Alliance for the implementation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Oceania

Australia’s Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DOIC) has a new message for asylum-seekers who arrive by boat: “You won’t be settled in Australia”. A controversial media campaign outlines the country’s new policy of transferring refugees and asylum-seekers who arrive by boat to Papua New Guinea. Many Australians responded with harsh criticism for both the policy and the campaign.

Backlash began after the Department of Immigration and Citizenship’s communications manager tweeted the following message and picture:

Australia’s asylum debate viewed from Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp

My friend Rashid has been living in Dadaab for 22 years. When we talked about the Australian government publishing pictures of sobbing refugees, he thought it was inhuman

A UNHCR worker briefs Somali refugees about camp layout at UNHCR's Ifo extension camp outside Dadaab, eastern Kenya.
A UNHCR worker briefs Somali refugees about camp layout at UNHCR’s Ifo extension camp outside Dadaab, eastern Kenya. Photograph: Jerome Delay

Abdirashid Sheik Mohamed fled Somalia with his two younger sisters in 1991. His parents and the rest of his siblings were killed, and he escaped only with the help of his neighbours. He was five.

About 10 years later, living in the Dadaab refugee camp just across the border with Kenya, Rashid and his sisters were provisionally approved for resettlement to the United States. At the final step – a DNA test – a problem emerged. Rashid’s youngest sister was not his real sister. The neighbours who helped them to escape explained that she was a first cousin; they had been raised as siblings for the sake of simplicity. The family was devastated. The resettlement was postponed. Rashid is still here, in Dadaab. He has been here for 22 years.

As far as life in Dadaab goes, Rashid is making a pretty good go of it. He’s a sharp guy who has made the most of the limited education opportunities available in the camp, and he earns a restricted income as a radio presenter for a locally broadcast humanitarian information program. He gave up the idea of resettlement a long time ago, and is hoping that his country will soon be safe enough for him to return and become a journalist. For the record, the organisation behind the radio program Rashid works for is a group called Internews, and I work for them too. Rashid is a friend and colleague of mine.

Recently I noticed that Rashid had shared a news story on Facebook about the pictures published by the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship, depicting sobbing asylum seekers who had just been informed they would not be resettled in Australia. I was intrigued as to what someone in Rashid’s position would make of these images, so I asked him about it.

Somalis arrive at the Dadaab refugee camp.
Somalis arrive at the Dadaab refugee camp. Photograph: Sipa Press/Rex Features

“I was shocked. Truly shocked. It really touched me – like I had taken their shoes. It seemed strange and inhuman to show something like that,” Rashid told me. Many of Rashid’s friends were as dismayed as he was. Others were incredulous to the idea that the government of Australia would turn away asylum seekers like that at all. If the intention behind publishing the pictures was to raise awareness of Australia’s new asylum seeker policy amongst global refugee communities, it seems it may have had some success.

The more immediate risks of sea travel are well known to refugees in Dadaab. If Australians follow the news of sinking asylum seeker boats closely, you can be sure that the people who might consider getting on those boats are paying attention too. “We hear it over the radio, on BBC Somali. We are always hearing stories about boats that capsize. We hear stories about boats that are overcrowded and when they sink the captains throw people into the sea. Not just in Australia, but people going to Europe. It is regular,” Rashid says, “so everyone knows the risks. But they say it is a do or die game. They either make it or they die.”

The reasons behind this desperation are simultaneously very simple and very complex. “Their country is not peaceful. They’re afraid if they go back they will be killed” says Rashid. But that’s only part of it – “Where they are now they have no chance of finding a job, or of making a life for their families. The biggest problem of all is poor living conditions.”

In the camps, or in places like them, people are in limbo. Their ability to work legally is extremely limited, their future is inherently uncertain and control of their lives seems out of their hands. For many, this is enough of a reason to make the gamble worthwhile. The line between “asylum seekers” and “economic migrants” is blurred, and certainly not binary. For those on the edge, the distinction means little.

Somali boys fetch water from a puddle that formed after rain at the IFO-2 complex of the sprawling Dadaab refugee complex in Kenya.
Somali boys fetch water from a puddle at the IFO-2 complex of the sprawling Dadaab refugee complex in Kenya. Photograph: Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty

In Australia we often talk about “queue jumpers”, an expression Rashid has never heard. When I explain it to him he laughs, “Does that happen? People who travel by boat get better treatment? I don’t know.” Does he feel that these people are cheating the system? “To some extent, yes, they are taking advantage, because they are making a clever decision. I suppose they are cheating.” And yes, he acknowledges, mostly they are people who have more money. “But most of all”, Rashid says, “they are very courageous. They have made a decision – a decision for their future – and they have stuck with it.”

Right now the number of refugees who share Dadaab with Rashid is more than 400,000. According UNCHR figures, globally there are more than 45m displaced people, including more than 15m refugees. More than seven million people are living in what are known as “protracted refugee situations”. The average stay in one of these camps is 17 years. At 22 years and counting, Rashid is ahead of the trend, but not by a great deal.

The pull factors which attract asylum seekers to Australia are pretty clear – so much so that millions of Britons want to make the trip as well. By making Australia less appealing to asylum seekers – publishing photos like those that upset Rashid for example – you are trying to control those pull factors. What no one can control, or at least control effectively, are the push factors which make people want to leave where they already are.

