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

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      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.

      Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.


      We're now using Facebook for comments.


      Alan Layton

      Aug 14, 2013 at 2:50pm

      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.

      No Culture

      Aug 14, 2013 at 4:13pm

      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....


      Aug 14, 2013 at 4:35pm

      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"

      I Chandler

      Aug 14, 2013 at 4:58pm

      "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:

      Pilger ( produced a film on Australia called Utopia. The first Australians are fighting back:


      Aug 14, 2013 at 5:25pm

      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.


      Aug 14, 2013 at 6:49pm

      @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!


      Aug 15, 2013 at 2:28am

      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.


      Aug 15, 2013 at 3:54am

      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.

      I Chandler

      Aug 15, 2013 at 6:59am

      "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:

      As for Russian the memo...


      Aug 15, 2013 at 7:14am

      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.