Detention racism and refugee politics: A Solidarity pamphlet

Solidarity looks at the issues behind the war on refugees, from people smuggling to open borders, as well as the lessons of the successful effort by the movement to turn around public opinion and dismantle the anti-refugee regime under the Howard government.

Updated February 2017

This pamphlet is based on articles that originally appeared in Solidarity magazine, expanded and updated. Click on contents link below to jump to that section. A printed version of the pamphlet is also available.


1. Introduction

2. Myths about refugees

3. People smugglers: refugees’ only ticket to freedom

4. Offshore processing

Temporary Protection Visas: Life in limbo

5. How the refugee movement changed public opinion last time

Refugees and resistance in detention

Woomera 2002: Act of liberation

Labor for Refugees: how campaigners shifted policy

6. Racism in Australia: The working class is not to blame

7. Twenty years of mandatory detention

8. No need for any refugee detention at all

9. Deportations

10. The case for open borders

11. Refugees: Victims of the system

1. Introduction

When John Howard sent the SAS onto the Tampa in 2001 to stop 438 asylum seekers reaching Australia, the refugee issue exploded into public view. His government had used racism many times before, but the ruthlessness lengths he went to in this effort to ensure election victory were new. Yet Australian Governments had already been locking refugees up in remote desert detention centres since 1991, under the Keating Labor Government.

While Australia has only faced the prospect of “unauthorised” refugee boat arrivals since the late 1970s, racism in this country has a long history. The Australian state had its foundations in racism, both in the genocide of the country’s Aboriginal population and the effort to keep out non-European migrants under the White Australia Policy.

The Coalition government, both under Prime Ministers Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull, has made ruthless use of this xenophobia. Turnbull has even boasted that Donald Trump’s attempt to ban Muslims and refugees from entering the US is an effort to “emulate” Australia’s policies. The government has made great show of its extreme policies, cutting off all legal assistance for asylum seekers, re-introducing Temporary Protection Visas, and launching a military operation to turn back asylum boats. Cruellest of all is the continuation of offshore detention and punishment on Manus Island and Nauru for around 2000 arbitrarily selected asylum seekers.

Pacific Solution 2.0

When Labor under Kevin Rudd toppled the Howard Government in 2007 it had the chance to chart a new direction on refugees. Initially Labor ended offshore processing on Nauru and abolished Temporary Protection Visas. But it maintained the underlying framework of the Liberals’ policies—with offshore processing on Christmas Island, mandatory detention and the demonisation of refugees. When refugees began arriving again in larger numbers from late 2009, at the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war, Labor capitulated to racism.

The effort to outbid the Liberals on who could be “tougher” on refugees saw it first move to re-embrace offshore detention on Manus Island and Nauru, and then launch the disgraceful “PNG solution” aimed to stopping any refugees arriving on boats from gaining asylum in Australia.

This revived the very worst of John Howard’s anti-refugee policies, the Pacific Solution. The government has gone out of its way to make conditions on Nauru and Manus Island as unbearable as possible, with the aim of forcing asylum seekers to agree to return to danger at home.

In 2013, Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati was killed and scores of others suffered savage injuries when PNG police and local detention staff attacked the detention centre on Manus Island. In September 2013, Hamid Khazaie died as a result of medical neglect. He was declared brain dead after being brought from Manus Island suffering from septicaemia—blood poisoning—as a result of an infection spreading from an injured foot.

There is an epidemic of skin diseases on Manus Island. The heat, the water shortages, the lack of soap powder, the lack of shoes, the fact that some asylum seekers have to walk through raw sewage when it rains or there are high tides—all this makes Manus, an unhygienic, unhealthy, unsafe hell-hole. Running water to the centre is regularly cut off, forcing asylum seekers to use bottled water to try to shower and flush toilets.

Two more refugees on Manus died in 2016. Kamil Hussein drowned at a waterfall while Faysal Ishak Ahmed died on Christmas Eve, following another failure to provide adequate medical care. Just days before his death 60 Sudanese refugees had sent a letter to medical provider IHMS and Border Force pleading for Faysal to get medical assistance. Faysal had sought medical help 13 times in two months but never received the help he needed. Tensions with the locals, including over refugees “taking” jobs, have led to a series of vigilante attacks on refugees and unaccompanied minors on Nauru. One Iranian man, Mehrdad, has been partially blinded in one eye.

But more than anything it is the uncertainty of their fate that is driving the detainees to desperation. This led to the horrific death of Omid Masoumali on Nauru, who set himself on fire in despair, yelling out “I cannot take it anymore”.

But the asylum seekers have also been bravely resisting. The hunger strike on Manus at the beginning of 2015 was the largest ever in Australia’s detention network. Asylum seekers on Nauru staged their own protests for an incredible 240 conscutive days in 2016.

The protests and opposition have grown steadily in Australia too. By mid-2016, opinion polls showed that a majority now think refugees on Manus and Nauru should be brought to Australia. The #LetThemStay campaign in 2016 successfully prevented the government sending 267 asylum seekers and refugees back to the offshore camps after they had come for medical treatment in Australia. Doctors at the Lady Cilento hospital refused to dischare baby Asha for return to Nauru, and forced the government to back down. Teachers have staged refugee t-shirt actions at schools in defiance of Dutton, Turnbull and state Education Departments.

Under Howard, the refugee rights movement eventually succeeded in forcing the transfer of almost all the refugees from Nauru and Manus to Australia. Today, after the election of Donald Trump in the US and with One Nation and Pauline Hanson on the rise, the campaign to fight the racist hysteria and free the refugees is as urgent as ever. This pamphlet, based on articles that first appeared in Solidarity, is a contribution to that struggle.

2. Myths about refugees

Refugees arriving by boat are “illegal”

Under both Australian and international law, people have the right to seek asylum regardless of how they arrive and whether they have proper documentation. The UN Convention on Refugees explicitly instructs countries not to discriminate against asylum seekers based on their mode of arrival. This is because people fleeing war and persecution often have to escape by whatever means they can, even using false documents, in order to save their lives.

The government is letting in people who aren’t real refugees

The Coalition government’s move to “fast track” refugee processing and deny the right to appeal from decisions has been justified by the idea that many refugee claims are not genuine.

Yet figures from the Immigration Department show that asylum seekers that arrive by boat are overwhelmingly legitimate refugees. Figures over a number of years have shown that between 70 and 97 per cent of boat arrivals are accepted as refugees.1 For those processed in the 2012-13 year, the last before decisions halted, 88 per cent were found to be refugees.2 On Manus and Nauru, 80 per cent of those given final decisions by January 2017 were found to be refugees.3

And there is plenty of evidence that the refugee determination system rejects many people who are real refugees. For instance Ismail Mirza Jan, an Afghan Hazara that the government threatened with deportation, fled Afghanistan in 2001 after his father was killed. He is a member of the persecuted Hazara minority—yet the government rejected him as a refugee. Or there is the case of Majid Parhizkar, a 25 year old Iranian who fled Iran following the crackdown on the democracy protests there in 2009. He and his brother Hadi arrived from Indonesia on the same boat, yet Hadi was accepted as a refugee and Majid rejected. As Hadi explained, “There’s no explanation why I got accepted and Majid was rejected. It shows how unfair the whole thing is.”

Boat arrivals are jumping the queue

The tabloid media calls refugees who arrive by boat “queue jumpers” who “come the wrong way”. Former Immigration Minister Chris Bowen claimed there is, “a process whereby people wait for a long time for resettlement in the camps of the world, in the Middle East, through Africa, in our region”. But the idea there is any orderly process for resettlement of refugees is a myth.

According to the Refugee Council of Australia, the government’s program of selecting refugees from camps does not offer “a place in a queue” but “a ticket in a lottery”. Less than 1 per cent of the world’s refugees will be resettled in any one year. If they all joined a “queue” the wait would be 135 years.

The UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, has a process for registering refugees and judging their claims for asylum. But resettlement relies on there being a destination country ready to accept the refugees from the UNHCR. In practice UNHCR accredited refugees can wait years for a country to accept them. In Malaysia there are refugees who have been waiting 20 years—in an unbearable situation where they must work illegally and face the threat of imprisonment, corporal punishment and possible deportation.

We are facing a flood of refugees

Australia receives a tiny portion of the world’s refugees. In 2015 Australia received just over 0.25 per cent of the world’s 14.4 million asylum applications.4 While there has been an increase in boat arrivals since 2009, the largest number of asylum seekers to arrive by boat in any one year has been 20,400 in 2013 (to 1 November) and 17,202 in 2012.5 This was less than 9 per cent of Australia’s total migration intake of 237,000 to the year ending June 2013.6

The concern about boat arrivals is little more than xenophobia. Most years as many people arrive by plane and claim asylum as arrive by boat, between 5000 and 6000 a year since 2008-09. But there is no outcry about this.

And the bulk of the refugees accepted are not those that arrive by boat or plane. Most are those that Australia selects from refugee camps in other countries. In 2010-11 of the 13,799 total refugee visas granted, 8971 went to people outside Australia.7

Australia is already one of the most generous countries

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has claimed, “We have the most generous resettlement program per capita in the world and I think that’s something that we can be proud of as Australians.” But this is only true on a selective reading of the facts.

Australia’s total yearly refugee intake was cut to 13,750 when the Liberals took office, down from 20,000. As a proportion of total immigration, this equates to less than 6 per cent. This is among the lowest levels in the last 30 years. It is less than half the size of that during the Keating Labor Government’s last year, 1995-96, of 15.3 per cent9 and, as the Refugee Council has noted, “well below the 20 per cent average achieved in the early 1980s when the annual resettlement intake reached 21,900.”9

While Australia’s program based on resettling refugees from camps overseas is the largest globally on a per capita basis, many other countries accept larger numbers of refugees that arrive without permanent visas and apply for asylum once they arrive. Australia was ranked 30th on a per capita basis for the number of asylum seekers that arrive without a visa recognised as refugees. On overall figures including both types of refugee resettlement Australia was ranked 27th per capita in 2015.10

As if the discrimination against boat arrivals themselves wasn’t enough, in a vindictive effort to encourage division among refugee communities, the Howard Government introduced changes in 1996 that limited family reunion places for refugees already in Australia. They now compete for places with new boat arrivals, so that the number of places for family reunion is reduced by the number of visas granted to refugees arriving by boat.

