The fact that less people appear to be coming to Australia by boat (and let’s face it we have no idea how many people are trying, due to the secrecy around it) is no vindication of our asylum seeker detention policy. Especially when the Secretary General of the UN has personally questioned it in public.
We are not magically reducing the number of refugees in the world, we are just abrogating our own responsibilities to the detriment of our international relationships. It might be argued that our policy is somehow humane because it is saving lives at sea, but this also took a bit of a battering when a boat that came within 200m of Christmas Island was recently towed back out to sea!
The ongoing allegations of mistreatment, violence and sexual misconduct that are coming from the detention centres is a massive cause for concern and even shame. Especially when those involved seem far more concerned with stopping information about abuse reaching the Australian public, than stopping the actual abuse.
Without accountability and transparency, guards in these camps become dangerously powerful. If the adage that, “All power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” is not enough of a reminder that public scrutiny is required in these camps, a social experiment into prisons gives a more concrete example. The Stanford Prison Experiment found that volunteers who were put in the role of prison guards often became authoritarian and even subjected ‘prisoners’ (also volunteers) to psychological torture of their own design. The experiment was ended prematurely- after only six days- due to concerns for the welfare of the prisoners. I’m not suggesting that all custodial officers are sadists, but I do think this is a very clear indication for the need for strict oversight on people in custodial roles.
I have spoken about border protection in a lot more detail in another article, where I have in particular voiced my bewilderment at the economic rationale for offshore detention. However I have also admitted that I don’t have all the answers and that the situation is not as simple as just welcoming any prospective without any controls.
Still, the current situation continues to upset me and there are at least three points I am very clear on:
1. The stories of violence and abuse in offshore detention must be faced with transparency to the public and the media. If we cannot run an offshore detention centre to the standards of Australian law, we should run them in Australia. Serco has been awarded an extension to its contract to maintain our offshore detention centres, despite multiple controversies and concerns raised about its operations, so I have little confidence that anything will be better in the future.
2. Unless Peter Dutton has shares in Serco, there is no economic argument for continuing the policy of offshore detention. Anyone that worries about money from an austere government budget being spent on refugees allowed into the country should be twice as worried about the billions of dollars being spent on institutionalised abuse that is alienating us with countries around the world.
3. People are being held there too long. Some people are into their third year in detention, with no indication of when they will get out. Imagine being in that situation for a moment. Their claims for refugee status need to be process as quickly as possible and acted on one way or the other. If the agencies responsible don’t have the resources to do this, then this is an indication that we need to allocate less resources to costly offshore detention and more on actually processing asylum seekers.