Category Archives: asylum seekers

Compassion is So Out of Fashion

On 24 July 2018, a young woman single-handedly prevented the deportation of an Afghan asylum seeker out of Sweden by buying a ticket for his flight and refusing to sit down so that the airplane could take off. Her noble and courageous act brought tears to my eyes after the recent months’ terrible developments in the insane, obsessive, surreal European conflict over refugees and immigration.

Like my adopted country Germany, Sweden is allowing far-right racists and xenophobic nationalists and neo-Nazis to drive its agenda on immigration and asylum law. Once a country with a noble policy of providing safety to refugees fleeing persecution and human rights atrocities, Sweden’s government – like that of Germany – is now running scared as far-right anti-immigration parties grow ever stronger. And the older established parties are running not away from the wall-builder vote, but straight toward it and into the open arms of the nationalists, islamophobes, and incipient fascists. The “centrist” strategy for preventing racists and panic-stricken right-wingers from taking control of Europe: to adopt the same policies the governing self-described centrists claim to oppose.

And it is not only right-wingers and nationalists who have decided that the Global North must ratchet up its wall-building, who are falling prey to the flood of anecdotal and hysterical reports of rapes and murders carried out by refugees and immigrants. A great many of those refugees and immigrants – just coincidentally, of course – happen to be Muslims, and islamophobia is now a socially-acceptable form of discrimination among many who once flew the flag of tolerance. While there have been a handful of such actual crimes committed by immigrants, this small number of horrific acts is receiving the laser-focus treatment in the national mainstream press here in Germany, in stark contrast to the amount of attention given to the vast number of attacks on immigrants and refugees committed by racist neo-Nazi thugs and their sympathizers. Those anti-immigrant crimes are mentioned by the presstitutes occasionally in a dry, statistical manner. But the same government and corporate media that devote much of their feverish coverage to the growth of racist political parties which are deemed a “danger to democracy” are far less interested in talking about such violence committed by Germans, and I suspect that in Sweden the same thing is happening.

In recent weeks I have parted cyber-company with several people who consider themselves “progressive” or part of the Left, who nonetheless cannot find it in their hearts to come to terms with the personal circumstances of desperate people who are fleeing violence at home, the circumstances of people who see no future in their native lands, who risk drowning and imprisonment and subject themselves to racist discriminatory contempt, often with their children in tow, in the attempt to have better lives or to simply survive. It has become clear to most of us that all of the noble words about “fighting the causes of migration”, posited as an alternative to allowing a steady influx of refugees from violence and starvation and No-Future-Disease into the Global North from now on, are mostly fantasy. Even if the political will to truly make major changes in the Global South existed on a broad scale in the USA and Europe – which it does not, it is confined to the small and shrinking part of those populations which is willing to view refugees and migrants as people with just as much right to a decent life as those born here in the privileged part of the planet – the obstacles to any such effective programs are huge and probably insurmountable in the amount of time we have left before major collapse renders all of these debates utterly obsolete.

And most of us know that, at least instinctively. That causes fear among the vast majority of those of us who are comfortable, whether we are more or less politically conscious. Thus the growing fondness on wide swathes of the self-identified Left for nation-states and strongly-policed borders. For many of us, the mass-immigration scenario is where compassion ends. We may accept the fact that planetary doom is a done deal, but most of us appear to be determined to go down with our privileges intact.

In my life this is one-third of the Triple Whammy, although all three parts are, in fact, intimately related.

Although a slew of new scientific reports on rapidly accelerating global warming, on the already mind-blowing extent of plastic- and microplastics pollution in oceans, soils, the food chain and living creatures, on ocean acidification, and more speak an unmistakable language of No Future, most of us cannot get our minds around that, or we find it just too terrifying to contemplate. Instead, we push that highly probable reality out of our minds as “alarmism”, “gloom and doom”, “negativism” or whatever. However, those of us who see the issue as pretty much settled cannot do that. And every single day, many of us in that latter category are stunned once again to observe the fact that most of our fellow humans appear to intend to live out humanity’s end in the pretense that it is not even happening. I cannot possibly make it clear to you how that dichotomy stuns and numbs me and tears my insides out right through my brain.

Simultaneously (second part of the Triple Whammy), we are forced to watch as much of the worldwide attention that should be dedicated to our omnicidal self-destruction – whether one thinks it can be prevented, or agrees with me that it is now too late — is lavished on various “enemies” in classic manipulative programs of Us-Versus-Them distraction to support the mad and murderous strategies of those same deadly entities who have already made a ruin of half the Middle East and much of the Hindu Kush and North Africa and Ukraine, entities who earlier sabotaged the USSR’s economy in a targeted program carried out over a century, but continue to cast its largest remnant, the nation which saved us all from Hitler, as the Mother of All Evils. It is a spectacle worthy of Josef Goebbels, and untold millions who once seemed at least reasonably intelligent have swallowed the bait.

We are not allowed the dubious luxury of properly mourning life on Earth as it is wiped out before our eyes.

Instead, we are forced to watch as most of humanity denies the existence of this end-time with increasingly inhumane, paranoid, angst-ridden behavior which makes a mockery of all that we claim to value and believe in. Which brings us to Whammy Three: the Death of Compassion.

Those among us who would wish for a spiritual and awakened consciousness of all the things we are losing, even if it may possibly be our grandchildren who first experience the full force of that loss and destruction, are apparently doomed to bitter and fatal disappointment.