3. People smugglers: refugees’ only ticket to freedom

Criminalising people smuggling has been a tool used by successive governments to justify their inhumane policies on asylum seekers. The Labor Government put it at the centre of its justifications for “stopping the boats”. But the aim of the anti-people smuggling laws and the hyped up rhetoric about a supposedly “evil trade” is to criminalise the refugees themselves.

Laws passed under Kevin Rudd, who famously called people smugglers “the vilest form of human life”, impose sentences for people smuggling of up to 20 years, with a mandatory minimum five years’ jail sentence. These laws target not only the organisers of the boats, but also any relatives or friends in Australia who “provide material support” to asylum seekers such as helping pay for their boat journey to Australia.

These punishments are in the same league as those for crimes like rape and murder—for helping asylum seekers do something that is perfectly legal: taking a boat to escape persecution and reach safety.

People fleeing persecution are often in desperate danger, and have to turn to whatever means are available to reach safety. This frequently involves using underground smuggling networks, especially when repressive governments control the “official channels” of identification, border crossings, airports and so on. People smugglers provide a vital service to help refugees flee their homes and find freedom. Many of them act from humanitarian motives and make sacrifices themselves to evade corrupt governments. The fact that people smugglers might profit from organising boats is beside the point—this does not diminish asylum seekers’ needs for protection or change the fact that it is perfectly legal for them to arrive by boat and claim asylum.

Saving lives

Modern history is full in examples of smugglers who have saved lives: From the underground railroad that liberated blacks from slavery in the southern states of the US; to individuals like Oskar Schindler who saved Jews from the Nazis; to those who helped some 250,000 Hungarians flee the Stalinist crackdown on the revolt of 1956.

Australian Nancy Wake set up escape routes to help smuggle people out of German-occupied Europe while working for the French Resistance in WWII. When she died in 2012 then Prime Minister Julia Gillard described her as “a woman of exceptional courage and resourcefulness whose daring exploits saved the lives of hundreds of Allied personnel”. She forgot to mention that this courage belonged to a people smuggler.

Many smugglers—such as the Iraqi Ali Jenabi—were themselves asylum seekers, and are motivated by a desire to help others. Jenabi fled Iraq following time in Saddam Hussein’s notorious Abu Ghraib prison, where his brother died at the hands of the regime. He agreed to start working for a smuggler in Indonesia in order to get his family—his mother, two sisters, three brothers and an uncle—to safety in Australia on three separate boats. He then helped fellow Iraqis in desperate need, charging them less, or in some cases, nothing. His story is told in Robin de Crespigny’s moving book The People Smuggler.

Jenabi is considered a hero by Australia’s Iraqi community. But because he was a “people smuggler” Ali was dragged through the courts and remains in Australia on a visa that means he could be sent back to Iraq at any time.

Boat turnbacks cost lives

The government has justified its boat turnbacks and measures against people smugglers by saying they will prevent deaths through drowning at sea. In fact the efforts to turn back the boats only put asylum seekers lives at risk. This was shown dramatically in May 2015 when 300 Rohingyan asylum seekers drowned after their boats were turned back from Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia. The Australian government backed the turnbacks, with then Immigration Minister Peter Dutton declaring that, “countries in the region have a sovereign right” to do so.

Both the Coalition and Labor have tried to justify “stopping the boats” as somehow driven by the desire to stop drownings. But there is a dark, hidden history of Australia’s border agencies letting boats sink. Around 1550 asylum seekers have died at sea, while headed for Australia, between 1998 and 2013. Tony Kevin, who has documented the response to asylum boats in distress, has written that the, “rescue response is ad hoc and unpredictable … we act when we choose to”. This has meant that, “Hundreds of people have died when they could and should have been saved”.11

One example is the sinking of the Kaniva, or SIEV 358, in 2012. Asylum seekers on the boat made no less than 16 calls to the Australian Rescue Co-ordination Centre. They monitored the boat for 30 hours, but provided no assistance. When the boat sank, 102 people drowned; 110 were saved, slowly, reluctantly. A year later, on 5 June 2013, 55 people drowned due to rescue authorities’ failure to respond. Although that boat’s engines were already dead when it was first spotted, it was 40 hours before Border Protection Command alerted search and rescue. Too often Australian authorities have tried to force the Indonesian rescue service, BASARNAS, to take reponsibility, despite knowing it is severely under-resourced.

If the government wanted the boat trips to be safe it could process and resettle refugees directly from Indonesia, so that asylum seekers stranded there en route to Australia did not need to risk getting on boats at all.

There were just 7616 asylum seekers and 6063 refugees registered with the UNHCR in Jakarta as of January 2016.12 But Australia’s record in accepting refugees directly from Indonesia has been appalling. In the better part of a decade between 2001 and 2009 Australia accepted just 532 people—an average of less than 60 a year.13 Since 1 July 2014 Australia has refused to resettle any further refugees from Indonesia.

Even the government Expert Panel in 2012 recommended raising the refugee intake to 3200 people “from the region” a year to deal with this problem. The policy of stopping the boats has nothing to do with saving lives. It is simply an effort to put up the “not welcome” sign and to stop refugees from getting here.

4. Offshore processing

When John Howard forcibly stopped refugees on the Tampa from reaching Australia in 2001 he needed to find somewhere to dump them—and fast. Indonesia refused to allow the asylum seekers to be sent back there, so the government tried to coerce Australia’s poor Melanesian and Pacific neighbours to take them. Foreign Minister Alexander Downer turned to a cash-strapped Nauru and its corrupt President Rene Harris. “That worked a treat,” he said, later bragging that Howard was “seriously pleased” with him for “fixing up this problem”. In exchange Nauru received bribes of almost $50 million in aid.14

This began the notorious “Pacific Solution”, under which 1637 asylum seekers were diverted to offshore processing centres on Nauru and Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. The Liberal Government, with the Labor Party’s support, passed new “border protection” laws to allow asylum seekers arriving at specific islands now “excised” from the migration zone to be sent to a “declared country” for offshore processing. The plan was designed as a political declaration that asylum seekers could not come to Australia. The government then tried to coerce asylum seekers on Nauru to agree to go back to their countries of origin.

As refugee advocate Phil Glendenning told the ABC: “There were 42 unaccompanied minors—children—sent back into the war zone that was Afghanistan. Others were sent back to the danger they sought to flee. We know that 11 of those people were killed and I believe that number is far higher… There were no checks and balances, there were no judicial reviews, it was outside the reach of Australian law. Terrible atrocities were done to people out on Nauru.”

Labor closed Nauru in December 2007 after coming to power. But in 2012 it reversed itself and reopened Howard’s Pacific hell-holes. After Kevin Rudd returned as Prime Minister in 2013, he announced the “PNG solution”. Any asylum seeker boat arrivals after 19 July 2013 would never be eligible for resettlement in Australia. Those taken to Manus Island were to be resettled in PNG.

The Howard government made exactly the same boast—that asylum seekers sent to Manus or Nauru would never set foot in Australia. But under Howard, as David Marr has written, “Some rotted on the islands for more than five years; some went mad waiting; but in the end, the largest single group of people fed through the Pacific solution ended up where they were always heading: Australia.” Not surprisingly, other countries refused to take refugees who were rightly seen as Australia’s responsibility.

This same scenario is playing out again. Manus and Nauru are officially simply “processing centres” where asylum seekers’ claims for protection are assessed. Those found to be refugees are then supposed to be taken to a country where they can permanently settle. Unless the government can find somewhere willing to resettle the refugees, a central plank of Operation Sovereign Borders—that offshore asylum seekers will never be settled in Australia—will collapse. Even if asylum seekers are rejected as refugees, there are many that cannot be returned to their home countries: those from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria to name a few.

The promise of resettlement in PNG has collapsed. Only around 20 refugees from Manus Island have taken up the offer to move to the mainland of PNG. But, unable to find ongoing work, they have usually ended up destitute. Most have returned to Manus. In April 2016 the PNG Supreme Court ruled that detention on Manus was illegal and unconstitutional. In response the PNG government has said it wants to close the centre, but Australia has refused to take the asylum seekers and refugees back.

Nauru was never intended as a place to permanently resettle refugees. The government’s first attempt to find a place for refugees from Nauru was the farcial Cambodia deal. Just six refugees have “resettled” there, at a cost of $55 million. All but two are confirmed to have left Cambodia, unable to survive there.

In November 2016, Malcolm Turnbull announced a deal to resettle refugees in the US. But the election of Donald Trump has all but finished off the agreement. If the deal goes ahead at all, the cap of 1250 places means at a minimum hundreds of refugees will miss out.

All this creates pressure for the asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus to be brought to Australia—just as they were under the Howard government. But refugees are being forced to endure years of hell as punishment first. Offshore processing can be brought to an end. But this will rely on both the resistance of asylum seekers inside the camps and the campaign’s efforts within Australia to build the pressure for change.

Temporary Protection Visas: life in limbo

The Coalition government re-introduced Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs), first used under the Howard government, late in 2014. It then began processing the almost 30,000 asylum seekers who arrived by boat in 2012 and 2013 and have spent years denied any decision on their refugee claims, left destitute in the community. While some of them have received work rights, anyone without a job must survive on just 89 per cent of the lowest Centrelink payment.

The process is moving incredibly slowly, with only one third having their assessments completed by February 2017.15 The uncertainty and difficulty surviving have led at least ten asylum seekers on bridging visas to kill themselves in the last two years.

