Gwynne Dyer: Australia's racist refugee practices need to change

The Australian boat people are getting to be a problem.

The first few million just got off the boats from Britain, pushed the Aborigines off the good land, and declared themselves the real Australians.

This latest lot of boat people, though... they don’t even stay in Australia. They’re settling in Papua New Guinea.

It’s not exactly their own idea, to be fair. The descendants of the earlier boat people, now numbering some 20-odd million, have decided that Australia is full up, so any more boat people have to be sent elsewhere. But where? Well, how about somewhere poor and violent, to deter them from trying to get into Australia in the first place? Besides, if it’s a really poor country, then it can be bribed to accept them. Right, then. PNG it is.

The Australians have convinced themselves that they are drowning in refugees, but they aren’t. Just go to the OECD’s 2011 online statistics, and check out the top four lines for “Inflows of Asylum Seekers”.

First by alphabetical order is Australia (population 23 million), which got 11,505 asylum seekers. Then comes Austria (population eight million), which got 14,406. Then Belgium (population 10 million), which took in a whopping 26,003 refugees. And finally Canada (population 35 million), which received 24,985. If the Australians are drowning, they are drowning in very shallow water.

Moreover, 70 percent of the boat people seeking asylum in Australia are Sri Lankans, Afghans, and Iranians, most of whom we may assume are genuine refugees. So why did Australian governments start detaining asylum seekers, including children, as long ago as 1992, even though that is illegal under the 1951 Refugee Convention of which Australia is a signatory?

At that time refugee flows were high everywhere, though that’s hardly an excuse. No other country did that, and at no time have asylum seekers amounted to even 10 percent of Australian immigration.

Keeping them in prison in Australia while sorting out their claims eventually got too embarrassing, so in 2001 the government signed a deal with Papua New Guinea to send them to mosquito-infested Manus Island, 300 kilometres off PNG’s northern coast, for “processing”.

But their claims for asylum were still treated seriously, and the genuine claimants were eventually settled in Australia.

Asylum seekers to Australia were at a peak of almost 13,000 in 2001, but over the next few years they dropped steeply. By 2004 they were down to 3,200, so Australia closed the Manus camp.

Labour prime minister Julia Gillard reopened the Manus Island prison last year, presumably because the number of asylum seekers had gone back up to 11,500. (Why? The defeat of the Tamil separatists in Sri Lanka, a possible Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, and the crushing of the Green protests in Iran). But horrible though it was, the Manus camp was still a “processing” centre, and (some) genuine refugees got resettled in Australia in the end.

Then Kevin Rudd took over the Labour Party leadership last June in an inner-party coup, and almost his first act as prime minister was to declare that no person arriving by boat would ever be allowed to settle in Australia. They would be settled in Papua New Guinea instead. He was facing an imminent election that Labour seemed bound to lose, so he needed to rouse the rabble. It worked: Labour’s poll numbers have already improved considerably.

Papua New Guinea is an utterly impoverished country with one of the highest crime rates in the world. Eighty-five percent of its seven million people survive by subsistence agriculture, and the cities largely consist of gang-ridden slums swept by tribal violence. It is a completely unacceptable place to “resettle” refugees, but Rudd has persuaded the PNG government to take them in return for a very large (but secret) amount of money.

Why does Australia behave like this? Racism, obviously. Compared to any other English-speaking people, Australians (or a great many of them) are openly, astoundingly racist. You’d have to go somewhere like Russia or China to find people expressing their racial prejudices in such an unselfconscious, almost naive way. And here’s a clue: New Zealanders, similar to Australians in so many other ways, don’t talk like that at all.

Racism is mostly about fear, and the Australians are very afraid of something. You may mock, but I have a theory about that. Every time Australians look at a map, they see the entire continent of Asia looming above their country like an avalanche waiting to happen. I suspect they are afraid that one day it will fall on them and crush them

But that’s only because conventional maps are drawn with north at the top. You can already get joke world maps in Australia that put south at the top, so that Australia floats serenely above that huge Asian mess below. Just make those maps standard in Australian schools and on Australian TV news, and in a few months you’ll see the change.

Then, if the occasional boat-load of refugees bubbles up from below, who cares? Australia’s above it all, and we can deal with it.

Problem solved. My bill is in the mail.

Comments (26) Add New Comment
Alan Layton
I can remember a number of years ago, during a very turbulent time with First Nations in BC and hearing the First Nations then leader say to the press "we should've killed you all when you got off the boat". In that case he was very right, since his culture was destroyed. The current influx in Australia may not be as destructive as the first, but I would say that Australia has learned it's lesson from the Aboriginal people and I can't blame them for wanting to keep their culture as it is.
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No Culture
Australia has no culture they are British Criminal rejects sent by the Crown, exiled as Criminals to found modern Australia.

Australian settlers from the UK are racist and practice a form of Apartheid.

