The scheme is clear: Australia’s next election will be a contest over cruelty | Behrouz Boochani

THELast week, the Australian government announced that it would end “offshore processing” in Papua New Guinea within three months. This shocking announcement is deeply unsettling for the refugees who have been in limbo for more than eight years on Manus Island and now in Port Moresby. For many of us who have followed Australia’s cruel and punitive refugee policies over the past two decades, this was not unexpected as an election year approached.

Recently, I gave a lecture at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand alongside Abbas Nazari. Abbas was one of the children rescued by the Tampas in 2001. After a period of uncertainty and limbo, Abbas and his family were finally transferred to New Zealand. It was a surreal moment when the two of us, after being subjected to Australia’s cruel and inhuman policies and actions, two decades apart, stood united, standing in front of young political science students, analyzing Australia’s policies towards women. refugees. We were like two pieces of a puzzle, bearing the same story, a story that has been repeated over and over again over the past two decades.

Abbas shaped his speech around former Australian Prime Minister John Howard’s infamous statement “we’ll decide who comes to this country”, delivered just months before the 2001 election. Howard’s statement and its multifaceted implications continue to hold true. resonate. I shaped my speech around the preparations for the 2013 federal election when, on July 19, two months before the federal election, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that all asylum seekers arriving in Australia by the sea would be transferred to Nauru or PNG. If they were refugees, they would not be allowed to come to Australia.

In the 2016 federal election, the two main political parties clashed to show the public that they would take a tougher stance against refugees, once again underscoring their strong “border protection” policies. At a time when journalists could rarely access Manus Island, some media appeared producing inaccurate stories about refugees. These stories, which grossly misrepresented the harsh experience we had lived and endured, created a false narrative in the minds of Australians, portraying the refugees as enjoying their life on the beaches of Manus Island and exploiting the money of the Australian taxpayers.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. The refugees were held in a prison camp for many years and suffered extremely harsh conditions. Reza Barati had been killed and Hamid Khazaei had died of infection due to gross systematic neglect. Numerous international humanitarian organizations have reported the ill-treatment inflicted on Manus Island and Nauru, and Australia has been strongly condemned.

Behrouz Boochani, pictured here in 2018, outside the Manus Island naval base where Australia locked him with other refugees for the first three years on the island. Photography: Jonas Gratzer / The Guardian

This model, or model, which involves what I call “a competition over cruelty” between the main parties, where refugees are used as political scapegoats to gain public support ahead of an election, has continued to develop.

In 2019, two months before the federal election, Prime Minister Scott Morrison visited Christmas Island with a cohort of journalists. The Daily Telegraph featured Morrison talking about the Howard-built Immigration Detention Prison as a “hardened facility” and the only part of Australia that the refugees – who had been transferred from PNG and Nauru through medical evacuation legislation – would see. The Morrison government reopened the Christmas Island prison camp that year at a cost of $ 185 million to taxpayers.

A week later, a terrorist attack on a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand was carried out by an Australian national. It was only when the Australian public began to question politicians’ propaganda against migrants and refugees that both parties refocused their election campaigns on economic issues, ceasing to highlight the rhetoric of refugee deterrence. .

We refugees have known at least four prime ministers since 2013. We are now approaching the next federal election and we are seeing once again that the Australian government is using the lives of refugees for political ends.

The closure of Manus leaves the 124 asylum seekers still there with a difficult choice – go into detention in Nauru or accept PNG citizenship avenues. It’s easy to imagine that Morrison will appear in the media in the next debates ahead of the election, stating “We are not responsible.” The recent announcement obscures the reality that the cruel and illegal policy still exists and that the government is trying to cover up its failure to ensure a safe and durable solution for the refugees.

Reflecting on the past two decades, the pattern is clear: a humanitarian issue is repeatedly politicized in the run-up to Australian federal elections and “competition over cruelty” is heightened. This model has been used to manipulate the public since the Tampa affair, and the refugees and their families back home are the real victims of this populist and sadistic policy.

In 2021, the refugees still in exile in PNG are again abandoned and have no future. They are the only side of this story that is continually damaged – it is their lives that have been destroyed and their dreams that have been extinguished. This policy of exile has been exposed as a dismal failure in many ways and it is up to the Australian public to decide whether they want to be manipulated again or not.

Behrouz Boochani is Associate Principal Researcher at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand and author of No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison

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