What do I mean by that? I mean that I’ve almost run out of words to describe the horror Australia is inflicting on vulnerable people right at this very moment; the moral bankruptcy of a brutal ‘border protection’ policy carried out under the noses of everyday people, ostentatiously with the aim of preventing the arrival of refugees and asylum seekers by boat to Australia.
The results of Amnesty’s joint investigation on Nauru make for difficult reading. I forced myself to read the whole damn thing. Every last word of it; the abuse, the lack of care, the stripping of dignity. And when I was done I sat in my chair, fuming at the futility of my actions whenever I shout at the perpetrators of these disgusting acts online through my social media accounts.
As this evil sinks in, I’m convinced more than ever that Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers will go down in history as this nation’s greatest international shame. And that’s no hyperbole. We know what’s happening offshore; even if we can’t get details due to draconian laws and a wall of official silence, we know that people are being mistreated, to the point that regular suicide attempts and health issues are the norm.
But none of that makes this horror any more real to me. I sit here, sipping my coffee in a nice Melbourne cafe, and the cares of the world slip away from me. I can say my piece and then go back to enjoying my warm meals and safe shelter. There’s no cost for me in not doing anything. But that’s when something scary occurs to me.
We’re all complicit. Every one of us, to some small degree. We are part of a system that is perpetrating violence on innocent and vulnerable people. I hate to draw this comparison, but it seems to be an obvious one: Australia has camps filled with people who are suffering. The staff at those camps? They’re just doing their job. The Government put together policies to create these camps. The ministers and staffers? Just doing their jobs. Sometimes, asylum seekers come to Australia for medical treatment. The pilot who flies them? Doing his job. The immigration officer who deports them? Doing her job. The companies that hire and provide staff? Just doing their job. It goes on, and on, because in the end, every single person propping up this regime is just doing their job.
And the comparison is so obvious. In 1945, when the end came for another regime that ran camps under the noses of its citizens, the mantra of the exposed was that they were simply doing their job. Guards, drivers, bureaucrats – they didn’t know how bad it was; they were just a small part of the system. And that system was a beast that devoured so many lives, begrudgingly spitting some out when all was done.
And the end will come in Australia, too. That’s why it’s time for us to put aside political opinions, and put people at the forefront of our policies. There is no empathy in the cold, hard response Australia shows to the most vulnerable seeking refuge here. Regardless of our opinions on the state of Australia’s borders, and how we should treat those who seek asylum here, we must find a way to show compassion for those who have no other place to turn. Because one day, this callous policy of ‘border protection’ will be over.
And what orders will be left to follow then?