As long as the push factors of conflict, resource pressure, population growth and joblessness continue to exist – which is to say, as long as we live in the real world – people will keep finding a way to improve their lot. Movement is often the only option they have. This is why any serious approach to refugees or asylum seekers must be defined in terms of long term management and planning, rather than ad hoc preclusion. It will be a strategy, rather than an “answer”. It will be hard and inescapably inadequate. And, as the world becomes more interconnected, this problem will get worse rather than better. Even if “stopping the boats” does prove to be possible in the short term, to think of it as any kind of enduring solution is misunderstanding the nature of the problem.

In any case, as Rashid says, “most people I know don’t go by boat, they go by plane.”

Australien: Ein Wahlkampf auf dem Rücken der Flüchtlinge

Urs Wälterlin aus Canberra, 5. August 2013, 18:55
  • Obwohl heuer nur etwa 15.000 Flüchtlinge per Boot nach Australien gemacht, wird Zuwanderung zum heiß-umkämpften Thema des australischen Wahlkampfes.
    foto: reuters/munoz

    Obwohl heuer nur etwa 15.000 Flüchtlinge per Boot nach Australien gemacht, wird Zuwanderung zum heiß-umkämpften Thema des australischen Wahlkampfes.

  • Premier Kevin Rudd und....
    foto: apa/epa/coch

    Premier Kevin Rudd und….

  • ....Oppositionschef Tony Abbot gehen mit Härte gegen Asylsuchende auf Stimmenfang.
    foto: apa/epa/hunt

    ….Oppositionschef Tony Abbot gehen mit Härte gegen Asylsuchende auf Stimmenfang.

Australiens Konservative glauben fest daran, die Wahlen am 7. September gewinnen zu können. Die regierende Labor-Partei reagiert darauf mit einem Kurs der Härte in Sachen Flüchtlingspolitik.

“Es geht los! Jetzt haben die Australier die Wahl!” – mit dieser E-Mail-Nachricht hat Kevin Rudd den Wahlkampf in Australien eingeläutet. Bloß sechs Wochen nach seiner spektakulären Rückkehr ins Amt hat der neue alte Premier seine Generalgouverneurin Quentin Bryce – sie ist als Vertreterin von Queen Elizabeth II de facto das Staatsoberhaupt des Landes – um die Auflösung des Parlaments gebeten und den Wahltermin auf den 7. September festgelegt.

Den Sozialdemokraten fordert der Chef der konservativen Opposition, Tony Abbott, heraus. Noch vor wenigen Wochen hatte dieser geglaubt, er habe den Wahlsieg so gut wie in der Tasche: Julia Gillard schien für ihn keine Gegnerin mehr zu sein. Doch dann sah er sich unerwartet seinem alten Widersacher Rudd gegenüber.

Premier im Umfragehoch

Ende Juni war Gillard über eine parteiinterne Vertrauensabstimmung gestürzt, woraufhin Rudd erneut das Amt des Regierungschefs übernahm. Seither klettert der Premier in den Umfragen stetig nach oben – bisher nicht hoch genug: Würden schon heute Wahlen abgehalten, hätten die Sozialdemokraten wohl keine Chance, an der Macht zu bleiben.

Rudd ist ein Stehaufmännchen. Er hatte die Labor-Partei 2007 zu einem sensationellen Wahlsieg über die Konservativen von John Howard geführt. Im Juni 2010 – nach einer Kampagne der Ressourcenindustrie gegen eine von Rudd geplante Rohstoffsteuer – holte Labor seine Stellvertreterin Julia Gillard an die Spitze und damit ins höchste Regierungsamt.

Die erste Premierministerin des Landes erreichte politisch viel und wachte darüber, dass das rohstoffreiche Australien die Weltwirtschaftskrise praktisch unbeschadet überstand. Trotzdem scheiterte sie an der endlosen und oft sexistisch gefärbten, respektlosen Kritik vonseiten konservativer Medien. Ihre Beliebtheit sackte auf ein historisches Tief ab. Ende Juni verlor sie dann die Parteiführung an Rudd.

Politik der Härte

Beobachter fürchten nun einen von Fremdenfeindlichkeit und Rassismus geprägten Wahlkampf. Seit Juni überbieten sich Rudd und Abbott in einer Politik der Härte gegenüber Flüchtlingen, die per Boot von Indonesien nach Australien kommen. Abbott will die zumeist aus dem Iran und dem Irak stammenden Menschen nach Indonesien zurückschicken – gegen den erklärten Widerstand Jakartas. Rudd dagegen kündigte an, alle Bootsflüchtlinge würden nach Papua-Neuguinea oder auf die Pazifikinsel Nauru verfrachtet. Sie sollten dann keine Möglichkeit mehr haben, in Australien leben zu können.

Obwohl heuer bisher nur etwa 15.000 Menschen per Boot nach Australien kamen und obwohl im Regelfall auch fast alle Asylsuchenden später tatsächlich als Flüchtlinge anerkannt werden und sich gut in die Gesellschaft integrieren, fühlen sich viele Australierinnen und Australier von ihnen bedroht.

Der früher in Sachen Asylpolitik eher moderate Rudd hat erkannt, dass nur eine “Politik der Herzlosigkeit” Wählerstimmen bringen kann. Vor allem die Opposition appelliert mehr oder weniger offen an den im australischen Volk latenten, aber weit verbreiteten Rassismus gegenüber Menschen islamischen Glaubens. (Urs Wälterlin aus Canberra, DER STANDARD, 6.8.2013)