It’s about what is wrong and what is right

| July 18, 2014

Politicians from both major parties keep using asylum seekers to score political points. Alycia Gawthorne from GetUp says that instead of operating on our most base human emotions, fear of the unknown, our actions should reflect our nations true values of mateship and a fair go.

Earlier this year Australians witnessed what was a breaking point for many who had become incensed over Australia’s increasingly cruel treatment of asylum seekers.

Rising tensions between Papua New Guinea locals and asylum seekers on Manus Island came to a head on February 16, resulting in violent clashes inside the detention centre. The next day, a man was dead. His name was Reza Barati and he was just 23 years old.

Reza wasn’t the first person to die under our care. There are countless others, who when driven to the depths of despair have taken their own lives.

Medical professionals working inside detention centres have repeatedly voiced concerns about the mental health of asylum seekers in detention. It’s been reported that about half of the people being detained on Manus Island and Nauru are suffering from significant depression, stress or anxiety. Things aren’t much better for asylum seekers on Christmas Island and the mainland, with a third of people found to be suffering from major mental health problems.

The issue is only compounded the longer people are held in detention, leading to depression, self-harm, suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder. Between 1 July 2010 and 24 April 2013, there were 11 deaths in detention, four of them were found to be suicides.

These incidents aren’t anomalies – they are the inevitable result of a government seeking to inflict the worst treatment possible on people fleeing persecution, in a feeble attempt to “deter” others. However sadly, our government’s actions appear to reflect the attitudes many Australians have towards asylum seekers.

Since 2001, politicians from both major parties have used asylum seekers to score political points, tapping into one of our most base human emotions: fear of the unknown. Over time, Australians have been fed this narrative of the “queue jumping” and “illegal” asylum seeker, holding them responsible for everything from unemployment to traffic jams (yes, I’m looking at you, Member for Lindsay Fiona Scott!). I’m continually surprised by the number of Australians who, while good, compassionate and intelligent people, have accepted these falsehoods as fact.

The truth is that the success of our government’s asylum seeker policies relies on the fear and mistrust of asylum seekers amongst Australians. But by confronting our fears head on, perhaps we can turn this around.

So, we will continue to fight, we will continue to rally in the streets, we will continue to flood our MPs’ inboxes with letters and we will continue to call for the kind of action that reflects our nation’s true values of mateship and a fair go. Because at its very core, this issue is not about politics – it’s about what is wrong and what is right. And when confronted with the reality of what we are doing, can Australians honestly say it’s right?