Human rights

Asylum seekers: Where is our humanity?

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Asylum seekers are denied human rights only because of our ignorance, says Semisi Kailahi.

WARNING: IF YOU'RE READING this, know that I am not an expert on asylum seeker policy. I don’t have the title of academic or political correspondent or anything that suggests expertise. So, I won’t be offended if you stop reading but you really shouldn’t.

If you want an "expert" commentary and analysis from either side of the debate, then all you have to do is google it! 

Our society is underpinned by purposeful and unintentional ignorance from our three Ps — politicians, press and the public. Our ignorance denies human rights to asylum seekers; I hope to cut through the crippling ignorance with a more human approach.

Here’s an analogy of Australia’s asylum seeker policy. The absurdity of it may prompt a chuckle but it is sadly accurate.  

Sandwich Seekers

If you want your sandwich, wait in line. If a sandwich seeker cuts the line, his human rights will be revoked as he’s indefinitely detained offshore.

Would you allow someone to cut the line so your sandwich is no longer at its optimal freshness? No. So, a punishment that violates morality, ethics and international law is justified.

You did the lawful thing. You waited. A sandwich seeker may claim to be a victim of circumstances that deny him the option of waiting. Appearances can be deceiving.

Recently, a homeless sandwich seeker claimed he was starving. He was dangerously skinny. But good films have convincing portrayals of fictional characters. This man could be a naturally gifted actor. Maybe he purposefully tore his clothes and discarded his footwear. Maybe he wasn’t dangerously skinny but wearing a corset. Maybe his stories of trauma and abuse were fabricated to generate leniency.

The process of determining his claim for starving status is complex. Evidence has emerged that the process is too long and inefficient.

Most sandwich seekers are homeless which concerns many because acts of terrorism have been committed by homeless people. Almost all, if not all sandwich seekers have gone on to have no involvement with an act of terrorism.

Despite this, our policy is: sandwich seeking breaks Australian laws. Our punishment breaks international laws. Breaking international law is like jaywalking. It occurs all the time and people rarely care.

Agree to Disagree

I’m not surprised that many don’t share my views because the mainstream media and politicians don’t give full and frank disclosure of asylum seeker policy. Most lack the bravery or decency to do so. Others might be unaware of the details but that’s no defence. They’re paid to be aware. It’s their job!

The politicians and the media must communicate all details of the policy which include: time spent in detention, racism, homophobia,  sexual abuse, suicide and self-harm, mental illness and living conditions.


What’s alarming is that Australians privy to the details are okay with it. It deters others from doing the same. It’s unfortunate but the punishment needs to be harsh and inhumane to deter recurrence of the crime.

If that’s the argument, bring capital punishment to Australia again. It only breaks one human right — the right to life. Surely there’s an offence that breaks more, which will build the deterrence effect. Aha! Offshore detention. The deterrence argument is flawed. A person that kills himself on Nauru isn’t afforded humanity. Deterrence at what cost?

International illegality

Several nations have attracted condemnation from the international community.

Kofi Annan declared America’s war in Iraq as illegal. George Bush defended it and he or any government official is yet to be punished for it.

The Allies condemned Nazi’s atrocities against the Jews in 1942. Nazi atrocities did not end till the regime was crushed.

Australia is breaking international law. Australia’s politicans have been defiant enough to defend themselves. What will happen next is for the historians to anticipate.

In the typical dictatorship, the three Ps sing to the same tune. Free speech is non-existent. Independent voice may be crushed by a big brother regime. Speaking out may cost you your life.

One of the merits of Australian democracy is the right for anyone to speak out. A minority in each of the three Ps oppose the policy so some claim Australia isn’t all that bad.

In actual fact, it’s worse! Every citizen can speak out against it, yet this policy remains!

Some follow and debate this issue while others advance other political issues. Most lack any courage in their convictions. The reason being the perceived potential political and societal consequences. Our world is underpinned by the four attitudes of cynicism, narcissism, fear and insecurity. Most wear a straitjacket of these materials. Our freedom should be treated as a privilege, compelling us to speak out against inhumane policy. You’ll lose Facebook and actual friends along the way. It’s worth it!

Belief in change

Some Australians are vocally opposed and some silently disagree. It’s a sickening Liberal policy. It’s a horrible Labor policy. Heartless decisions by politicians. Their policy not mine.  

Blame gaming has no place because the bitterness of it is distracting and provides lame excuses. Our representatives make each law with the power we give them. That’s democracy! It’s not naïve to believe that everyday people can create change every day, everywhere. The people create the media and the politicians! When the overall electorate changes position, the member will change. When the overall audience changes interest, the media will change.


You’ll find little comfort in being a member of the dissenting few within a federal electorate. You’ll probably never get recognised for it, if recognition is what you seek. No legislation will include the disclaimer,

'This Act is not agreed to by the following people.'

Disagreement alone provides little comfort. Change the hearts and minds of those around you. Together you can change the narrative. Democracy works on the cycle of you asking questions and challenging answers and the politicians changing the answers — and repeat.

Not asking for much

I asked a former Nauru detainee,

“Why do you want to be here? You’ll never be treated as an Australian.”

He calmly replied,

“Can we be treated as humans then?”

My heart sank. My eyes were teary in the knowledge that my country can’t even do that! I was never more ashamed to be Australian.

Land down under

Asylum seekers aren’t coming because they want to experience "the lucky country" or for shrimps on the barbie. They are coming to experience basic humanity.

Those detained offshore learn that Australia  a lucky country if you came by boat generations ago. Barbie is also slang for coil of barbed wire. They see plenty of barbies but no shrimp — no Paul Hogan.

My alternative

Some say, “Semisi, do you have a better alternative?” I would say, "Yes”. Some say, “But did you consider the legal, economic, political, societal, environmental factors? I would say “No".

I considered the human factor, because that’s the starting point! The other factors come second — the experts will debate them. It’s our obligation as Australians – as people – to restore humanity. 

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