Volume 9, Issue 10
Every day there is a new outrage. People set themselves on fire. Children are sexually abused. Self-harm is inflicted. Refugees are delivered back into the hands of their persecutors. Hopes of resettlement are crushed. People are killed by vicious mobs, or guards, if there is still a meaningful difference. This article could simply list such outrages, any of which should suffice to close the camps forever.
Yet the Liberals don’t close the camps. And Labor don’t demand them closed. Instead we get the same tired lines: ‘The most compassionate thing you can do is stop the boats. We have stopped the boats’ or perhaps ’The only way you can stop the deaths is to stop the people smuggling trade. The only way you can stop the deaths is in fact to stop the boats.’
We are told that instituting mandatory detention is necessary. It is implied that the appalling conditions are necessary too. These are all allegedly necessary to deter people from trying to come here, which will apparently stop them drowning along the way, which supposedly makes us tough but decent human beings instead of torturers of the world’s most vulnerable. We’ll see about that.
I’m still not convinced that anyone, deep-down, really believes that the camps are a compassionate venture by the Commonwealth. Least of all the people who support them. But this ‘compassion’ serves as a comforting lie, something to whisper to yourself when you see the latest human rights violation or self-immolation. Something you only half-way believe, but still does the job of deflecting the guilt. Lies like these are what allow good people to do so much evil in this world of ours. So let’s look at this ‘compassion’.
Firstly, has mandatory detention actually stopped that demand, and those journeys, and those drownings? This seems like a vital question, but we just don’t know. There have been no more reported boat arrivals. But that could just be because the government stopped reporting them, at about the same time they stopped reporting anything whatsoever about those mysterious ‘on-water operations’. Who knows?
But let’s say that you do deter people from coming to Australia. Does that mean they’re out of harm’s way? Where do they go? Do they stay home, in the country they are being persecuted in? Do they take a similarly dangerous journey to a different country, across the Mediterranean maybe? Do they stay in the squalid, dangerous conditions in a transit country? These aren’t safer options, and forcing people to choose them doesn’t save lives. It just lets us pretend that those lives aren't ours to save.
But let’s assume these camps really do save lives, and that saving lives is their only purpose. Shouldn’t we be investigating ways of saving those lives that don’t involve psychologically torturing children? Shouldn’t we be, say, using the billions of dollars poured into Nauru and Manus to ship those asylum seekers here ourselves? That would certainly break the people smugglers’ business model. Who would get on a leaky boat when you could get on a nice navy vessel? If this isn’t a feasible solution, something other than compassion has to be at play behind this policy.
But alright, let’s imagine that the camps stop the boats, saving lives, and in a way that nothing else could. What then makes the people in those camps so readily sacrifice-able for the greater good? Imagine that Malcolm plucked 631 random australians from their homes and into Nauru to stop the boats, because who would come to a country crazy enough to pull something like that? Imagine it worked, that it stopped the boats, ending any drownings. Would people support this policy? Meekly accept this as the price to be paid? Trumpet it is as ‘the most compassionate thing you can do’? No. These are human lives after all, not pawns to be sacrificed as the overall strategy requires. The outrage would be huge. Yet there is no outrage for asylum seekers. Are they not humans too though? For many, maybe not.
Don’t think that the suffering in these camps is for some greater good. Don’t think that your conscience is clear in supporting them. Don’t think that Malcolm is being cruel to be kind. Don’t think that the cruelty here is anything more than cruel.
Henry HL is a third-year JD student
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