Worse, as part of the TPV Bill, the government has rewritten the Migration Act to vastly increase the powers of the Immigration Minister and Immigration Department and dramatically limit the rights of asylum seekers and the application of the Refugee Convention to Australian law.

Immigration officers now have the power to “screen out” (i.e. refuse to even allow asylum seekers to make an application), while “fast tracking” arrangements restrict appeal rights for those who are allowed to apply.

The government has removed all funding for asylum seeker boat arrivals to prepare their claims or lodge appeals on their decisions. This puts an enormous burden on refugee legal centres, who now need to fundraise in order to keep operating.

Refugee boat arrivals are no longer able to received permanent protection visas. The most they will get is a temporary visa, inflicting incredible hardship. Refugees on a TPV will be forced to re-apply for a visa after three years or less. TPVs also deny family reunion and the right to travel, leaving refugees permanently separated from their families. This denial of certainty and security imposes serious psychological strain.

As Sha Hussein Hassani, a Hazara refugee put on a TPV in 2000 explained, “it was always in the back of my mind … that we would be sent back. I was preparing to be sent back, I was saving money. Nobody was able to focus, to start a new life here, to be part of the society. Because there’s a feeling they’re not accepting you, you don’t belong here, you’re only temporary.”

“The three years finish and you have to plea again and it’s up to them if they want you to stay or not. It was a psychological battle for us to be able to start our life here. Most of the people were depressed.”

The new TPV policy is even worse than Howard’s. Refugees will be put on TPVs indefinitely, denied the right to apply for permanent protection even after their temporary visas expire, and forced to live a life in limbo.

Under the Howard government, it was this policy that pushed many families onto boats in a desperate effort to reunite with fathers and husbands, who were in limbo in Australia. Many of the 353 who died when the SIEV X sank in 2001 were the wives and children of refugees on TPVs in Australia.

There is now also a five-year Safe Haven Enterprise Visas (SHEV) as a way of making refugees a source of labour to regional areas. But they are a hoax. A refugee would have to agree to relocation and go three and a half years without requiring any income support before they would be eligible to apply for another visa which might allow permanent residency.

The day after the announcement, then Immigration Minister Scott Morrison declared that the chances of any refugee gaining residency through a SHEV was “almost zero”.

5. How the refugee movement changed public opinion last time

John Howard’s election in 1996 brought with it Pauline Hanson and a steep rise in efforts to whip up racism—first against Aborigines and Asians but then quickly at Muslims and refugees. But through consistent campaigning, the refugee rights movement was able to turn the tide of public opinion in favour of refugees.

Howard’s Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock initially rejected Hanson’s policy of putting refugees on Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs). But, in 1999, as the number of boats went from 17 (in 1998) to 86, he adopted Hanson’s policy and introduced TPVs, and also dramatically expanded detention centres—opening Woomera in November 1999.

Socialists responded by initiating Refugee Action Collectives (RAC) to counter Howard’s racism, shift public opinion and break Labor’s support for Howard’s policies. It wasn’t going to be easy. The Labor leadership backed every piece of anti-refugee legislation the Liberals put up between 1996 and 2002.

The RAC groups had a particular orientation to organised workers in the trade union movement—firstly to provide an antidote where Howard sought to sow racism most deeply, secondly to tap workers’ social power to push for change; and thirdly, because the unions have a special connection to Labor and could help shift its anti-refugee stance.

We produced leaflets targeted to unionists, addressed union and workplace meetings, and invited union leaders and Labor MPs to speak at rallies—laying the basis for the formation of Labor for Refugees. It developed more of a focus on the Labor Party than we had planned (initially we had hoped it would be built among union members as well as Labor Party members and supporters), but nonetheless it gave us a real connection to the labour movement.

Our work with officials and rank and file members not only meant that refugee material was distributed on jobs and published in union journals, but that we could mobilise small contingents from unions. We were also able to push for union action at the airports to stop deportations of refugees.

At first, the protests were small. But in mid-2000, the refugees themselves pushed their way onto the front pages of the newspapers when hundreds broke out of Woomera detention centre.

There were two events in 2001 that polarised public opinion and pushed more people into the campaign. The first was a Four Corners program in August that dealt with escapes from Villawood and showed graphic footage taken with a smuggled camera of a young Iranian boy, Shayan Badraie, who was slowly dying inside detention.

The second event is better known—the arrival of the Tampa—also in August. The demonstrations over the Tampa brought out hundreds of people, disgusted with Labor’s capitulation to Howard, declaring they had torn up their Labor Party cards or that they were now voting Greens. An important minority were now actively opposed to Labor’s me-tooism with the Liberals.

All this led to a flourishing of refugee support groups. Within weeks ChilOut (Children Out of detention), Adelaide’s Circles of Friends, and We Are All Boat People were formed. Actors For Refugees was established in September and Rural Australians for Refugees in October. In the aftermath of Howard’s re-election in November came Labor for Refugees.

The leaflets, the fact sheets and other efforts meant that slowly more people were armed with the facts to counter Howard’s lies.

Despite the Pacific Solution the movement continued to grow, fuelled by the outrages and resistance inside Howard’s hell-holes. The dramatic Easter 2002 Woomera protest and break-out again pushed the issue onto the front pages.

Having an impact

The campaigning began to produce shifts in the Labor Party. Every state Labor conference in 2002 and 2003 carried a resolution supporting Labor for Refugees’ demands.

There were cracks in the Liberal Government too, with some backbenchers becoming outspoken critics of Howard’s anti-refugee policies.

Slowly but surely, the grassroots campaigning swung public opinion against Howard. Newspoll records show that between 2001 and 2004, the number of people who thought some or all asylum boats should be able to land went from 47 per cent to 61 per cent. By 2005, the government was forced to ease conditions in detention. Many long-term detainees were released—albeit on less than adequate “return pending” visas. Children and families were also released from detention.Significantly Howard was unable to play the refugee race card in the 2007 election. But the overall policies remained in place. Many people voted Labor in the hope that a Labor Government would embrace a humanitarian policy—but those hopes were dashed.

The lessons of fighting Howard show that with patient work it is possible to shift public opinion and force governments to back down. The campaign this time around has also begun to shift public opinion. Since the middle of 2016 there have been a succession of opinion polls showing that a majority of people now want refugees to be evacuated from Manus Island and Nauru. An Australia Institute poll in June 2016 found that 61 per cent agreed people who come by boat and are found to be refugees should be allowed to settle in Australia, while a Galaxy poll in September found 66 per cent thought refugees had been left on Manus and Nauru for too long.

Over boat turnbacks, there is still some way to go. But these shifts and the experience of the Howard years should give us confidence about the potential to build a campaign that can force back the attacks on refugees again.

By Ian Rintoul

Refugees and resistance in detention

Throughout mandatory detention’s sorry history, protests inside detention have been central to forcing the issue into the media and winning changes for the asylum seekers themselves.

But some people, including refugee supporters, question the value of protests, particularly at detention centres. They argue that they can even harm asylum seekers, as they are left vulnerable to guards and psychological trauma after protesters leave.

In June 2000, when Woomera had only been open for seven months, hundreds of asylum seekers pushed down the fence at the detention centre and marched into the town. Asylum seekers in Curtin and Port Hedland then took similar action.

The desperate protest pushed the issue onto the TV news and the newspaper front pages. Government efforts to keep detention centres “out of sight, out of mind” were blown out of the water. Asylum seeker issues have not been out of the news since.

But something else happened. Most of the refugee protesters, in detention since Woomera opened, had been asking for weeks what was happening to their refugee claims. There had been no answers and no visas—but within a few weeks of their protest, visas began arriving and people started to get released.

At the time, Woomera had only one phone and you needed a phone card (obtained by working inside the detention centre) to use it. But after further protests, representatives of different groups were given phones and their isolation began to be broken down.

When the first Easter convergence took place at Woomera in 2002, asylum seekers knew the protest was planned and began planning their own. It resulted in a mass break-out and escape of 13 asylum seekers.

Under Labor

After its election, Labor went down the same path as Howard, opening Christmas Island in 2008, and re-opening Howard’s worst of the worst detention centre, Curtin, in April 2010.

In September 2010, in scenes reminiscent of Woomera in 2000, Hazara asylum seekers, worn down by the freeze on processing Afghan asylum claims and fearful of deportation, broke out of detention in Darwin. Again the protest pushed the plight of refugees onto the front pages and also began an awakening about the situation under the Labor Government.

In October 2010, Immigration Minister Bowen, after persistently denying the fact, finally admitted there were hundreds of children in detention and claimed they would be released. But we’re still waiting.

In March 2011, a so-called riot broke out on Christmas Island, blamed on failed asylum seekers. It was actually a protest by hundreds of asylum seekers who had been waiting months for answers. In response, the government promised them answers by April.

After a mass hunger strike at Scherger in July 2011 over the bias of reviewers against Hazaras, the Immigration Department quietly established a review of all the Hazaras’ cases, resulting in scores of rejected asylum seekers being granted visas.

Similarly, hunger strikes in Darwin delivered second appeal reviews, again with many positive results. In her 2006 book Future Seekers, Sydney academic Mary Crock argues, “The conditions in Woomera and Curtin improved after the hunger strikes and protests in 2000 and processing was also hastened. This in turn created problems as detainees learned that protest produced results which negotiations had failed to deliver.”

But the lesson that protest works was not a “problem”—it is part of the ABC of political change. And what was true in 2000 is just as true now. It is protest that has won improvements when negotiations and “going through the right channels” have yielded nothing. It’s the power of protest that can finally end mandatory detention.

