Shut down ALL detention centres! Release the refugee prisoners!

29-04-2016 – Two recent events have once again shone the spotlight on the Australian Government’s barbaric system of refugee and asylum seeker incarceration.

Firstly, the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea (PNG) ruled last Tuesday that the detention of refugees in their country by the Australian Government is illegal and unconstitutional. The case, initiated some two years ago by elements of the PNG Opposition, maintained that the constitution of PNG had been altered to benefit the government of a foreign country (Australia). The ruling, a stunning victory for elementary justice, is an example of ruling class law temporarily breaking from the control of Canberra, the centre of the region’s imperialist power.

Secondly, a horrific incident of self-immolation took place the very same day on Nauru. A 23 year old Iranian refugee set himself on fire, in protest at inhuman conditions being endured by those detained on Nauru. The incident appeared to coincide with the visit to the island by the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees). A spokesperson said that the UNHCR was visiting the island to monitor the “seriously deteriorated mental health” of refugees and asylum seekers.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) Executive Director Kenneth Roth told Lateline, “What does it take to self-immolate? It takes complete despair, it takes seeing a life before you which is no life.”[1] These words, while true in themselves, drip with the type of breathtaking hypocrisy which only a spokesperson for imperialism itself can utter. For at least five years Kenneth Roth has been the foremost agitator for the US led war of regime change on Syria. Over and over again, Roth repeatedly used his media platform to denounce the Syrian government for use of chemical weapons and “barrel bombs” against civilians – without providing a shred of evidence. These baseless lies were a crucial part of the attempt to overthrow the Syrian Arab Republic. The other main part was the arming of mercenaries and trucking them into Syria, where they would carry out unspeakable atrocities, including summary executions of innocent civilians. Roth’s role was that of a classical “psy-ops” operation. He loudly demonized the enemy – in this case the popularly supported Syrian government – to justify a genocidal war for regime change. This war, along with NATO’s war on Libya, has created unprecedented numbers of refugees across Europe and North Africa. Inevitably, some of those fleeing end up attempting dangerous journeys with the aim of seeking asylum in Australia. Canberra has played no small role in the US led war on Syria, deploying six Super Hornet fighting jets and up to 1000 troops – most of whom are stationed in neighbouring Iraq. The notion that these troops are fighting ISIS – primarily a US creation – is absurd. The refugee rights movement must demand: Australian Troops: Out of the Middle East!

The partial breakthrough the PNG government has offered the refugee rights movement must be capitalised on, for the sake of those refugees already incarcerated. But while this partial victory has been delivered by a generally conservative government, it would be a mistake to rely on further pleas to the Australian government to deliver justice for refugees. Not the least reason is that the Australian government is the very body which oversees the current detention travesty. Nor can we afford to rely on pleas to alternative governmental parties such as the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the Greens. The last time these two parties sat on government benches, the off-shore nightmare was reincarnated by the ALP, and the Greens kept this government in power, albeit with a few verbal grumbles.

We should be clear – the appalling treatment of refugees is ultimately a result of the capitalist system entering a period of sharp decline. It is only the working class which has the unencumbered interest in the termination of the profit system via its overthrow. Therefore the struggle for refugee justice can only be definitively won by utilising the inherent power of the working class, especially through its Unions. It is organised labour which must lead the struggle to free the refugees, for Unions cannot effectively function while racist ideas retain any currency amongst working people.

The main obstacle standing in the way of the mobilisation of Unions is the conservative Union bureaucracy, who is tied by a thousand threads to the capitalist state and its political parties. Despite this, workers can position their officials so that they have little choice but to mobilise their base. Union members, where possible, should approach their officials in numbers.

The refugee rights movement can assist this effort by appealing directly to the interest of workers, rather than amorphous appeals to everyone to show compassion. While basic compassion is a pre-requisite for creating a better world, anyone can claim they are compassionate, irrespective of their class position. For example, human rights and welfare organisations, such as GetUp! and Amnesty International, along with governmental political parties such as the ALP and the Greens, all boast of their compassion, while in practice defending and strengthening the very system which facilitates the hideous abuse of refugees. Thus, in the same way in which the Union movement can only defend workers if it breaks with the capitalist state and its parties, the refugee rights movement can only free the refugees if it politically breaks with all those individuals, organisations and parties who only seek what are relatively minor reforms to the system – such as humane treatment for refugees, as essential as that is. Both in the immediate sense as well as in the long run, such reforms strengthen the system, rather than improve it.

It is worker unrest, or the threat of it, which has the potential to reverse the bi-partisan policies of persecution of refugees, not demonstrations of compassion, however well meaning. Similarly, the ultimate expression of worker unrest – revolution – is the only guarantee of liberation. It is socialism which corresponds to the interests of all working people, including desperate refugees from neighbouring lands. Before reaching such a goal, we must act according to the higher standards of socialist society – beginning with a defence of those fleeing from the operation of the current system of poverty, war and repression.



Workers League

PO BOX 66 NUNDAH   QLD   4012



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