Shut Down the Manus Island and Nauru Hell Holes – Once and For All!
20-07-2018 – Five years ago yesterday, former Australian Labor Party (ALP) Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that his government had come to an arrangement with the government of Papua New Guinea (PNG). All refugees and asylum seekers arriving by boat would be transferred to PNG, and would be settled in PNG or another third country, and would never be resettled in Australia ever again. This act of base inhumanity would also be arranged with Nauru. The announcement was a shock for those who briefly thought that some progress was being made against the barbarous treatment of refugees over the previous 15 years. Yet in fact, the previous ALP Prime Minister Julia Gillard had begun the transferring of refugees to Manus Island in PNG, and Nauru, from the end of 2012. At the time the Australian Greens were in a coalition government federally with the ALP. Despite their strong words against offshore processing, the Greens nonetheless remained in the government which carried it out.
The Liberal Party governments of Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull have continued the barbarity, with the “Minister for Everything” Peter Dutton now displaying a cold ruthlessness which would make Howard era detention minister Philip Ruddock blush. Time and time again, bodies of the United Nations (UN) have condemned the Australian government for its illegal detention of refugees and asylum seekers – desperate people fleeing war and economic privation in countries ravaged by the imperialist powers themselves. Just last week, the UN working group on arbitrary detention condemned the Australian government for the practice of indefinite detention of refugees and asylum seekers. This working group is part of the UN Human Rights Council, which in bitter irony, Australia now sits. Some refugees have been detained – without charge – since 2009. Words cannot describe the injustice perpetrated by Australia’s “leaders”, and neither can words describe the depth of the torment inflicted on innocents.
“Unionists” oppose refugee rights
Over 20 years, the refugee rights movement in this country has attempted, largely in vain, to gain Union backing over a critical social justice issue. If Union officials do not lead Unions in strong combat against racism, in whatever form, their ability to defend workers’ rights on any issue is seriously undermined. Yet time and time again, Union officials who may in some ways defend workers’ rights, also come down on the side of capital – whether politically led by the “Labor” or “Liberal” faction of the united party of the ruling class. To the dismay of refugee rights activists, at the Victorian state Australian Labor Party (ALP) conference in May earlier this year, a motion to discuss the closure of off-shore detention centres did not make it onto the agenda. Officials of the Construction Forestry Mining Maritime Energy Union (CFMMEU) joined with officials of the Australian Workers Union (AWU) to form a bloc which closed the conference early. This meant that not only a motion to close off-shore detention centres could not be discussed, but also urgency motions on gender inequality in superannuation, the right to strike, raising the rate of Newstart (unemployment benefits), live exports and the recognition of Palestine. As important as the accompanying issues are, it appears the CFMMEU and AWU officials sought to squash any possibility of half-way humane refugee policy being put to ALP members.
Yet again this incident highlights the futility of workers attempting to achieve any progress through the ALP. In addition, it reveals once more the road block of the Labor Party in the struggle for basic social justice, let alone basic workers’ rights, e.g. the right to strike. ALP leader Bill Shorten has been at pains to emphasise that the Liberal Party government’s current refugee policy – indefinite detention, off-shore hell holes – will continue if the ALP wins the next federal election. The Greens have been vocal in opposing off-shore detention, but they are not prepared to lead a struggle outside parliament for this, and neither are they willing to help organise workers in their Unions to this end. Their focus on parliament renders them a captive to the Labor and Liberal parties they otherwise rightly criticise.
Pro-refugee or anti-Trump?
In the United States of America (US), there were widespread protests against US President Trump’s practice of separating migrant families of those at the US/Mexico border, and detaining them in wire cages. The national and international outcry soon forced Trump to back down, and sign an executive order that families would now be detained, albeit together. Yet the politics of the much needed actions, from all reports, were more about channeling electoral support back into the Democratic party of former President Obama and the outright war-monger Hilary Clinton. Many liberals leapt into action against Trump for deporting migrants, whereas for years they had not uttered a peep when Obama deported migrants. President Obama was the “deporter-in-Chief”, and there is no questioning his record. How many migrants were ejected from the US under Obama? Try 3.1 million. Two years into his term, Trump pales in comparison.
Of course, Trump could be on track for something similar. Yet the silence of much of the left over Obama’s crimes against migrants mirrors the silence of much of the left over the imperialist wars waged by Obama – with the assistance of Hilary Clinton. Clinton and Obama did not just separate families – they bombed them to death, and otherwise organised the slaughter of them in the most vicious manner possible. In fact, the Obama administration ordered ten times the amount of drone strikes than his Republican predecessor George W Bush. Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and Afghanistan were drone bombed repeatedly. It is a matter of historical record that the US state under Obama also simultaneously armed and funded terror death squads in Libya and Syria, including ISIS.
