Australia: The truth about Australia’s refugee camps

Hong Kong’s pro-government politicians worship racist, cruel and expensive model

David Elliott, Socialist Party (CWI in Australia)

I am horrified to hear that the right-wing press and pro-government politicians in Hong Kong support Australia’s refugee policy.

Australia’s policy is expensive, cruel, and racist. Australia has sent Tamil refugees back to the anti-Tamil regime in Sri Lanka and Vietnamese people back to the dictatorship in Vietnam. Many have been allowed to die at sea. Last week, Iranian refugee Omid Masoumali set himself on fire after three years in an Australian refugee detention centre on the Pacific island of Nauru. Before he set himself alight, he is reported to have said “I cannot take it anymore.” He died of his injuries, just 23 years old. Two days later, 21-year-old Hodan Yasin from Somalia also set fire to herself at the Nauru camp. Her condition is said to be critical.

Australia holds almost 2,000 refugees in detention facilities. In truth, these are prisons. Two of these prisons are outside our borders. Papua New Guinea and Nauru are bribed by the Australian government to accept these facilities on their shores. The Australian government was recently embarrassed when the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea ruled that the detention centre on Manus Island is illegal. The court wrote that refugees were “forcefully brought into Papua New Guinea” and held in a facility “enclosed with razor wire”. Australian detention centres have been described as “torture”. Some refugees have been imprisoned for years; they leave with extreme mental health problems. Detainees suffer bullying and inadequate facilities. At least one refugee in detention has died from poor medical care. There have been dozens of suicides, and self-mutilation is common.

The Australian government wastes more than $1 billion a year running the detention centres, paid to a series of private companies. This includes Wilson Security, the company owned by Hong Kong’s corruption-stained Kwok brothers. Australia spends between $239,000 and $400,000 per year on each refugee in detention – $400,000 is the wage of eight full-time workers!

The Socialist Party in Australia (the sister party of Socialist Action in Hong Kong) campaigns for refugees to be allowed to settle in the community. We demand that the money wasted on refugee detention centres be used to fund the creation of jobs, high quality public housing, and services for both refugees and ordinary people.

Tens of thousands of people in Australia protest the imprisonment of refugees every year. In February, a refugee baby named Asha was treated at a hospital in Brisbane. The government wanted to deport Asha to an offshore detention centre. Hospital staff refused to allow this. The community formed a picket at the hospital. They stopped every car and demanded to check it, to make sure it wasn’t taking Asha away. The government has been forced to back down on sending Asha into detention for now.

Australia’s refugee camps2

Racist history

The Australian ruling class has a history of racist anti-immigration policies. In the 1850s, restrictions were introduced on Chinese immigrants. The “White Australia policy”, which lasted from 1901-1966, was created to limit immigration from non-European people. Politicians spoke about the “Yellow Peril” – ‘yellow’ is a racist slur used against Asian people.

In the 1990s, the ‘One Nation’ political party was launched to oppose Chinese immigration. It’s leader, Pauline Hanson, told Australians that we were in danger of being “swamped by Asians”. The Socialist Party organised resistance against One Nation, leading school student strikes and taking part in protests against their anti-Asian racism.

Racism is used to divide working people against each other, and to distract Australians by blaming foreigners for problems caused by capitalism – mass unemployment and cuts to welfare, hospitals and education. More recently, this racism has been turned against Middle-Eastern people, and refugees have been the victims of this.

Last year, Socialist Party organised demonstrations of 3-4,000 people against the new racist groups who have formed to harass Muslims. The racism of the right-wing pro-government forces in Hong Kong comes from the same source as the anti-Chinese racism of the White Australia policy and the One Nation party in Australia. By spreading lies about refugees in Hong Kong, they have sided with the worst racist elements of the Australian ruling class. By supporting Australia’s horrifying refugee policy, they place themselves in opposition to the working people of both Australia and Hong Kong.

Capitalism and racism are international, and our fight against them must also be international. We stand proudly in solidarity with Socialist Action and the working people of Hong Kong, and with the refugees who come to both of our countries hoping for safety and a better life.