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Ending the Coalition's history of human rights abuse

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Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons

Australia's refugee policy is akin to the legal definition of torture, something a new government will hopefully change, writes Meggan Devery.

AUSTRALIA, or as it is proudly bestowed, the lucky country. Free, privileged and prosperous. Welcoming, inclusive and egalitarian. The land of the “fair go”.

Indefinite detention. Inadequate medical care. No human rights. This is how the land of the fair go responds to those who are desperately seeking one. 

Operation Sovereign Borders is the official name of one of the most destructive and demeaning policies Australia has ever been accountable for. Endorsed by current Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his border belligerent, the policy was originally pitched by then PM Tony Abbott as a necessary method to “prevent more drownings at sea” and re-establish the integrity of our immigration system. But there’s a slight problem with this appeal — it's completely corrupted.

Despite the Government’s ostensible concern for the welfare of people seeking asylum, 12 people have died since the policy’s implementation. Half of these people were confirmed or suspected suicide victims. In 2016, UNHCR medical experts found that cumulative rates of depression, anxiety and PTSD amongst  those in indefinite detention were ‘...the highest recorded in medical literature’.

Additionally, an independent report by Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) compared the mental health suffering on Nauru to that of victims of torture. Amnesty International, the Australian Council for International Development, the Australian Medical Association, the Human Rights Commission, Human Rights Watch, PNG’s supreme court, PNG’s grand chief, Sir Michael Somare and the New Zealand Government have all demanded the abolishment of the inhumane policy.

Yet detention centres are still operating. 915 people are still living in limbo. And the Government still assures that the policy is reasonable.

“Re-establishing the integrity” of Australia’s borders and immigration system has resulted in the loss of Australia’s integrity. “Protecting” our nation from distressed and defenceless people has outweighed the importance of understanding this complicated, multifaceted issue and respecting the rights of those caught up in it. Somehow, the country that stipulates that immigrants must show “compassion for those in need” has enacted a policy of systematic abuse imposed on people begging for refuge. Bigotry, ignorance and hypocrisy — this is how our country responds to the most vulnerable people on this Earth.

Over 3,000 men, women and children have been forced into offshore detention. Whether it is conflict, persecution or humanitarian crises, every single one of these people have fled situations that most of us are far too privileged to even fathom. As we relish in the freedoms, rights and protections our nation provides, somehow we feel entitled to criticise the actions of people in circumstances we have never – and will never – have to endure. We disregard them before even considering the trauma they have suffered. We condemn their method of arrival before even evaluating if there was any other pragmatic path available to them. And we answer their pleas for asylum with a policy compliant with the international legal definition of torture.

At the upcoming election, our country has a decision. We can continue to support a Government that has exploited, abused and ignored desperate people. We can continue to uphold an inhumane, repressive and futile policy. We can continue to disparage our nation’s integrity. 

Or, we can choose to reinstate Australia’s conscience. End one of the most shameful chapters in our country’s history. And end the suffering of those affected by offshore detention. After years of anguish, torment and desolation, surely its time to accept that this policy and the Government who assembled it has to go.

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

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