By Ian Rintoul

Woomera 2002: Act of liberation

“…THE EXTRAORDINARY nature of this demonstration must give pause… Without condoning the violence and breaches of the law…it must be said that the 800 or so demonstrators who journeyed to Woomera must be credited with a certain sincerity of purpose…

“As acts of civil disobedience go, this one was so remarkable that it cannot be lightly dismissed. In time, the Woomera demonstration will not be seen by history as Mr Howard and Mr Ruddock are presenting it.”

Sydney Morning Herald editorial, Tuesday 2 April, 2002

Over Easter 2002, 1000 refugee activists converged in the remote South Australian desert outside the notorious Woomera detention centre. Asylum seekers used the chance to stage a mass breakout, and 13 escaped from detention. On the Friday detainees inside the camp told activists that they wanted to have a solidarity protest—so people marched to the perimeter fence to chant in unison. Some asylum seekers managed to break through the fences and throw themselves into the crowd. Others used the protest as a decoy and escaped out the back of the detention centre.

“A thousand people streamed across the desert, a sea of red, orange and black banners, with music playing and flares flaming. The fence came down through sheer weight of numbers,” protest organiser Damien Lawson said. “It was a magnificent display of people power—people saying that enough is enough.”

“When we got to the fence we could see women and children screaming. The detainees were chanting and shaking the fence with us,” said Kristalo Hrysicos from Melbourne’s Refugee Action Collective (RAC). “A 10-year-old boy jumped into our arms. He said, ‘Please Miss, don’t send us back. We’ll die. We are not illegal’.” Kristalo added: “As demonstrators, we could see we had the power to stand our ground. We helped the refugees fight for freedom.” The previous weekend more than 30,000 people across Australia marched on Palm Sunday rallies in support of refugees.

Among those who fled Woomera were women and children who had been rotting in the desert for more than a year. Ripping down razor wire fences is not an act of violence—it is an act of liberation.
“One of the most important achievements was to give refugees hope and prove to them that what the guards say about them not having support in Australia is an absolute lie,” added Kurt from Melbourne.

The protests helped put the spotlight on the government’s policies. By showing that some protesters were prepared to break the law to help refugees escape, they shifted the terms of the debate about government policy. Suddenly the inhumanity of detention was the issue.

Labor for Refugees: how campaigners shifted policy

Tragically, but perhaps predictably given their history, during the Tampa crisis of 2001 the Parliamentary Labor Party supported every move by the Liberal Party to toughen the laws against asylum seekers.

Since 1996, Labor had supported every piece of anti-refugee legislation introduced by the Howard Government. Labor’s support gave legitimacy to Howard’s racism that it would not otherwise have had. It meant that large sections of the working class that traditionally looked to Labor were left at Howard’s mercy. There was a very real danger that racism would sink even deeper roots into Australian society.

It was not until mid-2002, when the Howard Government moved to excise more islands from the migration zone, that Labor found the parliamentary gumption to stand up to Howard.

Behind this shift, and the further changes that were to come in Labor’s refugee policy, was an open revolt by rank and file Labor members and unions affiliated with Labor, who were appalled by the Parliamentary Labor Party’s craven attitude. In 2001, when Labor supported Howard stopping the MV Tampa landing in Australia, thousands of people attended rallies called by refugee campaign groups. Within a few days, hundreds of Labor Party members had torn up their party cards in disgust. The rallies also heralded the formation of Labor for Refugees (L4R), just a couple of months later, in November 2001.

Unions and Labor

From the beginning, socialists in the refugee rights campaign had recognised both the power of the unions and the political importance of the working class to building a successful campaign.

All the RAC groups adopted a positive attitude to rank and file Labor members, and the unions. That orientation to Labor was controversial. Many in the campaign regarded the Labor Party as part of the enemy and wanted to protest against them in the same way we protested against Howard or Ruddock. They didn’t understand that the party was not monolithic but had many members and even more supporters critical of the leadership but who maintained at least a voting allegiance to the party.

At the first national day of action for refugees in 2000, every rally had a prominent union speaker, including CFMEU NSW State Secretary Andrew Ferguson in Sydney and ACTU leader, Sharan Burrow, in Melbourne. Even before the formation of L4R, some union leaders including, to their credit, the right-wing secretaries of the NSW Labor Council Michael Costa and later John Robertson, recognised the significance of countering the poison that Howard was spreading.

The unions also have a particular influence within Labor, maintaining 50 per cent of the votes at Labor’s national conference. More importantly they have a much more direct connection with the political workers that look to Labor (and whom Howard was trying to influence). If the parliamentary Labor leaders were ever going to be shifted, having unions with pro-refugee policies would be a huge advantage. Driving a wedge between the Labor leaders and disgusted Labor members and supporters was the beginning of shifting Labor policy over refugees.

The RAC groups made sure that there were Labor and union speakers at our pickets and rallies. We held forums targeted at Labor and the unions which brought together union officials and Labor politicians who were willing to be on pro-refugee platforms. We leafleted union events, with fact sheets linking the fight for union and refugee rights, such as “Why the Refugees are a Union Issue”.

Labor policy

In the year following the formation of L4R, every state Labor conference had carried L4R’s policy platform. In NSW when then federal leader Kim Beazley spoke at the state Labor Conference, L4R members held their banner in protest on the stage. Branches carried resolutions, L4R contingents marched in the rallies, union contingents with union flags showed both Labor leaders and Howard that anti-racist workers were supporting refugees.

In 2004, L4R put its pro-refugee charter to the national Labor conference. It is worth noting, given their subsequent roles in the Rudd and Gillard Governments, that the three Labor Left shadow ministers who voted with the right wing against the pro-refugee policy were Julia Gillard, Jenny Macklin and Martin Ferguson.

Tragically, since the defeat of John Howard in November 2007, there has been far more continuity than change in relation to mandatory detention, offshore processing and the exaggerated rhetoric around “people smuggling”. Labor’s few positive changes—the abolition of Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs), the ending of the Pacific Solution, and the elimination of the 45-day rule (which restricted work rights for asylum seekers who arrived by plane)—were all implemented in the first year of the Rudd Government. But the time it lost office in 2013 Labor had come full circle, reopening Nauru and Manus Island detention centres and declaring that no refugee arriving by boat would ever resettle in Australia.

At its national conference in 2015, Labor lurched further to the right, after leader Bill Shorten won support for the turn-back of asylum boats. The move cements Labor’s disgraceful bipartisan agreement with the Liberals’ anti-refugee policies. But there are significant divisions inside Labor. The debate over turn-backs was the most heated of the Labor Conference. Forty two per cent of delegates voted against turn-backs after the Left moved amendments to rule out the policy. At the 2016 election up to 50 Labor candidates, according to The Australian, had been openly critical, or had been actively involved in things like the “Let Them Stay” campaign. L4R remains active, with its convenors more prepared than ever to publicly oppose the federal Labor Government’s policies.

A strategic task of the refugee campaign must be to break the bi-partisan agreement between Labor and Liberal leaderships. By working with unions, dissenting MPs and L4R to deepen the opposition inside the Labor Party, the movement can more effectively expose Bill Shorten’s disgraceful refugee-bashing. Opposition to the Labor leadership from inside the labour movement can encourage the majority of organised workers to break from Shorten and support the refugee campaign.

There is a real debate inside the party about whether Labor has to accept anti-refugee policies as the only way to win elections. The far left can’t afford to engage in pious grandstanding about Labor’s sell-outs. If we simply denounce the Labor leadership without making an effort to work alongside those who want to challenge them, then the audience inside the party, and those outside who look to Labor, will not take us seriously. Such an approach risks cutting the movement off from those organised workers that are essential to it.

By Ian Rintoul

6. Racism in Australia: The working class is not to blame

There is no doubt that racism has deep roots in Australian society. But where does this racism come from and how can it be pushed back? There is a widespread myth that racism in Australia is a product of working class prejudice. Writing in The Monthly about the 2010 election, for example, Robert Manne claimed the result, “confirms the fundamental conservatism of the electorate.”

But it is Australia’s origins as a white, colonial settler state that best explain the history of vicious racism in this country. Racism against Aboriginal people was needed to justify the dispossession and colonisation of Australia from the beginning. Racism was the justification for a long and bloody war where white European settlers massacred the Aboriginal inhabitants of the country and stole their land. The drive to expand Australian capitalism and exploit the land directly benefited the early rulers of the colonies, the British military and rich pastoralists, not the early British labourers. Some early convict labourers could see this—and rebelled against their brutal conditions, in a few instances taking the side of the armed Aboriginal resistance.

But imperialist interests were among the key reasons for the British establishment of colonies in Australia from the beginning. Britain wanted to deny imperial rivals like France from taking control of the continent or establishing military bases here. The hysteria about boat people can be traced back to the colonial rulers’ fears about invasion from Asian powers like China and Japan.

Notoriously the White Australia Policy, which banned non-European immigration, was one of the founding pillars of the Australian nation upon Federation in 1901. It was the major way both anti-Chinese and later anti-Japanese racism was entrenched in Australia and was only dismantled under Whitlam’s Labor Government in 1973.

Many historians and academics claim its origins can be traced to anti-Chinese riots on the goldfields in the 1850s. They argue that restrictions on immigration were introduced to appease white workers, who feared competition for their jobs from Chinese and Asian immigrants. But since when was the working class able to determine national policy by forcing its views on the ruling class? In any case, the period of the early 1890s in particular saw trade unions severely weakened due to the economic Depression. They suffered a series of crushing defeats at the hands of the employers in conflicts such as the maritime and shearers’ strikes.

In Queensland, where the government in the 1880s was at the forefront of introducing restrictions on Chinese immigration, the union movement was comparatively small. The anti-Chinese laws introduced at the time of the 1850s gold rushes had already been repealed when a new wave of anti-Chinese agitation began in the 1870s and which led directly to the White Australia laws at federation.

