Voiceless victims

January 13, 2022

The furore over whether Novak Djokovic will or will not be allowed to compete in the Australian Open has pitted the Serbian tennis star and vaccine sceptic against the government of Australia. But...

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The furore over whether Novak Djokovic will or will not be allowed to compete in the Australian Open has pitted the Serbian tennis star and vaccine sceptic against the government of Australia. But Djokovic is no victim and the government is no hero.

The focus – and noise – surrounding the battle of Djokovic versus the Australian government is a distraction from the plight of thousands of asylum seekers who have been denied entry into Australia and who are herded onto island prison camps run by private security firms. When it comes to Australia and migration, we should be focusing on their plight, not that of rich and privileged sporting stars.

For the past decade, Australia enthusiastically implemented a zero-tolerance approach towards asylum seekers trying to reach its shores. In brief, Australia captures undocumented people who reach the country as well as those attempting to enter via boat. It then transports them to privately operated processing centres in third countries, most notoriously Nauru and Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, with whom Australia has agreements.

Once in detention, asylum seekers have three options: return to their original state (irrespective of harms they may face in doing so); find a third country that will accept them; or stay on in the camps in the hope of having their claim processed by Australia. If detained asylum seekers choose to remain, they may be imprisoned at these centres indefinitely. As the government admits: “There is no limit in law or policy to the length of time for which a person may be detained.”

None of this saves Australia a dime. Expenditures for its offshore detention facilities run in the billions of dollars each year and the average cost to detain an asylum seeker in one of the island facilities costs Australia about twice that of an onshore detainee.

The conditions in the camps can be deadly. Consider the story of Reza Barati, who made it to Australia in 2013. The 23-year-old Iranian Kurd’s arrival on Australian soil came just days after the adoption of the Regional Resettlement Arrangement between Australia and Papua New Guinea, which permits Australian authorities to transfer asylum seekers like him from Australia to Manus Island. Just six months after his transfer, he was killed by guards during a riot.

Reza Barati was “nothing more than an ordinary youth with the kind of dreams that every single young man from every single culture has for his future”. But he died at the hands of private guards hired by Australia to control the detainees. Witnesses claimed that at least 13 guards kicked Barati in the head. One dropped a large stone onto Barati’s head while he lay on the floor. Two private security guards from Papua New Guinea were eventually convicted of Barati’s murder; guards from Australia and other countries have never been prosecuted for their involvement.

Not all abuses in offshore detention centres are as blatant as Barati’s death, but they are no less devastating.

Excerpted: ‘Djokovic is not a victim of Australian government rules’. Courtesy: Aljazeera.com



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