No time to post

It’s a big responsibility, being the PR manager, and I’m going to be out of action for at least another day or two working on our annual report (sheer torture). Guest posts will be considered, so tell me if you’re interested. Thanks.

The Discussion: 8 Comments

Well, I’d just like to wish everyone a happy Australia Day … a country to which I pledged allegiance exactly three years ago.

January 25, 2005 @ 10:57 pm | Comment

Happy Australia Day to you too Filthy Stinking No.9.

I shall sink a few pints of beer tonight at my local pub here in Shenzhen – not that I’m fiercely nationalistic, because I’m not. But to reflect over a few quiet beers is what I intend to do nevertheless.

Like Britain and Canada and the United States, Australia is a successful multi-ethnic society – a generally very open and tolerant society, and one which has an equally fascinating diversity of flora and fauna to match.

Pity about the present government though. At least it did do something right though, recently, when it pledged one billion dollars in tsunami relief, making Australia the world’s biggest contributor to the tsunami relief effort. I don’t mind my taxes being spent in that way, but I do intensely dislike my money being wasted on prisons to house refugees, and I object very strongly to having my money wasted on the Iraqi invasion and occupation effort.

Some years ago now, back in the year 2000 in fact, I was teaching at Lurnea High School, near Liverpool, in the western suburbs of Sydney. One of my senior students, a young man older than the rest of the students in my senior English class, was a refugee from Iraq. Hassan was his name. He was a Kurdish guy, who, as a young child, had survived the Iraqi military’s gas attacks on his village of Halabja, in the March of 1988 – my first year at university.

The village of Halabja, near the Iranian-Iraqi border, was used as a testing ground for Saddam’s planned gas warfare strategies against Iran.

The United States Department of Commerce had in fact helped the CIA to provide at least 80 shipments of biological agents to Iraq – including Anthrax and Clostridium botulinum (see US Sentate Report 103-900, May 25, 1994).

Not only this, but the US also supplied Saddam’s military with 60 Hughes helicopters, some of which were used to inflict the gas attacks on Hassan’s village of Halabja – an attack which reportedly killed around 5,000 Kurdish villagers.

Both George Shultz and Donald Rumsfeld were, at that time, well aware of these gas attacks, and even encouraged them – well, not quite. They encouraged the use of mustard gas laced with nerve agents against the Iranian military. There is no evidence that they approved of its use against Kurdish villagers. But they knew that Saddam was using Kurdish villages to test the use of such chemical weapons, and yet still they did nothing to oppose this. US taxpayers, without even realising it, spent at least 5 billion dollars on arming Saddam with chemical weapons, and with other military hardware.

Hassan was one of the lucky ones. He escaped these attacks unharmed, and years later ended up escaping with an uncle into Iran, we he lived for a quite some time. Most of Hassan’s immediate family, including his partents, died in the Halabja gas attacks.

Hassan had some family living in Australia, who had arrived as refugees themselves, and they successfully sponsored Hassan’s and his uncle’s entry into Australia.

I taught Hassan. When he first arrived in Sydney in 1999, he could speak only one word of English: “hello.” Within only six months he was fluent enough to be able to leave Lurnea’s High’s Intensive English Language Centre, and enter the mainstream classes. This is when I began teaching Hassan. He was extremely bright, and went on to complete his HSC the following year. His results were so good that he was accepted into the University of Waga Waga to study computer science, if I remember correctly.

Hassan was also a talented artist. He had never picked up a paint brush before coming to Lurnea High, but he produced an amazing painting, depicting, in a Picasso Cubist style, a scene from his village during the gas attacks. It made it into the Art Express exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and the school now leases the painting from Hassan, as a way of helping him financially to cover the cost of buying books for his university studies.

Hassan entered uni in 2001. He imagine he would have graduated by now, and I’m sure he is now no doubt doing well for himself.

Hassan is an example of a refugee success story – somebody, who, in true Sartrean existentialist style, struggled to make something out of who he was. There are many others like him.

As an Australian, as somebody who was born into and grew up in and is very much a part of a society that values education, and that supports refugees in this way, that provides people with possibilities and opportunities and support, as an Australian I can be proud of this. I feel privileged to have met Hassan, and to have had the opportunity to have taught him. He is a real inspiration to us all.

