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[LISTEN] Refugees: Still at the Mercy of ‘Fortress Australia’

Nov 09, 2021

Umm Muhammed Umar

Australian refugee advocate and a spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition, Ian Rintoul, spoke to Radio Islam about Ahmed Musa Mauli and why there was so much focus on his death five years after his demise.

Mauli was a 23-year-old Iranian refugee who was being held on the Nauru offshore detention centre that Australia created in 2013. He had been there since early 2014. In 2016 he set fire to himself during a visit to the detention centre by the UNHCR. Rintoul said that it was an extremely shocking incident which really threw a harsh light on what was happening on Nauru. He said, “It  shocked Nauru, it shocked Australia, and unfortunately it’s only it’s five years later that we’re actually getting the findings of an inquest.” He added that the inquest had only taken place because Ahmed had been flown to a hospital in Queensland, where he died. Rintoul said that a coronial inquiry had taken place in Queensland and that the coroner has only now handed down the findings.

Nauru is now the only offshore detention centre that Australia has, following a 2016 court case, and protracted negotiations, according to Rintoul, regarding the treatment of refugees housed there.

Manus Island in Papua New Guinea can no longer can be used as a detention centre by Australia. However, there are still 124 people there who have been left in limbo. Rintoul said, “They’ve been there for over eight years now, and still have got not got any resettlement and live in very, very difficult circumstances.” He said, “Papua New Guinea is not a safe place for them. They don’t get adequate medical attention.”

Nauru remains the only offshore detention centre that Australia has now, with around a hundred people still there from 2013 and 2014. Rintoul said that Australia was still mistreating them, and refuses to allow them to be settled in Australia. He said that they do not receive the safety and security that they deserve as international refugees.

The Australian government has placed great political emphasis on stopping the boats of refugees from arriving, and on their mistreatment. Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, had previously been Australia’s Immigration Minister who oversaw the Labour government’s establishment of the offshore detention centres. Rintoul said, “But the coalition government, the Liberal government, that came in very quickly after them in 2014, very quickly made those detention centres complete hellholes and torture camps.” Since then, the Liberal government has placed much emphasis on the brutal treatment of asylum seekers. Rintoul said, “Operation sovereign borders, was created by the Abbott Liberal government. It now takes pride in the fact that it turns back asylum boats to Indonesia or to Sri Lanka, and insists that Australia will not resettle any refugees and asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat.”  The government of Australia has invested a great deal of political capital into doing so, and believes that that was what has ensured its having been elected since 2013. Now that Australia is heading for another election, Rintoul says that “similarly, we’re going to see this liberal government emphasize, the extent to which it’s maintained offshore detention and being quite willing to put the all of the naval operations in place to create the whole barrier, a ‘Fortress Australia’ mentality.

The Refugee Action Coalition has been organizing and mobilizing bigger mass demonstrations. In recent days, the Coalition has staged protests outside prison hotels where refugees from Nauru and Papua New Guinea were being detained, to try to draw the attention of the Australian people to what the Australian Government is doing to refugees. Rintoul said that assistance was organized as well, for those still in detention, but that overwhelmingly, activities have been about raising public awareness about what the government is doing. He said, “we’re particularly keen to involve the community and migrant groups and trade unions in in the fight for human rights.” He added, “I don’t think people understand enough on a global scale, just how much the Australian Government is violating the rights of asylum seekers.” Unfortunately, governments like the UK, are similarly talking about using Australian policies, and using the Australian example to turn back asylum seekers from the English Channel; to expel them to offshore detention centres where they’re going to be ‘processed’. The ‘Fortress Australia’ mentality, the policies of which have been put in place by successive governments, was now shockingly being repeated in Europe.

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