Wait that sounds familiar....
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islandguy
Who are we to tell Australia what and who they should let into the country? They have done very well without the help of us and the USA.
I say "mind your own house first"
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I Chandler
"Then Kevin Rudd took over the Labour Party leadership last June, in an inner-party coup"

These things sometimes happen in parliamentary democracies when a Prime Minister loses confidence of parliament.

Julia Gillard was replaced by Kevin Rudd in 2013 following allegations of embezzlement. Kevin Rudd was replaced by Julia Gillard in 2010 following a proposed tax on mining companies who pushed a $22m propaganda campaign with their media mates.

"in an inner-party coup"

The only Austrian coup happened in 1975 ( CIA sponsored ) when the Governor General dismissed the Whitlam government after he started Aboriginal land reform and granted Papua New Guinea independence.

John Pilger, an Australian journalist based in London describes a
Australian racist Disneyland here:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/apr/28/australia-boom-abor...

Pilger ( http://johnpilger.com) produced a film on Australia called Utopia. The first Australians are fighting back:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UzjW6RjQQi4
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blah
I agree with you Island Guy, but I'm puzzled as to how you drug the USA into one of Dyer's ridiculous arguments. Maybe you think he is American. I can assure you, no way the USA would claim such a nutbag.
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Bruce
@blah....Dyer shows no love of American policy. I am guessing you are American? The thing is most everything he writes is clear, concise and makes sense to anyone with half a brain. By the way Dyer is Canadian...proud to claim him!
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John
An excerpt from the Labor senator & Minister for Foreign Affairs Bob Carr from Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Lateline - 26/06/2013...

BOB CARR: ...we've got to recognise - and the people who've expressed noble sentiments on refugee rights have got to recognise that under our noses, the nature of this problem has changed. The people coming here by irregular means, irregular maritime arrivals, in the language of the bureaucracy, are being brought here by people smugglers - all of them, being brought here as part of a criminal commercial organisation. Second change: they're not people fleeing persecution. They're coming from majority religious or ethnic groups in the countries their fleeing, they're coming here as economic migrants.

TONY JONES: Do some mathematics here. If they're economic migrants, why do nine out of 10 of them pretty much get accepted as genuine refugees? Are you saying we've got that wrong?

BOB CARR: Yeah, we've reached the view that as a result of court and tribunal decisions, it's coming up wrong. We need a tougher, more hard-edged assessment. And again I say to those Australians who believe this country ought to distinguish itself by its decency to refugees, the problem in front of us measurably has changed. It is people smuggling, it is people coming here as economic migrants, it is people coming here in numbers that will push aside our generous humanitarian intake as part of our regular migration program.
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John
While Labor did get a boost in the polls, that is largely due to the fact that Rudd is simply a more liked person than Gilliard, and the fact that Gilliard faced torrents of sexism from almost everywhere (though it's not like she did much to help women).

There has been resistance to the policy, thousands have protested against it, but yeah it is no surprise many Australians are racist considering it is a country built on genocide and ethnic cleansing, and for decades governments stoked fears about a supposed 'Asian' invasion (first the Russians, then the Japanese, then the Chinese, then the Vietnamese and back the Chinese, for the moment).

Also, in the case of Tamil refugees, Australia is a massive supporter of the Sri Lankan government, no surprise then that the government will imprison the refugees.
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I Chandler
"The Australians have convinced themselves that they are drowning in refugees"

Being in the UK,it might be hard to understand how Murdocracy can convince anyone of anything. The second most famous refugee happens to be Australian. Among Ecuador's reasons for granting asylum is Assange's abandonment by Australia - former prime minister Julia Gillard. See John Pilger's, The pursuit of Julian Assange is an assault on freedom and a mockery of journalism.

In 2008,a Pentagon document, leaked by WikiLeaks, described how WikiLeaks and Assange would be destroyed with a smear campaign leading to "criminal prosecution"

"Compared to any other English-speaking people, Australians are openly, astoundingly racist. "

In 1967,90% of Australians passed constitutional amendments relating to Indigenous peoples. I don't know of any other English-speaking people doing the same. Chinese Indonesians
and Vietnamese have experienced persecution.The Act of Killing documents some of this in Indonesia:
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Act_of_Killing

As for Russian racists...read the memo...
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Blogger
Island Guy you are right on. My ex neighbour is a Metro Cop who has arrested and deported the same individual back to Jamaica 5 times. Our government spends billions yearly on immigration and at times it's a complete gong show. Australia has learned something that our politicians cannot figure out. I find that I usually agree with Dyer on most issues but not in this case.
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muskox37
I have listened to a retired navy man from Ontario go on at length about how the Newfoundlanders 'solved' their firstnations 'problem' by wiping out the local indigenous population. The implication being that the rest of Canada should have done the same thing. This kind of thinking, alas, is not confined to Australia.
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Mary Mananda
"Well, how about somewhere poor and violent, to deter them from trying to get into Australia in the first place? Besides, if it’s a really poor country, then it can be bribed to accept them. Right, then. PNG it is."

While I appreciate the points made in this article about numbers of refugees taken by various countries and the not so subtle racism in this policy decision and agreement with PNG, the above statement reeks of ignorance.