But sadly, not all refugees who end up in Australia are treated this well. Not any more. Some are locked away in outback detention centres, including children even, and this angers me greatly. Injustice to them, is an injustice to all of us. There are also times when I feel deeply ashamed to be an Australian.

These same sorts of refugee success stories occur in other countries – in the United States, in Canada, in New Zealand, in France and Spain and so on. I taught many refugees while I lived in London as well. Mostly Bosnian refugees back then – that was in 1994 and 1995.

I have lived and worked in five countries now, and I have visited many others. As much as I consider the whole world to be my oyster, and I know this sounds very much like a cliche, but I still call Australia my home.

Perhaps, instead of whinging about Australia, about the things that are happening there now that I don’t like, perhaps I should be there rather than being here in China? Perhaps I should be there, on the streets, working as an activist, trying to do something about it, trying to change it for the better?

As Marx once said: “the philosophers merely seek to understand the world. The point though, is to change it.”

Best regards,
Mark Anthony Jones

January 26, 2005 @ 12:59 am | Comment

Congrats Aussis.

The good news is, now we have China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe joining together to safeguard human rights around the world. The 53-member UN commission on Human Rights now starts investigation on US violations in Iraq and elsewhere.

The IHT story is here. Have a good summer down under!

January 26, 2005 @ 4:42 am | Comment

Good luck with your job Richard, there must be a lot of pressure to represent a company.

January 26, 2005 @ 11:43 am | Comment

Mr Jones, I’m afraid that we have a partial parting of the ways at this point. Not only do I support the current government of Australia, John Howard is my local MP, so I voted for him even more directly than most of the population of this country.

I did say partial, because like yourself, I support the idea of Australia accepting refugees. However, I think you misrepresent Australian government policy. Australia has continued to accept large numbers of refugees throughout the current government’s terms of office, and will continue to do so. This Australia Day saw a record number of people taking out Australian citizenship, including people who were refugees from Sudan, Afghanistan etc. Some of them had only been in the country a matter of 2 or 3 years, which puts Australia right up near the top of the list for the speed with which foreigners are able to become citizens.

The detention centres are not pleasant places, but they are a necessary evil, as was the so called “Pacific Solution.” The wisespread negative publicity Australia has recieved because of them as acted as an effective deterrent for people attempting to enter this country illegally. Since the Tampa fiasco, there has been a massive drop in the numbers of overcrowded boats packed with refugees coming down from Indonesia. The issue of these boats has been totally mispresented by opponents of the current government. These are not boat loads of peopel who have jumped on the boat as they were chased to the port by people intent on killing them. These are boat loads of people who have usually paid five figures to criminal gangs in order to be smuggled into Australia. They have been flown to Indonesia, where they are crammed on extremely old boats, and put to sea at great risk to themselves, and often dumped on uninhabitable stretches of Australia, knowing that the Australians will rescue them. Periodically, some of these refugees end up dead because of these tactics. The Australian government has always maintained that these boat loads of people cannot be accepted because they represent queue-jumping by refugees with the wealth to pay large sums to these gangs. There is no country in this world who has (or should have) an open door to any number of refugees. The government has set a quota for how many it will take each year, and if you say Australia should take the boat loads, then essentially you are saying, “Poor refugees waiting in refugee camps for their applications to be processed be damned. We’ll take the ones who had money to pay to be smuggled in.”

So, once these people arrive in Australia, what is the government supposed to do with them? If you just accept them as refugees immediately, all you are doing is throwing open the doors to any number more boat loads. In this day and age, every country also has to be more careful with who is allowed in. How are you supposed to regulate that? So, refugees end up in Australia through these queue-jumping means, they are placed in these detention centres for processing, just the same as refugees who are waiting in other countries. I see no reason why paying $10,000 to a criminal gang gives you the right to free access to Australia ahead of a poor refugee with no money stuck in a camp in god-knows-where.

The real problem becomes when Australian government checking procedures find some difficulty. The refugee has some association with criminal activity, war crimes, doesn’t come from Afghanistan but actually from Pakistan, etc. In some very unfortunate situations, there are people in the centres who the Australian governement has determined should not be allowed into this country, but whose homelands refuse to take them back. They are stuck in no-man’s land. Does this mean that Australia should take everyone from these centres, regardless of their character or background? My answer is no.

