For Full Citizenship Rights! Defend Refugees by Opposing War!
24-06-2017 – Imagine living in limbo for four years, only to be told that you have four months to lodge an application for asylum, or face being deported. This is what faces thousands of refugees currently in Australia, following the latest move by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton. Liberal National Party (LNP) Minister Dutton has now given a deadline of October 1 to fill out a complex and involved application, for people who may be either illiterate, may not have English speaking ability, and may not be able to access any legal representation. This deadline refers to 30 500 people who arrived in Australia by boat between August 13, 2012, when the then Australian Labor Party (ALP) suspended processing of claims from “illegal maritime arrivals”, and January 1, 2014 – when those arriving were either turned back at sea or sent to offshore detention centres.
These people have in some cases been waiting for four years to apply for asylum. Now they face somehow having to complete a 60 page application, full of dense legal definitions, comprising of over 100 questions. Kon Karapanagiotidis, of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, has stated that even experienced lawyers not trained in refugee law are not able to complete the applications. Experienced lawyers who are trained in refugee law can take up to eight hours to complete them. Hiring a private lawyer can cost $5000, a cost that is obviously unaffordable for asylum seekers trying to survive on welfare payments. Mr Karapanagiotidis claims that the government is trying to scare asylum seekers into completing the forms without any legal assistance, as the government is well aware that bodies that assist refugees and asylum seekers do not have the resources to even attempt this task.
These measures contain a level of racism barely able to be conceived, but official government racism against those predominantly originating from less developed countries, does not stop there. The Federal Liberal government has proposed absurd levels of testing about so-called “Australian Values” for those applying for citizenship here. Instead of a one year waiting period, they are pushing for four years. Those applying will likely undergo strict English language tests, to a level which many Australian born residents would probably fail. On social media, some mocked and ridiculed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, suggesting “Australian values” includes: telling others where speed cameras are, destroying 200 indigenous languages and then imposing your own, English being the 5th or 6th language of some indigenous people, and scoffing a kebab while complaining about Muslim immigrants.
Some of the proposed questions are deliberately targeted to inflame anti-Islam hysteria, as if there wasn’t already enough. For example, questions such as: do you support female genital mutilation? And: Under what circumstances is it permissible for someone to strike their spouse within the confines of their own home? – are clearly hostile provocations against those whose religious beliefs may be Islamic. For centuries, people holding the Islamic religion have co-existed amongst Australian settlers, and amongst Australia’s indigenous people. All this changed after the misnamed “war on terror” began in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001. The Islamic – real or not – entity was the new bogeyman which the West conjured to replace the decades of Cold War anti-communism. Today, the atrocious wars of regime change in the Middle East by the Western powers and their allies, has once again incited extreme Islamophobia, even while the Western powers themselves arm, fund and train the terrorists they claim to be fighting.
Citizenship rights torn to shreds
While the politicians cynically try to create an “Australian” us and a threatening “them”, basic civil liberties and democratic rights for those already citizens are being incinerated in the “fight against terrorism” – in a security scare which inevitably sweeps up refugees and asylum seekers. No matter how many times these same politicians and other liberals decry “totalitarian” Russia or China, totalitarianism here in Australia is reaching unprecedented levels. The right to free speech, the right to assembly, the right to form political organisations, the right not to be arbitrarily detained, the right to private communication – all of these and more are being ripped up before our very eyes. Edward Snowden and Julian Assange have risked their lives to inform us of the extent to which we can be monitored by “our own” spy agencies. For example, the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No.1) 2014, allows the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) to collect intelligence on Australian citizens, to enable ASIS to cooperate with the ASIO without ministerial authorisation, and allows ASIO to cooperate with the private sector.
Even data stored on your own personal computer is effectively no longer yours. Laws have been enacted which redefines a “computer” as a network, or one or more systems, or one or more computers. The entire internet connections of everyone in the country could be described as a “network”. And police would then only require one warrant to potentially hack into, or seize, any computer anywhere in the country. All in the name of security against “terrorism”. Almost anything can, and has, been justified by raising the word “terrorism”. This ties into the question of refugee and asylum seeker rights, because it is often directly raised in terms of a refugee being a potential “terrorist”.
The Australian government has some hide accusing refugees and others of being potential “terrorists”. From practical experience over the last six years, it is this gang which has demonstrated not only that it does not “fight” terrorism, but in practice aids, assists, and works alongside actual terrorists. The Australian government politically backed NATO in its destruction of Libya, in which terrorists armed by the US and the UK were proxies using violence to bring down the former Libyan government headed by Colonel Gaddafi. In Syria, the Australian government has sent fighter jets and troops to materially aid the US, the UK, France, Saudi Arabia and Israel in their desperate attempt at regime change. To do so, the Australian military forces, working under US tutelage, cleared the way for the genocidal ISIS and Al Qaeda terrorists to slaughter untold numbers of innocents. These appalling wars caused thousands to flee as refugees, to Europe, Asia and Australia. This is one reason why working people should not accord this Australian state the right to decide who, and who is not, a citizen. We need to fight for full citizenship rights for all those who have made it to these shores. That is, the right to safe haven, as well as the right to work, medical and welfare benefits, housing, and the right to apply for citizenship if that is what is desired.