Ruling class motives

The ruling class had its own motivations for adopting the White Australia Policy—as a white outpost in Asia the emerging ruling class saw Asian countries to the north as imperialist rivals. They feared that large scale Asian immigration would create a “fifth column” that would side with China in the case of a war. In the 1800s Asians, particularly Chinese immigrants, were seen as competitors with Europeans in a race to colonise Australia. In the Northern Territory, for instance, the Chinese population outnumbered Europeans by five to one in 1882.21

The colonial ruling class had possession of an entire continent, large parts of which had no permanent European inhabitants, in particular the tropical north closest to Asia. Defence was one of the key motivations for the emerging Australian ruling class to favour federation. The Japanese defeat of Russia in 1905, the first time an Asian nation had defeated a European power in war, inflamed the ruling class’s racist fears about the threat from Asian rivals.

Workers were drawn into a series of racist campaigns against Chinese immigration in the years leading up to federation in 1901. The first scare about boat people, directed against Chinese migrants who arrived aboard the SS Afghan in 1888, was whipped up by establishment newspapers and politicians.

In addition the Labor Party was a strong supporter of White Australia, and included it in its first Federal Objective in 1905. Pulling workers behind White Australia suited Australia’s rulers. As long as white workers believed that their interests lay with the (white) Australian nation, not with their class, they were much easier to divide and weaken. Many employers knew this.

From the latter decades of the 1800s, employers used southern European labourers to divide workers on ethnic lines and to break strikes. During a sugar strike in Queensland in 1911, the national general manager of CSR, a giant sugar company, declared that the presence of Italian workers, “were undoubtedly the stumbling block with the unions in preventing them from enforcing their [ie the unions] demands on the farmers”.22

Australian racism today

The same motivations underscore the use of racism by governments in Australia today. The rise of One Nation, along with the election of the Howard Government in 1996, saw a new wave of racism. Pauline Hanson’s attacks on Aboriginal people, Asians and refugees threatened the creation of an explicitly mass racist party. From the start it was clear her racism provided a way of finding scapegoats for the real problems in Australian society—something the mainstream parties were keen to seize on.

The neo-liberal economic policies of the Hawke-Keating Government produced a program of privatisations, running down of public services and wage cuts that created a great deal of anger. Neo-liberal policies have been a worldwide response to the decline in profit rates since the 1970s, which have resulted in the slow erosion of workers’ living standards in order to boost profits.

Hanson condemned globalisation and the job losses in manufacturing due to tariff cuts. But she sought to turn this anger against Aboriginal people and immigrants. In her maiden speech in parliament Hanson attacked the “privileges Aboriginals enjoy over other Australians”, and blamed immigration for unemployment saying that, “we are in danger of being swamped by Asians”. John Howard’s response was to welcome Hanson’s views by celebrating the fact that people could, “talk about certain things without living in fear of being branded as a bigot or as a racist”.

Howard also fed the climate of racism with a scare campaign against Aboriginal land rights, promising to extinguish the native recognised by the High Court decisions in Mabo and Wik. He very publicly refused to apologise to the Stolen Generations. He then implemented many of Hanson’s policies such as Temporary Protection Visas for refugees and ordered the turning around of refugees on the Tampa in 2001 in order to win over her supporters. With this went all the rhetoric about refugees being “illegals”, “queue jumpers” and possibly even “terrorists”.

Howard successfully used this racism to remain in power, and ride out opposition to his continuation of the neo-liberal agenda. This allowed him to get away with introducing the GST, running a union busting agenda targeting unions like the MUA and the construction unions, passing anti-union laws and pushing through budget cuts. Howard consistently ruled for the rich, and his attacks on refugees and multiculturalism helped him to divert people’s anger onto scapegoats to help him get away with it.

Why Labor attacks refugees

Instead of challenging the anti-refugee racism that Howard whipped up, Labor chose to engage in a race to the bottom with Tony Abbott about who is more able to “stop the boats”. One reason for this is their desire to simply follow public opinion. Because winning office means more to Labor than upholding principles, they are quite willing to junk their own policy in their effort to win seats.

There is no reason Labor has to simply accept the public hostility to refugees that the Liberals have manufactured. The party could take a principled stand and try to win over people who are anti-refugee, just as the refugee movement has done. But, Labor is a social democratic party that puts the aim of winning government above all else, leading to electoral opportunism. The party has a long history of adapting to reactionary ideas in order to win votes, from its championing of White Australia to its efforts to distance itself from its links to the union movement when attacked over its “union influence”.

Labor’s support for the neo-liberal agenda of spending restraint and business friendly policies has seen it deliver cuts and attacks on workers’ living standards whenever it takes office. This means it has needed to play the race card to distract attention from its own unpopular policies just as much as the Liberals.

Anti-racist tradition

But there has also been a long history of struggle against racism and its destructive effects on the working class. Indeed the working class has a material interest in overcoming racist divisions and forging unity of all workers to fight the boss for better wages and conditions. Often socialists and other radicals in the union movement have been at the forefront of the fight against racism.

The efforts of employers to divide workers on the sugar fields of Queensland were overcome in strike action taken to force employers to burn the cane fields before cutting in order to stop the spread of Weil’s disease in 1934. Radicals in Kalgoorlie campaigned against anti-immigrant violence stirred up by the Returned Soldiers League in 1934, and the following year went on to lead a major strike over working hours which united all nationalities.23

After the new wave of immigration following the Second World War, migrants played a key part in a number of militant union campaigns. One of the more famous examples was the nine-week strike in 1973 at the Ford Broadmeadows plant, whose 6000-strong workforce was 75 per cent migrant workers. The strike saw unity between a workforce of both local workers and recent migrants from Greece and Turkey. This was even more striking because Greece and Turkey were at war at the time.

A tradition of anti-racism was also built through the campaigns in the 1960s and 1970s for Aboriginal rights, against apartheid in South Africa and against the Vietnam War. Unions provided strong support for Aboriginal workers like the Gurindji strikers at Wave Hill. Campaigners against the Vietnam War had to confront the “yellow peril” racism against Asians that was a feature of the White Australia Policy. One of the campaign’s highpoints was the mass Moratorium marches, which were union strike days against the war.

All this points to how to build a successful fight to undermine the racist myths about refugees, about the idea population growth is to blame for lack of services, or against the racist NT Intervention policies directed at Indigenous people.

The working class—those of us who support ourselves by selling our ability to work—remain the overwhelming majority of society. Workers have an interest in fighting racism, and resisting its use by governments to divert attention from attacks on workers’ rights and living standards. And, as the history of anti-racist struggles in Australia shows, the working class can be won to an anti-racist position. Activists and socialists today can draw strength from this history in the fight against racism today.

By James Supple

7. Twenty-five years of mandatory detention

Mandatory detention of “unauthorised” asylum seekers did not exist in Australia until 1992. The first wave of refugee boat people, Vietnamese asylum seekers fleeing the Communist government at the end of the Vietnam War, did not face mandatory detention.

The first refugee boat ever to arrive in Australia reached Darwin in 1976 carrying just five young men. Lam Binh, his 17-year-old brother and three friends had navigated the 2600 kilometres all the way from Vietnam in a fishing boat, finding their way from Timor with only a page torn from a school atlas. These first boat arrivals were given a one-month entry permit and granted refugee status three months later. Around 2100 boat people from Vietnam followed them between 1976 and 1981. However, the majority of Vietnamese refugees that came to Australia were selected by the government from refugee camps in Malaysia, Indonesia and Hong Kong.

The experience of Tan Thanh Lu, and the 31 other refugees on his boat, was typical of boat arrivals, as a researcher at Sydney’s Maritime Museum explained: “After spending 10 days in a Darwin medical centre, they were transferred to the Wacol Refugee Centre in Brisbane… after a stay of six months the family was granted asylum.”19

Asylum seekers were housed in open migrant reception centres across the country, including centres where the Villawood detention centre in Sydney and the Maribyrnong detention centre in Melbourne now stand. Although they were not allowed to leave the centres during processing and there was a daily roll call, there were no fences or razor wire.

An elderly Chinese-Vietnamese businessman Thanh-Nam described his experience of the hostel: “When we arrived at the Eastbridge Hostel, the staff showed us to our flat. It was a small flat, but it had two bedrooms, a living room, and a bathroom…It was a beautiful flat. We were instructed in the language by the Department of Adult Migrant Education—a great opportunity to learn for which we were deeply thankful.”20

Another refugee, Ngoc-Dien, remembered: “We were taken by bus to the Midway Hostel, in Maribyrnong, and for Vietnamese like us, who had suffered much from the ravages of war and change, the welcome and care shown by hostel staff moved us so that our life seemed full of happiness.”21

The Vietnamese were fleeing a regime which had defeated the US and Australian Governments in the Vietnam War. So it suited Australian foreign policy and Cold War propaganda to welcome the refugees. However, contrary to more recent myth making, the Fraser Government did not welcome the prospect of boat arrivals. As numbers increased, the Fraser Government became alarmed and a backlash developed as the media talked of “invasion” by a “tide of human flotsam” in the north.

When word arrived of voyages by larger “steel hulled vessels” carrying upwards of 2000 refugees each, the government took immediate steps to stop the boats, and insisted that no refugee from those boats would land in Australia. Fraser made agreements with Malaysia and Thailand to resettle a larger number of Vietnamese refugees from the camps there, in exchange for their governments preventing boats sailing on to Australia.

It was during this period that the idea there was “a right way” and a “wrong way” for refugees to arrive first entered into Australian political debate. According to research by Jack Smit, the Fraser Government was the first to describe refugees as “queue jumpers” in May 1978.22 This period also saw the beginning of the demonisation of people smuggling, and the idea that refugees who use smugglers are themselves criminals. Organisers of the steel hulled boats were denounced as “entrepreneurs of evil” and these large scale refugee operations were said to be, “organised by unscrupulous traders in human suffering and misery”. But despite all this the treatment of the first refugees to arrive by boat showed that they could be welcomed without any need for detention.

