Beyond the inhumanity, Operation Sovereign Borders simply does not work

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For the refugees on Manus and Nauru, any hope for freedom has been dashed for another three years (Screenshot via YouTube)

Three more years of the Coalition's unwillingness to compromise on refugee policy means no hope to those who need it, writes Meg Devery.

SCOTT MORRISON PROCLAIMED that he “always believed in miracles” as he seized his baffling election victory.

But it was his “miracle” that caused those he detains on Manus and Nauru to lose hope of theirs.

Rates of suicide and self-harm escalated in detention centres after the news of a Coalition victory devastated the already despairing population. Manus Island Police Chief, David Yapu, described the post-election situation as “very critical”, corroborating Behrouz Boochani’s statement that “about 50 people” had tried to take their own life after 18 May. Boochani, a journalist and Manus detainee, also expressed that the Federal Election was the “big and last chance” for those in detention, who now face another three years of crippling uncertainty.

Stopping the boats” is consistently proclaimed as the principle purpose of Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB), the immigration policy of which mandatory offshore detention is a key pillar. Between 2015-16, there were no reports of boats intercepting Australian waters, compared to the 110 arrivals recorded between 2011-12, before the strategy was introduced. By these statistics, OSB, in all its barbarity, seems effective.

But just because less boats are reaching Australian waters does not mean they have stopped.

Documents obtained by Asher Hirsch under the Freedom of Information Act specified that international authorities, in cooperation with the Australian Federal Police, had performed 78 disruptions of attempts by boats carrying asylum seekers to leave international ports, mostly Indonesian. Indicating that approximately 2,525 ‘potential illegal immigrants’ had boarded a boat since OSB’s inception, the report demonstrates that the policy has simply prevented boats from arriving in Australian waters, not stopped them. Hirsch, a Senior Policy Advisor for the Refugee Council of Australia, notes that the figure “highlights the desperation of people [in Indonesia]”.

This is where Scott Morrison comes back into the frame.

In 2014, Morrison (who was Immigration Minister at the time) announced that no refugees registered with UNHCR from Indonesia would be brought to Australia. Currently, there are approximately 14,000 refugees in Indonesia who have fled countries in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. Most have been living in limbo for over a decade due to a lack of resettlement opportunities. Ibrahim Adam, a Sudanese refugee, told The New York Times in 2018 that he had “no home and no hope” due to the uncompromising immigration policy of countries such as Australia.

Further fuelling the desperation of those seeking resettlement, funding to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) was cut by the Australian Government in 2018. The agency provides vital medical care, shelter and basic assistance to refugees and asylum seekers, who would otherwise go without due to Indonesia’s lack of legal obligations to provide support.

Without hopelessness and vulnerability, people smugglers have no product to sell. No human would pay up to $6,000 to board an unsafe boat with little possibility of reaching and resettling in Australia if there were safe and practical alternatives available.

We cannot cut vital support and sever legal pathways of resettlement whilst expecting people’s desperation to dissipate.

Instead of continuing a useless cycle of inhumanity, the Government needs to drop its political pride. End the abhorrent suffering of those in indefinite detention. And enforce reasonable, legal strategies that actually work.

Although the LNP claimed an election win, no Australian voted for the continuation of a policy that does not work. No Australian voted for political point scoring to trump justice. And no Australian voted for more deaths of innocent people.

The severe rise in self-harm and suicide attempts of those in detention signifies the urgency of the situation on Manus and Nauru. Awareness of the issue is critical in ending the suffering of those in detention. Sharing this story, supporting the work of organisations such as the Refugee Council of Australia and Refugee Action Coalition, writing to your local member and speaking up in support of those on Manus and Nauru is vital in the fight to end injustice against people arbitrarily and illegally detained by the Australian Government.

Meg Devery is a high school senior and activist for refugee and asylum seeker rights.

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