As to the issue of children in these centres: it’s a bad situationm but what do you do? The Australian government is very very sensitive to issues of removing children from their parents because of past problems concerning Australian treatment of aboriginal children. You could place them in foster care, but that exposes the kids to a whole set of other risks. Does it mean that Australia should take anyone, regardless of character or background, just because they have kids they managed to smuggle in? Again, I answer no.

Let us compare NZ’s treatment of refugees, since it is often favourably held up against Australia’s. When the Tampa Incident occurred, NZ stood up and proudly announced that they would take several hundred of the refugees even if Australia wouldn’t. Helen Clark got to appear on the international stage as a humanitarian. What a load of equine-manure it all was. I happened to have a friend in Auckland who did volunteer work at a refugee intake centre. To make way for the Tampa people, NZ defered a scheduled intake of refugees. Essentially, they proved Australia’s point. The boat people are queue-jumpers, who cheat other refugees of their chance. There were a lot of family reunions scheduled … which got put off, including the case of one family from Sudan who had a daughter of about 12 stuck there on her own. NZ did not take any extra refugees that year … they simply got to feel good about themselves, while Australia took the heat. My friend ended up teaching the tampa kids in their first months in Auckland, and they were lovely kids, eager to learn, and she continues to have contact with some of them. I’m not trying to say that refugees are bad people … but I am saying that I see no reason why those kids had the right to get into NZ ahead of that little girl from Sudan, just because their parents had the money to pay the people smugglers.

The other thing that has got precious little attention in the media is the fact that eventually almost all the tampa refugees who were sent to the camps in the Pacific islands had their applications processed by Australia in due course, and were granted entry with refugee protection visas.

I’m proud to be a (relatively new) Australian, and I say that this country can hold its head high on its record of how refugees are treated. The issue of detention centres has been grossly misrepresented as some kind of Nazi concentration, but they are nothing of the sort. They are a necessary consequence of Australia exercising its sovereign right to choose how many and which refugees it accepts, and in what order. You may argue that Australia could take more, and I may even agree with you … but I would not agree with you if you said that people who enter Australia by paying people smugglers deserve better treatment than penniless people stuck in refugee camps around the world.

January 26, 2005 @ 7:51 pm | Comment

Dear Filthy Stinking No.9.,

I take your points, and you do raise some important ones, but we will have to agree to disagree on this one I’m afraid.

First of all, let me tackle your argument that asylum-seekers are “queue-jumpers.”

If you go back to the November 2001 Federal election, you will see that is was an extraordinary one for Australia. Rather than focussing on traditional domestic issues like taxation levels or spending on health and education, the campaign was largely fought on issues of national security and border protection. The international backdrop to the campaign was the US-led military offensive in Afghanistan (for which Australia volunteered troops) following the September 11 terror attacks in New York and Washington. The domestic context was an atmosphere of panic about the unauthorised arrival of mostly Middle Eastern asylum seekers on Australian territory at the rate of a few hundred people per month. Within 48 hours of the September 11 attacks, Australia‚Äôs Defence Minister Peter Reith had drawn an explicit link between the two, warning that the unauthorised arrival of boats on Australian territory “can be a pipeline for terrorists to come in and use your country as a staging post for terrorist activities”. The irony that Afghan asylum seekers were fleeing the very same “terror” regime that Australia was helping to fight did not appear to concern him.

In these countries, in Iraq and Afghanistan, there are no queues for people to jump.

Australia has no diplomatic representation in these countries and supports the international coalition of nations who continue to oppose these regimes and support sanctions against them. Therefore, there is no standard refugee process where people wait in line to have their applications considered. Few countries between the Middle East and Australia are signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention, and as such asylum seekers are forced to continue to travel to another country to find protection.

Not only this, but Australia has not taken a single refugee from the UNHCR in Jakarta – from the so-called “queue” – for more than three years. This is despite the rhetoric from Australian politicians for asylum seekers to be processed in Indonesia. It should also be noted that the UNHCR centre in Indonesia was set up by Australia with Indonesian support. Refugees cannot stay in Indonesia because Indonesia is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention. There is no requirement in international law for refugees to seek asylum in the first country they come to. Some developed countries have made this an additional requirement in order to avoid processing claims, leaving the large numbers of asylum seekers in camps in Third World countries. International law requires that asylum seekers should not be penalised according to the way in which they enter a country. Australia’s current policy does not accord with this requirement.

