor it seems, since that dark nadir of the 20th century, has there been such ugly division over how millions of people fleeing war and persecution might be helped.The Age (Editorial 27/12/15)
They sailed in tiny rubber boats or wooden fishing vessels. They tramped through fields and along railway tracks, with children slung over their shoulders and old people leaning on canes. Some nations built wire fences and walls to keep them out. Some deployed armed forces, water cannon and dogs to deter them at border crossings.
Terrorism and civil wars have destabilised the governments of their nations, and always the wickedness of persecution rolls on. But instead of demonstrating compassion and care for the disadvantaged and dispossessed, political opportunists and fear-mongers have fomented wicked cynicism, racism and malice.
In Australia, our government continues to use the most despicable tactics to deter asylum seekers. For the past two years, this nation has turned back boats at sea, directing them to other countries. It has detained asylum seekers on naval vessels and handed them back to nations that persecute them for fleeing. Have we shown these people that this is a nation governed by wise and kindly people, or by political grandstanders pursuing their own interests?
The Age believes strongly, and we will say this until the policy ends, that the strategy of turning back boats carrying asylum seekers is ignoble. It demonstrates a paucity of imagination. It has been ruthlessly executed, without proper regard for the asylum claims of those people intercepted. And it has brought this nation into disrepute around the world.
The asylum seekers who arrive here have not broken the law. We will say it again: they are not "illegals". They have used the avenues allowed to anyone under international law – under the United Nations covenants to which Australia subscribes – to seek refuge from all forms of persecution.
It is time to call an amnesty, to end the imprisonment of people who came here seeking help and a better life. It is time to recognise that jailing people in detention facilities for years on end, denying them hope or any alternative, and treating them without compassion, is the most inhumane thing that we could do – short of shipping them back to the situation that they fear in their own countries.
No good can possibly be served by detaining people a day longer in camps in Third World nations. No good is served by denying refugees who are living in Australia the right to work. No good comes from demonising refugees, by ostracising them from the mainstream community.
Good will come by dissolving the oppressive, offshore prisons, by allowing the 827 people who have been detained for more than a year (436 for more than two years) to be let free and to be given a chance to make their way in this country.
The policy of locking up those who did arrive on Australian shores before late 2013, and detaining them on Nauru or Manus Island – where their options, if resettled, are extremely limited – defies common sense. It is costly, and it is a corruption of our vows to pursue humanitarian principles.
We call on the Turnbull government to allow all asylum seekers who are found to be refugees to join our community, on Australian soil. Give them the freedom to be productive members of our democracy, and show the world that we are made stronger by doing so, that we are a compassionate and free people, a resolute and confident nation that properly respects the full range of human rights.
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