For independent politics
The atrocious detention of innocent refugees and asylum seekers is linked to the abominable wars for Empire in which the Australian state is enmeshed. This is one reason why the refugee rights movement here must fully break from the domestic and foreign policy of Canberra. Thus far, however, in the main the refugee rights movement has sought a break with the domestic policies of the federal government, but has not attempted to break with the foreign policy of the national politicians, despite their claims. Hence, while groups such as the Refugee Action Collective (RAC), and the left parties which underpin it (such as Solidarity, Socialist Alternative and Socialist Alliance) correctly make efforts to force the government to close the Manus Island and Nauru detention centres, at the same time they endorse, or at least fall silent, when the Australian state wages refugee-creating wars in the Middle East and North Africa. Nor do they speak out when the US Empire, currently in the persona of Donald Trump, threatens to blow the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or “North Korea”) off the face of the planet, threatening the world with nuclear war – and making potentially millions of refugees.
RAC and their constituent left parties put forward the demand “Sack Peter Dutton”. No doubt the current Immigration Minister displays virulently anti-human capacities. However, the entire ruling and political establishment are a part of the same system. This demand, essentially a demand for the ruling class to shuffle around their personnel, also ties the refugee rights movement ever closer to the Australian state. The persecution of refugees is ultimately aimed at dividing workers against themselves, let alone it being draconian and unjust. It is thus in the interests of working people to strongly oppose these practices. However, by guiding the refugee rights movement politically towards the very politicians who enable this barbarism, RAC and some left parties turn those most abhorred by these practices back into the arms of those we should be campaigning against. In short, the politics becomes dependent on the political arms of the profit system. What is needed for refugee rights, and also for defending basic living and working conditions, is independent working class politics.
This is the polar opposite of the “broad front” politics practiced by RAC and the left parties which drive it. They seek the broadest possible of fronts on the issue of refugee rights – which pushes them into forming alliances with the very forces which produce refugees in the first place. Even though the Australian Greens, for example, speak out against the abuse of refugees from the parliamentary benches, they are not about to do anything to jeopardise these cushioned seats. Rarely, there are some Australian Labor Party (ALP) politicians prepared to (timidly) oppose the detention of asylum seekers – but these are sought after as “broad” allies. NGOs such as GetUp! wage online campaigns for refugees, but their campaigns invariably target only Liberal ministers, giving the game away as to who they really work for. And while many church groups genuinely contribute valuable work towards refugee rights campaigns, in the end the limitations of their politics becomes one more conservative bloc which limits the “broad front” from taking the action which is most needed. Moreover, all of these political forces do not oppose, or actually endorse, the wars engendered by the capitalist West’s economic crisis, be it against Libya, Syria, Ukraine or the DPRK.
Defend refugees by opposing war
We need all hands on deck to win basic rights for refugees, so of course no one should be “kicked out” of actions in defence of refugee rights. At the same time, there does need to be a political split with the current leadership of the refugee rights movement, as their politics can ultimately only prevent, not enable, victory. The politics that can win is one which seeks primarily to mobilise a united front of the working class, which can then draw in students, artists, musicians, churches and even some community groups in behind. It is only the collective workers who have the power to end abuse of refugees due to their strategic class position, which drives the accumulation of wealth. Politicians, NGOs and similar elements cannot do this, as they are tied politically to the profit system.
The key obstacle to mobilising the working class is the conservative Union bureaucracy, tied also by a thousand threads to the system which provides them well-paid careers. From this materially privileged position, Union officials not only refuse to assist the refugee rights struggle, but tie their members and the workers generally into Canberra’s foreign policy – which is in turn tied into the US war machine. This war machine is currently threatening the world with nuclear war. It is not only in Syria and the DPRK where Wall Street seeks regime change – the ultimate targets are Russia and China. Working people cannot allow this catastrophic course to go unchallenged.
It is the decaying capitalist system which delivers permanent war, horrific abuse of refugees, poverty, unemployment, ecological collapse, and much more. These crises nonetheless present an opportunity for workers’ party to point the way forward to an internationally planned economy, where the prosperity of society will leave no one behind, where all will work in common and have sufficient time to develop whichever skills they possess. The Workers League holds these aims and more – join us!
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