Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sent to their deaths

Under John Howard, Australia followed an extremely harsh refugee policy aimed at deterring refugee claims. Those claiming refugee status were detained indefinitely in remote concentration camps or forcibly transferred to third countries such as Papua New Guinea and Nauru. Some were offered money to withdraw their claims, while others were told by immigration officials that it was safe to go home while being threatened that they would die in prison if they refused to depart. The policy was an expensive failure - most of those processed were found to be legitimate refugees, though often after years of detention - but it did see around 400 Afghans deported back to their homeland on the grounds that it was safe for them to return.

Whoever told them that lie has sent people to their deaths. At least nine of those deported refugees have now been murdered by the Taliban. The true death toll could be as many as twenty. Others are now living in hiding in Pakistan.

This is a fundamental failure on the part of Australia to properly apply the Refugee Convention. Under the Convention, anyone who has a well-founded fear of persecution qualifies as a refugee. In retrospect, the dead definitely had well-founded fears. Australia refused to recognise those fears, and as a result, people are dead. The entire country should be hanging its head in shame.

As for John Howard, those dead Afghans are his legacy: people Australia should have saved, but cruelly turned its back on. While he didn't kill them himself, he might as well have, having established the policy that saw them deported to their deaths in a cynical ploy to exploit and feed xenophobia and racism for electoral gain. The man is no better than a murderer.