Some people have given up on the “queue” and resorted to coming by boat. 24 of those who died when their ship sank off the coast of Indonesia had already been granted refugee status by the UNHCR in Jakarta. Many more had relations in Australia who had been provided with asylum but were not allowed access to their wives and children. Simply, the “queue” does not work.

Under Australian Law and International Law a person is entitled to make an application for refugee asylum in another country when they allege they are escaping persecution. Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that ‘Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.’

People who arrive on Australian shores without prior authorisation from Australia, with no documents, or false documents are not illegal. They are asylum seekers – a legal status under International Law. Many Asylum Seekers are forced to leave their countries in haste and are unable to access appropriate documentation. In many cases oppressive authorities actively prevent normal migration processes from occurring. “Illegals” are people who overstay their visas. The vast majority of these in Australia are from Western countries, including 5,000 British tourists!

There may have been a record number of people receiving Australian citizenship this year, which is great, but Australia nevertheless receives relatively few refugees by world standards. In 2001 Australia will received only 12 000 refugees through its humanitarian program. And this number has remained static for three years, despite the ever-increasing numbers of refugees worldwide. Australia accepted 20 000 refugees each year at the beginning of the 1980s – when we had a more compassionate government and electorate.

According to Amnesty International 1 in every 115 people on earth are refugees, and a new refugee is created every 21 seconds. Refugees re-settle all over the world. However, the distribution of refugees across the world is very unequal.

Tanzania hosts one refugee for every 76 Tanzanian people. Britain hosts one refugee for every 530 British people. Australia however, hosts only one refugee for every 1,583 Australian people.

In fact, currently that are 71 countries in the world that accept refugees and asylum seekers in some form or other. Of the 71, Australia is ranked 32nd, and on a per capita basis Australia is ranked 38th, slightly behind Kazakhstan, Guinea, Djibouti and Syria. Of the 29 developed countries that accept refugees and asylum seekers, Australia is ranked 14th. Per capita, the US takes twice as many refugees as Australia. We’re not as generous as you might like to think.

Most asylum-seekers who come to Australia are eventually found to be genuine refugees. In fact, 97% of applicants from Iraq and 93% of applicants from Afghanistan seeking asylum without valid visas in Australia in 1999 were recognised as genuine refugees. Therefore, under Australian law they were found to be eligible to stay in Australia. Generally, 84% of all asylum seekers are found to be legitimate refugees and are able to stay in Australia – so the claim that some people make (not you in this case) that such boat people are not legitimate, is simply false.

You raise the issue of people smugglers, which is a fair enough. But to alleged that people who have the resources to pay people smugglers could not possibly be genuine refugees, which many people do, is nonesense. The UNHCR disputes claims about “cashed up” refugees saying that payments made to people smugglers in fact range from $4000 – $5000 AUD. In reality, many families and communities pool their resources in an attempt to send their relatives to safety. People smuggling is a crime that the international community needs to combat, sure. I agree. However, this does not negate the legitimacy of asylum seekers’ claims, nor their need to seek refuge. The international community, in eradicating people smuggling, is also required to address the growing numbers of asylum seekers throughout the world. As a Western nation, Australia has a role to play.

I disagree strongly with the need to lock them up in outback detention centres too. Asylum seekers’ claims need to be assessed for legitimacy. Australia is the only Western country that mandatorily detains asylum seekers whilst their claims are being heard. Asylum seekers are not criminals, and so their detention should be minimal. At a cost of $104 a day per head, the policy of detention is very expensive. Community based alternatives to mandatory detention can be found internationally and within the current Australian parole system.

A select Committee of the NSW Parliament has actually costed alternatives to incarceration including home detention and transitional housing. The average cost of community based programs are (per person, per day): Parole: $5.39. Probation: $3.94. Home Detention: $58.83. These options are clearly more economically efficient, and much more humane.

Sweden receives similar numbers of asylum seekers as Australia, despite having less than half the population. Detention is only used to establish a person’s identity and to conduct criminal screening. Most detainees are released within a very short time, particularly if they have relatives or friends living in Sweden. Of the 17,000 asylum seekers currently in Sweden 10,000 reside outside the detention centres. Children are only detained for the minimum possible time (a maximum of 6 days).