Introduction of detention

Mandatory detention was introduced by the Keating Labor Government in response to a small increase in the number of refugees arriving by boat on Australia’s northern coast at the end of 1989. More than eight years after the last boat from Vietnam, this was primarily caused by people fleeing Cambodia, followed later by small numbers of Vietnamese and Chinese asylum seekers. By 1992 just 654 people had arrived on 15 boats.23

But their arrival, and the possibility that they would be found to be refugees, was an embarrassment to the Labor Government and threatened to undermine a major foreign policy initiative. Foreign Minister Gareth Evans was also deeply involved in brokering a peace plan in Cambodia involving the repatriation of 300,000 Cambodians in camps along the Thai border. The plan was designed to both bring an end to the war in Cambodia triggered when Vietnam invaded, and to ensure there were no further waves of refugees like that which followed the end of war in Vietnam.

According to journalist Peter Mares, “The federal government feared that confidence in the plan could be undermined if Cambodians in Australia were found to be refugees or if their personal stories were allowed to become public.”24 The introduction of detention for asylum seekers, then, was not driven by any concern about the numbers arriving or about the refugees themselves. It was simply a political decision by the government to save face.

Like John Howard after him, Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke justified the use of detention through demonising boat arrivals as “queue jumpers”, and claimed they were “economic” not “political” refugees. Immigration officers had possessed the power to detain arrivals from 1901 but it was only used indiscriminately after 1989 with the arrival of the Cambodians. From this date on immigrants were discriminated against based on the method of their arrival, with boat people mandatorily detained.

Initially this simply meant the Cambodians were kept at the migrant centre at Villawood like the Vietnamese before them. The fences around Villawood were still yet to go up. But many of the Cambodians spent years waiting for their refugee claims to be processed. By 1991 the government opened the first remote detention centre, at Port Hedland, on the north-west coast of Western Australia, and fences started to go up at Villawood.

As the government’s stand against the Cambodian refugees hardened, the detention centres were turned into the prisons they are today. Protesters that visited Villawood in 1992 recorded that, “Despite being ordered to stay indoors a large group of refugees came out to greet us. Through the double cyclone fencing and barbed wire, they told us that their children currently had no schooling despite a local school being just across the road and that they were forced to eat food they find unfit while food brought in by friends and relatives is confiscated.”25

Then in 1992, lawyers challenged the detention of 15 Cambodian asylum seekers who had been detained for over two years. The government rushed through new legislation the day before the case was due in court. Initially detention was limited to 273 days. But that year the Keating Labor Government also passed the Migration Reform Act, which allowed mandatory indefinite detention from 1 September 1994.26 That Act also made asylum seekers liable for their “detention debts”—the money it cost to kept them imprisoned.

The Labor Government thereby set in place the key principles that would underpin John Howard’s detention regime—and developed many of the justifications for detention that the Liberals would later use. It was now mandatory for any “unlawful non-citizens” that arrived by boat to be held in detention until their refugee claim was approved or they were deported. This could be in a detention centre established under the Act, a prison or remand centre, a police station or any other place approved by the minister in writing.27

Boat arrivals were discriminated against compared to those asylum seekers who arrived by plane, who were generally allowed to remain in the community while their claims were assessed. Remote detention was established at Port Hedland, with the aim of separating asylum seekers from easy access to lawyers and assistance from the community. The impact of long-term detention on mental health also became clear under Labor—witnessed in hunger strikes and attempted suicide by detainees. And asylum seekers were kept locked up for years on end—with a number of Cambodians held for over five years. The Labor Government even briefly introduced temporary visas in 1990.28

The fact that governments had made it legal for asylum seekers to be locked up indefinitely was eventually challenged in the High Court. But in a shocking decision in 2004, in the Al-Kateb case, the High Court held that it was constitutional for the government to hold refugees in detention forever. According to the court, in legal terms detention is merely “administrative” not a punishment. So if the government refuses to accept that someone is a refugee, they can hold them until it is “practical” to deport them. The court decision meant detention for life was legal. This is the grim reality that now confronts refugees given negative security assessments by ASIO.

This history helps explain why Labor has been so unprepared to stand up to the Liberals’ racism against refugees. But it also shows that detention and anti-refugee policies are completely politically driven by governments determined to use refugees for perceived political advantage.

By James Supple

8. No need for any refugee detention at all

Ending mandatory detention has long been the central demand of the refugee movement. But the question of what, if anything, should replace mandatory detention is more contentious.

Although many countries are tightening up their ability to detain asylum seekers, Australia’s policy of mandatory detention for all boat arrivals is still the harshest in the world. In New Zealand, asylum seekers arriving with identification are housed in an open facility. Detention is rare, and those who are detained are almost always released after an initial court hearing within days. While more punitive detention laws were passed for “mass arrival groups” of over 30 people in 2013, the provisions have never been used. Sweden holds asylum seekers in an initial processing centre for about a week before releasing them into the community, either to live with relatives or in government provided accommodation. They have access to health care and many are able to work.

In Canada, asylum seekers can only be held for 48 hours before a court order is needed to permit further detention, which must then be reviewed at seven days and every 30 days after that, although this process can be indefinitely extended.

The Australian Greens introduced a bill into the Senate in 2011 which proposed a model of minimal detention. The Bill would allow asylum seekers to be detained for only 30 days unless the government obtains a court order, although there is no absolute limit on the duration of detention. The 2005 “People’s Inquiry into Detention” recommended that detention for longer than 48 hours should have to be judicially reviewed.

Most people, even many refugee advocates, accept that some form of detention is required for health, identity and security checks. Of course, minimal detention would be better than the mandatory, indefinite detention presently enshrined in law.

But there is no justification for any detention of asylum seekers. Indeed detention itself is inherently discriminatory and is part of the government’s attempt to criminalise asylum seekers, although they have committed no crime. Mandatory detention is racist—it is mostly directed at people from the Middle East, particularly Muslims. Before 1989, no asylum seeker was held in detention in Australia. Like other migrants, they lived in the community in open hostels while their claims were processed.

Health and security checks

Some people see it as common sense that detention is needed for health, identity and security checks. But the arguments don’t stand up. Detention is not needed for health checks. Medical treatment can be provided to asylum seekers in clinics and medical centres just as it is for anyone else in the community. There are no communicable diseases that require asylum seekers to be treated in detention before they can safely live in the community. But the idea that asylum seekers require health checks helps create the idea that they might be a risk.

Likewise, identity checks are a routine part of refugee processing. It is a myth that asylum seekers attempt to hide their identity. Although both fake and original passports are often destroyed for good reasons, many asylum seekers have identity documents of one sort or another (such as a driver’s licence). But they are all keen to establish their identity to help substantiate their claims of persecution and be speedily processed.

Neither do security checks require detention of boat people. Given the scrutiny of boat arrivals, no terrorist would use a boat to get into the country. All the evidence shows that terrorists have no problem travelling by plane. And there are no security checks on plane arrivals.

The attempt to link asylum seekers with concerns of border security, again, is an attempt to cast doubt on their legitimacy and portray them as a potential threat. Extensive ASIO security investigations of the thousands of arrivals have resulted in only around 60 adverse security findings—and these are seriously questionable.

ASIO has not been willing to justify any of them, hiding behind national security laws that prevent any scrutiny by the courts. Most of those with adverse ASIO security findings are Tamils. Yet, the Tamil struggle, a legitimate struggle for national self-determination, has been limited to Sri Lanka itself. Even if the refugees were part of the armed struggle of the Tamil Tigers, the Tigers were not involved in armed activities outside of Sri Lanka.

ASIO does not require refugees to be held in detention while they make their checks, yet they are held. This policy means that hundreds of people, found to be refugees, are subject to further months of abuse, as they are forced to wait in detention for their clearance. With more revelations about the horror of detention, there is a renewed debate about alternatives. But a little bit of detention is not ok. The danger is that it will leave in place the rationale for the fear-mongering policies that underpin the government’s anti-refugee policy—that asylum seekers are aliens and a threat to society. Arguing for no detention is the only way to ensure that the abusive mandatory detention regime is ended once and for all.

By Ian Rintoul

9. Deportations

The government has made several attempts to begin deportations of asylum seekers to both Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. There are hundreds of asylum seekers the government would like to deport if they can get away with it.

The government has so far been prevented from beginning forced deportations to Afghanistan, despite the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by the Afghan and Australian Governments in January 2011. But, thanks to the co-operation of the Sri Lankan government, it has begun “screening out” arrivals from Sri Lanka and deported back hundreds of people without even giving them any chance to make claims for asylum.

Hazaras targeted in Afghanistan

There were 3498 civilians killed in Afghanistan in 2016, the highest figure on record, according to the UN mission in Afghanistan. The US State Department admits, “no part of Afghanistan should be considered immune from violence”.

As minority Shiite Muslims, Hazaras face systematic religious persecution. Scores of Hazara refugee applications are being rejected because of Australian Government claims that one or other part of Afghanistan, particularly Kabul, is safe. But Hazaras face constant danger, persecution and fear of mass killings in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

A doctor in Quetta told Al Jazeera in late 2011 that, “People are scared to even go to the other town for funerals. And when they go out, they make sure it’s not a Hazara bus they travel in. They recite their prayers, not knowing whether they will make it.”

Hundreds of Hazaras have been killed as a result of targeted killings in Pakistan in the last ten years. In January 2013 two horrific bomb attacks in Quetta on the same day killed 92 people. In Afghanistan itself, at least 58 Shiites were killed in December 2011 in a bomb attack on a Kabul mosque. Hazaras travelling by road have been caught and decapitated in sectarian attacks. The Age reported in 2011 that up to 20 of the 179 asylum seekers returned to Afghanistan by the Howard Government after the 2001 Tampa controversy had been killed.