There is no doubt Trump fuels racism and energises the far-right by deporting migrants and using them as scapegoats. Yet not only did the Obama administration do the same, it launched and maintained deadly imperialist wars in the Middle East and North Africa – causing huge numbers of refugees to flee to Europe, in whichever way they could. Some of them make their way south, and end up seeking refuge in Australia. Yet much of the refugee rights movement in Australia, led by the Refugee Action Coalition or Refugee Action Collective, has in practice mobilized refugee rights supporters behind the imperialist wars waged by Obama and Clinton. This has critically undermined the refugee rights movements’ ability to actually free the refugees. One would have to break with the criminal foreign policy of Australian and US imperialism, in order to have a chance at forcing a political break with the Australian ruling class policy of psychological and physical torture through the plainly illegal detention of refugees.
Rohingyas used to derail the New Silk Road
In recent times, the respective Refugee Action Collectives/Coalitions have been willing captives of the plaintive cries to “Save the Rohingya”. Imperialism is very well versed at manipulating the first world saviour complex, and the plight of the Rohingya is yet another. What appears to be a straight forward case of a third world military junta persecuting a minority is anything but. Washington could very well be planning a “south-east Asian Kosovo”, whereby an international outcry of claimed persecution is used to declare a US backed “independence”. The “independence” is then totally dependent on Washington, or London, which has its claws in its former colony.
Short of an actual military intervention by the US and UK, their aims might also be saved by the creation of violent chaos in Myanmar – which would disrupt a section of the vast infrastructure development project launched by Beijing, the New Silk Road (One Belt, One Road). In the early stages of last year, the China-Myanmar oil and gas pipeline began operation, which runs from China’s south-western province of Yunnan to the Rakhine state in Myanmar. China’s National Petroleum Corp holds a 50.9% stake, with 49.1% being owned by the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise. Washington is furious with the increased cooperation and trade between Myanmar and Red China, especially considering the millions of dollars it spent funding the National League for Democracy of Aung Sung Suu Kyi, which installed her in a power sharing arrangement with the Tatmadaw (Myanmar military).
Anything which can be done to break Myanmar-China ties is thus carried out by Washington, London, and their international army of NGOs, the “human rights” industrial complex, and, waylaid refugee rights activists. When the so-called Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) launched armed attacks on Myanmar military and police installations, the Tatmadaw responded – as any national security force would do. Western backed NGOs and some refugee rights campaigners threw up their hands and shrieked in horror, at the alleged actions of the Myanmar military. ARSA claims it must take action to protect the Rohingya community, but ARSA does not represent Rohingyas per se. ARSA is the rebranded name of Harakat Al-Yaqin, which reportedly has a leadership council based in Saudi Arabia, and is funded by Saudi and Pakistani business linked to the Rohingya diaspora. Even the compromised Amnesty International admits that ARSA has carried out massacres of Hindus in the region. Despite ARSA claiming it has no links with Al Qaeda or ISIS, its origins are certainly similar.
For an anti-imperialist refugee rights movement
Some of the Australian government’s actions rival the barbarism of Al Qaeda like execution squads. Take the example of the town of Biloela, which Tamil refugees Priya and Nades had made their home for the last four years. The couple, fleeing the Sri Lankan government’s war against the Tamil minority, have had two daughters born in the central Queensland town. They are now in a Melbourne detention centre, with the father Nades likely to be deported to Sri Lanka, and hit with a $30 000 fee for “removal” – which he has to pay in order to re-enter Australia to see his family again. To forcibly traumatise a family with two daughters under the age of 3, who are seeking a safe place to live, condemns the government carrying out such depravity.
The top leadership of Australia’s Unions also share the responsibility for the ongoing international condemnation of the federal government’s abuse of refugees and asylum seekers. These highly paid Union officials have the power to mobilise workers behind the movement for humane refugee practices, but instead they value their careers and dollars in their own pocket. The foreign policy they imbue in their members unfortunately mirrors that of the left parties prominent in the Refugee Action Collectives/Coalitions who otherwise play a good organisational role in mobilising opposition to refugee and asylum seeker persecution. Namely, the two wings basically agree with the Australian ruling class that China, Russia and Iran are “our” enemies, and we have to band together against them.
Little could be more harmful to both the attempted prevention of imperialist war AND the refugee rights movement. Supposedly “liberal” allies, e.g. conservative Union officials, the Labor Party, the Greens, NGOs, etc., who all say they support refugees, are at the same time at one with the Liberal Party when it comes to imperialist war. This is why steering the refugee rights movement in their political direction, even inadvertently, cannot free the refugees. What is needed is a sharp political break with the essentially pro-war Union officials and parliamentary parties. “Unity” with such elements in practice means splitting the working class, incapacitating the refugee rights movement, and nobbling elementary working class defence. Key to building an anti-imperialist refugee rights movement is the forging of a Marxist vanguard party, which can champion refugee rights as a component part of the struggle for a workers’ republic.
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