The German Government some years ago condemned detention centres, comparing them to concentration camps. Many asylum seekers have been the victims of persecution in the countries they have fled. For many, Australian detention centres simply continue their persecution by removing many basic human rights and freedoms including access to families, and to the media. Adequate support services for the most basic of needs are limited. Constant surveillance, musters and other intrusive practices characterise people’s daily lives. According to the Head of Psychiatry at Westmead Children’s Hospital, a young child confined within a detention centre was about a year ago diagnosed with an extreme form of depression, directly attributable to his confinement. This was not a one-off case. Many cases of severe depression have been reported.

Filfthy Stinking No.9. – the Australian Equal Rights and Opportuntiy Commission tabled a report in Federal Parliament from their Inquiry last May titled “A last resort?” The Inquiry made the following major findings in relation to Australia’s mandatory immigration detention system as it applied to children who arrived in Australia without a visa (unauthorised arrivals) over the period 1999-2002:

Australia’s immigration detention laws, as administered by the Commonwealth, and applied to unauthorised arrival children, create a detention system that is fundamentally inconsistent with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In particular, Australia’s mandatory detention system fails to ensure that:

1. Detention is a measure of last resort, for the shortest appropriate period of time and subject to effective independent review. See: CRC, article 37(b), (d)

2. the best interests of the child are a primary consideration in all actions concerning children (CRC, article 3(1))

3. that children are treated with humanity and respect for their inherent dignity (CRC, article 37(c))

4. that children seeking asylum receive appropriate assistance (CRC, article 22(1)) to enjoy, ‘to the maximum extent possible’ their right to development (CRC, article 6(2)) and their right to live in ‘an environment which fosters the health, self-respect and dignity’ of children in order to ensure recovery from past torture and trauma (CRC, article 39)

5. children in immigration detention for long periods of time are at high risk of serious mental harm. The Commonwealth’s failure to implement the repeated recommendations by mental health professionals that certain children be removed from the detention environment with their parents, amounted to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of those children in detention (CRC, article 37(a) – Chapter 9).

At various times between 1999 and 2002, children in immigration detention were not in a position to fully enjoy the following rights:

1. the right to be protected from all forms of physical or mental violence (CRC, article 19(1) – Chapter 8)

2. the right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health (CRC, article 24(1) – Chapters 9, 10)

3. the right of children with disabilities to ‘enjoy a full and decent life, in conditions which ensure dignity, promote self-reliance and facilitate the child’s active participation in the community’ (CRC, article 23(1) – Chapter 11)

4. the right to an appropriate education on the basis of equal opportunity (CRC, article 28(1) – Chapter 12)

5. the right of unaccompanied children to receive special protection and assistance to ensure the enjoyment of all rights under the CRC (CRC, article 20(1) – Chapters 6, 7, 14).

I do not think that detention centres for asylum-seekers are “a necessary consequence of Australia exercising its sovereign right to choose how many and which refugees it accepts, and in what order.” I do not agree with this assessment at all.

Australia has a right to protect its borders, sure. But we also have a responsiblity to uphold the United Nations Conventions that we have signed. Asylum seekers have a right to remain in Australia while their applications for refugee status are being determined. How we, as Australians, treat those asylum-seekers while they are waiting for such processing will reflect on our level of humanity.

Asylum-seekers also have a right to be returned to a “safe” country if their claim for refugee status is denied – something which doesn’t always happen anymore either, I am very ashamed to say.

Best regards,
Mark Anthony Jones

January 26, 2005 @ 9:33 pm | Comment

My Chinese Heart concert

Last Sunday night (Jan. 23, 2005), thousands of Chinese concertgoers gathered at HP Pavilian, San Jose, California, to attend a CCTV hosted concert titled “My Chinese Heart: Sing-a-long Song in America”. One of the hit pop song has the lyrics:

Black eyes, black hairs, yellow skin;

Dragon’s descendents forever, forever!

(Hou Dejian: Long de Chuanren)

Corporate media frames the concert this way.

Chinese foreign ministry frames the concert this way.

January 28, 2005 @ 2:10 am | Comment

“Black eyes, black hairs, yellow skin;
Dragon’s descendents forever, forever!

(Hou Dejian: Long de Chuanren)”

To people who are not familiar with Chinese music, Hou DeJian is a Taiwanese, not a mainland Chinese. I don’t know about Mainland China, but this song was very very popular in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Bellevue made it sound like it is an ultra right wing nationalist song.

January 28, 2005 @ 8:47 am | Comment

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