Tamils not safe in Sri Lanka

There are credible reports of asylum seekers returned to Sri Lanka experiencing torture and arbitrary imprisonment. In 2013 the British High Court stopped the deportation of a group of Tamils after it judged they faced torture on return. A Sydney Morning Herald investigation in 2012 uncovered instances of torture of asylum seekers returned from Australia.29

Tamils remain subject to military harassment almost eight years after the civil war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, better known as the Tamil Tigers, ended in 2009. A major Amnesty International report late in 2014 detailed “arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and other ill-treatment, including sexual violence by the police and other members of the security forces”.30

The Rajapaksa government lost power in elections at the start of 2015, in a reaction against its nepotism and authoritarianism. At least 44 journalists were killed or disappeared between April 2004 and January 2010. Abductions carried out by military personnel in white vans were reported every five days.

But the situation for Tamils is still not safe. The new president, Maithripala Sirisena, defected from the Rajapaksa government just weeks before the election, and was acting defence minister during the last two weeks of the civil war when some of the worst war crimes were committed. Tamil National Alliance MP P Ariyanenthiran has commented that, “The President is changed, the government is changed but the security-related intimidations against the Tamils have not changed and continue as it was during the Rajapaksa regime.”

Ethnic persecution has been a reality of Tamil life since Sri Lanka gained independence from Britain in 1948. The new rulers, from the Sinhalese majority, fostered a strong culture of ethnic nationalism which reduced the Tamil minority to second-class citizens. Tamils were excluded from the best jobs and had limited access to education. Many were simply deported. Government-sponsored ethnic violence was not uncommon. Anti-Tamil riots in 1983 saw 3000 Tamils slaughtered.

Since the end of the civil war government troops have remained in the Tamil areas of northern Sri Lanka as an effective army of occupation. Tamils remain subject to constant military control, denial of political freedoms and freedom of movement. The Hindi newspaper reported in March 2012, “The ubiquitous presence of armed security forces, weapons drawn, fingers on the trigger was fearsome. Every 100 metres on the Jaffna highway there was a security picket; every three kilometres, an army post; every 10 km, an army camp. The army was everywhere, running roadside shops, hotels and hospitality businesses. Even funerals or marriages or social functions in Tamil areas needed army permission in advance.” The government admitted 80,000 troops remained there as of October 2013.31 The military and the government have embarked on a program of systematic “Sinhalisation” of the north, settling ethnic majority Sinhalese into formerly Tamil areas.

Other minorities are also a target. In June 2014 a Sinhalese nationalist Buddhist mob went on a rampage in the town of Aluthgama, torching and destroying Muslim homes and shops, leaving four people dead.32

There is ample evidence of Sri Lankan Government war crimes during the civil war in 2009. The Sri Lankan Government has refused to allow an independent investigation. At the conclusion of the war the army hemmed 200,000 Tamil civilians into the Jaffna Peninsula and proceeded with a ruthless bombing campaign. The Australian Government has played a disgraceful role in legitimising these war crimes and ethnic oppression, forming close ties with the Sri Lankan regime.

10. The case for open borders

As Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott race to the bottom with their plans to stop refugee boats, both trade boasts about their ability to “defend our borders”. But refugee boats have only ever come in a trickle—even 2013’s record number of boat arrivals was less than 9 per cent of our overall immigration intake. In reality there is no refugee “problem”.

Yet the government now spends $1 billion a year on detaining refugees, plus millions more on other “border security” measures, like new Customs patrol boats costing $350 million. The Howard Government went to great lengths to stir up hostility to refugees—from the manufactured crisis over the Tampa in 2001 to its lies about children thrown overboard. The media has played along.

This enormous political campaign has never really been about stopping the boat people. It is theatre designed for a domestic political audience, to spread the idea of a threat to “our borders”.

Open borders

Refugee supporters are often accused of supporting “open borders”, with the implication that without any border controls, Australia would be “swamped” by millions of potential immigrants just waiting to come here.

Even many people who see through the lies told about refugees accept that there should be some border controls. But it is an unjustified concession to racism. Neither refugees nor immigrants are a threat. Socialists support open borders and oppose all immigration controls.

Opening the borders would perhaps see an increase in immigration—but the idea this would lead to an “unmanageable” number of arrivals is wrong. It’s true there are many people in the world that have worse standards of living than those in Australia.

But part of their tragedy is that they simply can’t afford to emigrate. “Most people cannot afford the fares, the loss of incomes when moving, and the expense of settling in a new country,” Teresa Hayter, author of the book Open Borders, has pointed out. In addition, most people do not want to abandon the country they live in, along with all their family and friends, to move to a strange and different place. Moving to a different country with a strange culture, and often a different language, is not an easy thing.

Nor is there any guarantee for immigrants that they will succeed in finding work and a better life. The newest immigrants generally get the worst jobs on offer, and studies show they are the first to be sacked when recession hits. Frequently they are the victims of racism in their new countries.

An indication of what would happen without border controls comes from recent history. Until the end of the 19th century immigration controls did not exist. The spread of railways and steamships in the second half of the 1800s made large-scale movements of people much easier. For instance around 70,000 people a year migrated from Britain to its colonies such as Australia during the 1840s.

Yet the first effort to restrict immigration into Britain, then the world’s leading power, did not come until the Aliens Act of 1905. Immigration from within the British Commonwealth, the remains of the British Empire, was unrestricted until 1962. This allowed migrants from areas like the Caribbean and India to enter Britain at will. Despite the period of economic boom following WWII, only 0.6 per cent of the population of the Caribbean countries migrated each year, despite their complete freedom to do so.

The situation was similar in most other developed countries. France had an open border policy for residents of French overseas departments within its empire, like that of Britain. The US did not even begin recording immigration across its Mexican border until 1908, allowing employers to recruit labourers from over the border. Apart from legislation restricting Chinese migrants, there were no immigration controls in the US until WWI.

More recently, the European Union has adopted open borders among member states. But even in the face of mass unemployment in countries like Spain, there has been no surge of immigration into the stronger EU economies like Germany. As the Wall Street Journal has noted, “as far as we can tell…Spanish citizens are staying put… Europeans tend not to work outside their ‘home’ countries. In 2010, only 3.2 per cent of those working in the 17 members of the euro zone were citizens of another EU member nation. In 2007, the year before the financial crisis really took hold, that proportion was 2.9 per cent.”

Britain also opened its borders to immigrants from depressed Eastern European countries like Poland in 2004. Immigration increased to an overall net level of about 200,000 from 50,000 in 1997. But these numbers are very small, given Britain’s population and economy is much larger than Australia’s.

Immigration and jobs

Many people also believe that an “open borders” policy would be impractical, because it would cause chaos through increasing unemployment, overburdening government services or wrecking our environment. But the idea the immigration causes unemployment, or lower wages, is a myth. This is the conclusion of numerous official studies. A 2003 report by neo-liberal economist Ross Garnaut actually found that, “contemporary immigration raises the average income of Australians”.34

There are a number of reasons for this. It is widely established that increased immigration leads to higher economic growth. For this reason, some right-wing economists advocate open borders: the Wall Street Journal board member, Jason Riley, even authored a book titled Let Them In: The Case for Open Borders.

Every new immigrant must have housing, furniture, food and clothing, and this generates demand in the economy, creating jobs. Most immigrants do not arrive penniless, bringing money with them to help pay for the things they need.

A higher population also reduces the cost of many government and commercial services like interstate transport and communications, which need to be provided whatever the population, raising the general standard of living.

Unemployment is caused by recession and capitalist crisis, not immigration. In Australia, during the years of the Great Depression, between 1930 and 1934, net migration was negative, as more people left the country than arrived.

The times of lowest unemployment, such as the 1960s, have actually been periods of high immigration. After WWII, the Australian Government set a target of increasing the population by 1 per cent a year through immigration. It even set up an assisted passage scheme to pay for the travel costs of many of the new migrants, so desperate was it to encourage them. This was during the period of the great post-war economic boom.

When the economy is booming, employers need extra labour and are keen to get workers from all over the world through high immigration levels. This explains why Australian Governments have run high immigration policies in recent years: of 315,700 people in the year ending December 2008 and 215,600 net migration in 2009-10.

Business wants high immigration to prevent labour shortages and ensure the economy continues to grow. They aim to pick and choose which migrants to accept, favouring educated and skilled workers needed in industries like mining. This means that Australian capitalism gets the advantage of using their labour without having to pay for its upbringing, education and training.

Former Greens leader Bob Brown, who wants to see immigration reduced, has used this to call for cuts to business migration, claiming, “you can buy your way into this country if you’re rich or you’re highly skilled”. Although he has tried to dress this up as a humanitarian approach, by saying we should cut back on immigration but accept more refugees, he sounds disturbingly similar to the racists, accusing skilled migrants of being the real “queue jumpers”. And his rhetoric reinforces racist myths like the idea that immigrants steal jobs.

There is nothing humanitarian about calling for cuts to immigration. Migrants come here not only to improve their own lives, but often to work in order to send money to poor countries at home, sometimes supporting whole families.

But despite their need for labour, big business does not oppose government efforts to keep out refugees. For instance, the Business Council of Australia has been vocal in its opposition to the Liberals’ proposal to cut the immigration intake, but has had comparatively little to say about the exclusion of refugees.

In times of recession, business and governments sometimes favour a reduction in immigration levels. For the reasons discussed above, this actually hurts the economy. But it is useful for them in fostering division amongst workers and blaming scapegoats for rises in unemployment. The purpose of immigration controls, then, is both economic—to allow governments to bring workers in when it suits them and to stop them when it doesn’t—and ideological, to encourage workers to fear immigration as some kind of threat and to promote racism.

Racist agenda

These ideas are a very powerful way of turning working class people against migrants and refugees, and letting the real source of the problems in society—like government cutbacks to services and job cuts by business in the name of boosting profits—off the hook.