It is not because Papua New Guinea is poor and violent that they are willing to take "aid" or bribery from Oz. It is because of the neo-colonial relationship between the two countries. Australia has been taking advantage of PNG for years - since before PNG gained independence from Oz in 1975. Resource companies (many of whom are Canadian) and developers take advantage of weak regulation. I could go on.

It's unfortunate that the writer did not do even just some minor research before painting Papua New Guinea in such a simplistic light. Oz is simply using PNG as a dumping ground for refugees that they do not want to deal with.
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Harvey K. Tiel
Having been stationed in Singapore and having dealt with the expats from Down U. (the majority of exapts in SG are from there), there was a palpable sense that they were there for the money and for an extended party. They clump together in their social clubs with no interest in taking part in the local society, and would talk disparagingly about the locals in a colonial mentality. Having said that, other Western nationalities living in SG were not much better.
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Boon
Without having read the article in full but knowing many of the comments here will obviously fall back to our immigration/refugee policies, as a lefty, I believe we should uphold a solid degree of compassion for refugees however, I think the cost of doing so should always be considered as well.
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Clyde
Harvey, that's an interesting point because I think all expat communities generally stick together, its simply human nature. I suppose there is an issue with the air of superiority of western expat communities though Im sure it can be the same for other non-western but wealthier nations or groups as well. But if we turn the issue of having no interest in taking part in the local society, we could also examine that with immigrant enclaves in Vancouver as well although this all too often gets labeled with the ol R word pretty quickly. The thing is, many times, it is good ol racism is its good ol tradtional form but on the other hand, we inarguably have elements of non-engagement or even acknowledgements of "our" social customs and norms and worse, efforts to learn.

Of coruse, the larger your fellow ethnic community is, the less are you inclined to try and learn about the others, be they the "mainstream" or smaller minority.

I'm a first generation Canadian of Asian descent and so I hope that puts me in a good position to observe that there are very much stereotypical large amounts of recent Chinese drivers that are not only horrible but seem like they dont give the slightest sh*t about learning about the rules and customs of the road. To call this out is not racism, its advocating public safety by all.
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The Liberal Cat
Wow, so it is much better people get onto rickity boats, risk there lives and pay off people smugglers? Why can't these people claim asylum in Indonesia? Why can't they claim asylum in the first safe country they arrive in?
Oh yeah one more thing saying all Australians are racist is actually racist in itself, you are judging the whole nation by the acts of some of its people? If I said all blacks are gang members, or all natives are drunks or mexicans are thieves, would that not be a racist comment? But it is ok to label all Australians as racist?

Get your head out of your bum!!!
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Dennis Ryan
I am a Canadian living my comfortable life here in Toronto, but I do try to get a global perspective and am appaled by all the instances of people having to uproot their lives and try, often in desperation, to find a decent living standard somewhere else. After all, living decently is a human right. I consider any refugee choosing Canada as a compliment to Canada, and I find all the obstacles are usually human made. I visited Australia a few years ago, and I never experienced racism, although I am a middle aged white male. We're the types that have the reputation for not experiencing racism, but being racist. We usually have no idea what refugees have been though, so most have no empathy, especially if there's political gain to be had. It's past time we develop a greater perspective and empathy and understand the sometimes horror other people experience just to try and live decently.
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Lily
Kudos to Australia!

Here in Canada, we allowed an influx of Chinese criminals into the country in the 1990's. The "Big Circle Boys" (Chinese TRIADS!) got into Canada by claiming refugee status. They have infiltrated our major cities in all aspects of major crime - trafficking of HUMAN BEINGS, narcotics, weapons, high end automobiles; financial crime; extortion; gambling; prostitution; and violent crimes - and have been creeping down into the United States as well. They often employ Cambodian, Laotian, and Vietnamese street gangs as violent enforcers and "smoke screens" to move the heroin more easily.

Canada also allowed in several Somalians - not all of whom have kept a peaceful, productive life in our country. Many of them have become gang members themselves, and use the fact that their war-torn country is no place to send them back to.

Yet we turn down a small group of albino Africans from Uganda - an area where people who follow ancient beliefs will actually dismember the limbs of albinos to mix into a potion in order to bring [the drinker] prosperity. THESE true refugees (the albinos) were turned down by our country!

Since our own country does not have the most perfect track record in making the right decisions all the time, what right do we have to point fingers at Australia?

So, Australia maybe doesn't want to "chance it." Kudos to them!
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Been To Australia Lily?
@ Lily Asian immigration into Australia mirrors Canada/BC.

Those Triads & Criminals u talk about, yup In Australia as well.

So? We had and still have violent Biker Gangs, Ayrian Brotherhood & other 'Canadian' Criminals here as well!

Not like Canadians don't commit Violent Crime or engage in Drug and/or Human Trafficking.

Wake up and smell the coffee dumb ass.
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frank
Dyer is so full of bullsh*t! And you lefties eat it up.
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