The idea that “our” borders must be maintained is also vital to fostering nationalism. It sets up a division between Australian workers and those outside “the nation”. We are encouraged to believe that “our” way of life is privileged and superior to that elsewhere. This encourages working class people in Australia to believe they have common interests with the Australian corporate executives, shareholders and politicians who make up the ruling class.

So why do workers accept racist ideas? Some have argued that white workers benefit from racism, but in fact the opposite is true. The idea that migrant workers, who are often willing to accept lower wages than local workers, drive down wages and take jobs appeals to people as common sense. “Economic competition” between European workers and Chinese migrants has been claimed as a motive behind working class support for the White Australia Policy, for instance.

But detailed studies in the US, such as that by Marxist sociologist Al Szymanski, have shown that racism amongst white workers actually forces down their own wages. In states where African American, Hispanic and migrant workers suffered the worst wages, they found that white workers also had lower wages than elsewhere. This was particularly strong in the southern states of the US, where there remains vicious racism against African Americans as a legacy of segregation.

This is because divisions among different nationalities, or between local and migrant workers, weaken effective union organisation and industrial action, which relies on unity across the workforce. Within a workplace, when a decision to go on strike is made, it will not be effective if sections of the workforce refuse to strike, and allow the bosses to continue to run the business and generate profit.

Some employers have even consciously set out to play off workers of different nationalities in order to weaken unionism. In 1952 the Australian Immigration Department defended the immigration of southern European workers on the basis that, “migrants will almost certainly be more docile in accepting [management-imposed] changes of [work] practice”. In Kalgoorlie and Broken Hill in the 1930s, mining companies donated money to the Returned Soldiers’ and Sailor’s League which led a campaign and stirred up riots against Italian and Yugolav migrants.

Employers can also use the fear of economic competition from migrant workers to convince other workers to accept lower wages. The solution to this is to organise workers across racial and ethnic divides in a united fight for better wages and conditions. Despite the strength of racism, there is also a strong history of this amongst Australian workers—and new migrant workers have often been among the most militant in fighting alongside their fellow workers for better wages. Socialists from Karl Marx onwards have stood for working class internationalism across all countries. As part of this we oppose all immigration controls, and support the free movement of people everywhere.

Opposing immigration controls is the only truly humanitarian stance, especially in a rich developed country like Australia. It is also necessary for an uncompromising fight for refugees and against the racism used to divide workers everywhere in the interests of our rulers.

By James Supple

11. Refugees: victims of the system

We live in a world of extreme inequalities of wealth. Globally the UNHCR estimates there are 21.3 million refugees. The impact of neo-liberal policies and free market capitalism, combined with imperialist wars and interventions waged by the West, have created misery across huge parts of the world.

Globalisation theorists claimed that the free trade policies imposed by rich nations would bring the world closer together, as they eradicated poverty and spread wealth. But structural adjustment programs have devastated third world economies. And as economic crisis has swept the world since 2008, the claims of the globalisation boosters look hollower than ever.

It is not only richer nations like the US and Europe that have seen unemployment skyrocket. Smaller economies that were told to open up to the free market and become export focused have been savaged as global markets seized up. In Eastern Europe even at the start of 2017, almost ten years since the crisis began, unemployment was still 12 per cent in Slovakia and near 10 per cent in Latvia and Bulgaria. In South Africa unemployment is still 26.5 per cent.

Across the Arab world, the economic crisis was the trigger for a wave of revolutions, symbolised by the death of Mohamed Bouazizi, a young Tunisian forced to survive as a street vendor who set himself on fire when he was prevented from working. In Egypt, neo-liberal economic policies imposed by the West saw the number of Egyptians living on less than $2 a day grow from 20 to 44 per cent after 1991. But Western-backed presidents and the elite saw their fortunes soar. Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak was estimated to be worth $40 to $70 billion before he was toppled by his own people.

Millions of dollars in investment can go around the world at the touch of a button, and corporate executives have freedom of movement to jet-set across the globe, directing the operations of the huge multinationals. But when any of the millions of ordinary people condemned to poverty try to flee, they are turned back. Refugee rights is a class issue—business people have always been able to buy their way into Australia. In 2012 the government announced a new “significant investor visa”, fast-tracked for permanent residency, for any bosses investing $5 million in Australia—but the government spends hundreds of millions of dollars trying to stop refugees.

Many of the great refugee crises of our times are a product of the wars and poverty imposed by Western imperialism on the poorest nations on Earth. Over three million Iraqis remain displaced following the US invasion and their incitement of sectarian conflict, according to the IOM.34 Afghanistan has been a plaything of outside powers for over a century. It is they who armed the warlords and extremists that continue to terrorise the population. Today the country is one of the world’s largest sources of refugees. The humanitarian catastrophe in Syria continues due to outside powers feeding the war—from Russia’s horrific bombing campaign to the Gulf States and Turkey funding and controlling elements of the armed opposition. Australia is complicit in trying to send back refugees to Sri Lanka, having cosied up to the Rajapaksa regime during its bloody war against the Tamils. As the Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter noted, “there are 38 Australian companies which have operations on the island, equating to tens of millions of dollars worth of investments”. A 2009 US Senate report noted that, “Sri Lanka is located at the nexus of crucial maritime trading routes in the Indian Ocean connecting Europe and the Middle East to China and the rest of Asia.” To our rulers, their investments and military interests are worth more than the lives of refugees from war.

Refugees are victims of a system that puts profit, military competition—and the extreme wealth of a tiny minority in society—above the lives of ordinary people the world over. To solve the problems that drive refugees and unauthorised migrants to flee requires a fight against the capitalist system.

The global Occupy movement, the general strikes in Greece, the mass demonstrations against austerity in Europe and the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt signal that working class people in their millions are beginning to fight back against capitalism. The Occupy movement put the issue of the way the world is run in the interests of a ruling class—“the 1 per cent”—back on the agenda.

But the economic crisis has also seen a resurgence of the far right, as some people blame migrants and refugees for unemployment. Donald Trump’s use of this racism helped him become US President. The Cronulla riots in 2005 gave Australia a glimpse of what the anti-refugee policies of Hanson and Howard could lead to. In France, the fascist Marine Le Pen is likely to reach the runoff between the top two candidates in the 2017 presidential election, while her National Front thugs have led violent attacks on Muslims. In Greece, the fascists of Golden Dawn, who now have seats in parliament, have organised vicious attacks on asylum seekers. Building the fight to defend refugees is part of resisting the efforts of governments to obscure the real problems in society. The fight for refugees and against racism is part of the fight against capitalism, and for a socialist society run in the interests of the 99 per cent.


1 Janet Phillips, “Asylum seekers and refugees: What are the facts?” Parliamentary Library Background note, updated February 11, 2013.

2 Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Asylum trends 2011-12, p38,

3 Operation Sovereign Borders update, January 2017,

4 Refugee Council of Australia, Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program 2016-17, p25 available at

5 Janet Phillips, “Boat arrivals in Australia: A quick guide to the statistics” Parliamentary Library Research Papers, January 23, 2014; and Archie’s archives

6 Department of Immigration and Citizenship, The outlook for net overseas migration June 2013, p3,

7 Department of Immigration and Citizenship website, “Fact Sheet 60—Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program”

8 George Megalogenis, “Labor in hold on refugee numbers” The Australian October 9, 2009

9 Refugee Council of Australia, Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program 2010-11: RCOA submission, p2

10 Refugee Council of Australia 2016-17 submission on the Refugee and Humanitarian Program, p16

11 Tony Kevin, “How authorities decide to rescue asylum seekers … or not”, Crikey July 13, 2012; see also Tony Kevin, Reluctant rescuers, 2012.

12 UNCHR Indonesia website,

13 Elibritt Karlsen, “Refugee resettlement to Australia: what are the facts?” Parliamentary Library Background Note, December 6 2011

14 Michael Grewcock, Border Crimes, Federation Press, 2010, p171

15 Commonwealth of Australia, Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee Estimates Hearing (Hansard), 28 February 2017, p4.

16 Phil Griffiths, The making of White Australia: Ruling class agendas, 1876-1888, PhD thesis, ANU (2006), p411-12

17 Quoted in Terry Symonds, “Australian racism: Whose ideology?” Socialist Worker Review No. 1 (1997) p6

18 See Sarah Gregson, “Divisions and solidarity. The 1934 Kalgoorlie race riots revisited”, available online at

19 Helen Trepa “Tu Do: A boat called Freedom” Signals 33 (1995)

20 Lesleyanne Hawthorne (ed) Refugee, the Vietnamese experience, Oxford University Press, 1982, 293-4.

21 Ibid., p319ff.

22 Jack H Smit, “Malcolm Fraser’s response to ‘commercial’ refugee voyages” Journal of International Relations 8 (2010), p76-103.

23 Peter Mares, “The fifth ripple: Australia’s place in the global refugee crisis” Inside Story, November 15, 2009

24 Peter Mares, “Australia’s sledgehammer” Australian Policy Online, 25 February 2004

25 “Marchers say: ‘Free the boat people’” The Socialist May 1992

26 Janet Phillips and Harriet Spinks, “Immigration detention in Australia” Parliamentary Library Background Note, 23 January 2012, p5

27 Grewcock, Border Crimes, p138

28 Ibid, p 133

29 Ben Doherty, “Sent home to ‘arrest, torture’”, Sydney Morning Herald, July 24, 2012

30 Amnesty International, “Ensuring Justice: Protecting human rights for Sri Lanka’s future”, p5.

31 “Lalith Weertaunge Rebuts President On Northern Troop Numbers”, Colombo Telegraph, January 23, 2014

32 Iqbal Athas and Tim Hume, “Fear, shock among Sri Lankan Muslims in aftermath of Buddhist mob violence”, CNN, June 24, 2014

33 Ross Garnaut, Migration to Australia and comparison with the United States: Who benefits? Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, 2003

34 International Organisation for Migration Iraq Mission, Displacement Tracking Matrix, February 2017


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