Unless benevolent extraterrestrial aliens show up right on cue a la “The Day the Earth Stood Still” to show us the error of our ways and save us from ourselves, it seems that humanity and much of life on this planet will slowly, gradually meet its end in a frenzy of Demonization of the Other, of war and brutality and scapegoating of the weakest and most defenseless among us. Other scenarios are possible; a number of things whether natural or nuclear might speed up the process radically.

But we can pretty much rule out the Happy Ending.

Europe’s Iron Curtain: The Refugee Crisis is about to Worsen

A recent European Council summit in Brussels was meant to articulate a united policy on the burgeoning refugees and migrant crisis. Instead, it served to highlight the bitter divisions among various European countries. Considering the gravity of the matter, Europe’s self-serving policies are set to worsen an already tragic situation.

True, several European leaders, including Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, went home to speak triumphantly of a ‘great victory’, achieved through a supposedly united European position.

Italy’s Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, used more derogatory terms in explaining his country’s new policy on refugees and migrants.  “They will only see Italy on a postcard”, he said, referring to refugees who have been arriving in Italy with the help of humanitarian rescue boats.

The first of these boats, carrying over 600 refugees and economic migrants, the Aquarius, was sent back on June 11, followed by another, carrying over 200 refugees. When Italy carried out what then seemed like excessive action, the decision erupted into a massive political controversy between Italy, France, Spain, Malta and others.

However, the pandemonium has subsided since then, as Italy’s Conte declared that, following the Brussels summit, his country ‘is no longer alone.’

What Conte, who presides over a populist, right-wing government, meant is that his country’s unwelcoming attitude towards refugees is now gathering greater European consensus.

The debate over refugees and migrants has reached the point that it has become a source of political instability in countries like Germany. The latter is not considered a ‘frontline state’, as in countries that are likely to be the first destination for refugees escaping war or poverty at home.

Austria and other countries are also caught up in the crisis, each with its own angry constituency to appease.

On paper, representatives of European countries did, in fact, reach an agreement. The real problem ensued as soon as delegations returned to their respective countries.

Despite opposition from Poland and Hungary, and Italian threats to ‘veto’ any text that is not consistent with Italian priorities, the Council agreed on four main points:

First, the establishment of disembarkation centers outside European territories, to be stationed mostly in North Africa. At that early stage, economic migrants would be separated from political asylum seekers.

This first stipulation is made hollow simply because, as the Guardian reports, “no North African country has agreed to host migrant centers to process refugee claims,” in the first place.

Second, Europeans agreed to strengthen borders control through the Frontex system.

Aside from the questionable tactics of this pan-European border police, this system has been in use for years and it is difficult to imagine how ‘strengthening’ it will translate into a more efficient or humane border control system.

Third, the Council called for the creation of ‘controlled’ refugee and migrant processing centers within Europe itself, like the North African non-existing centers, to quickly separate between refugees fleeing strife and economic migrants.

This clause was offered as a ‘voluntary’ step to be exercised by any state as it sees fit, which, again, will hardly contribute to a united European policy on the issue. Yet, despite the voluntary nature of this provision, it still stirred a political controversy in Germany.

Soon after the Council issued its final statement, Horst Lorenz Seehofer, Germany’s Interior Minister, threatened to quit Angela Merkel’s coalition government.

The German Chancellor is now under dual pressure, from within her fractious coalition, but also from without, a massive political campaign championed by the far-right party, the ‘Alternative for Germany’. In fact, the latter group’s popularity is largely attributed to its anti-immigrant sentiment.

A compromise was reached, calling for the establishment of migrant ‘transit centers’ at the German-Austrian border. However, instead of resolving a problem, the decision created another one, propelling a new controversy in Austria itself.

Austria, which also has its own populist, anti-immigrant constituency to placate, fears that the proximity of the German ‘transit centers’ would force it to receive Germany’s unwanted refugees.

“If Berlin introduced national measures, which would have a chain reaction, it could mean that Austria would have to react,” Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz commented in a press conference. The magnitude of this ‘reaction’ is, of course, to be determined later, depending on the nature of counter-pressure emanating from Austria itself.

Austria has, in fact, already threatened to shut down the Brenner Pass, connecting Italy and Austria.

The fourth, and last, decision by the European Council called for the boosting of North African economies and offering training for Libya’s coastguard.

As altruistic as the last stipulation may sound, it is, indeed, the most ridiculous, especially since it was placed on the agenda with French enthusiasm. Even if one is to ignore France’s colonial history in Africa – grounded in the notion of usurping African resources under military threat – one can hardly ignore the current role that Emmanuel Macron is playing in the current Libyan conflict.

Various media reports suggest that Macron’s government is carrying on with the legacy of intervention, initiated by the government of Nicolas Sarkozy, most notably in the military intervention of March 2011.

Libya, a failed state par excellence, is now fighting proxy wars in which France and Italy are the main players.

Bearing that in mind, it would be absurd to suggest that Macron is keen on respecting the sovereignty and supporting the economies of Libya and other North African nations.

Considering Europe’s past failures and foot dragging on the issue of refugees, it is hard to imagine that one of Europe’s greatest challenges is to be resolved as a result of the Brussels summit and its lackluster ‘agreement’.

Europe continues to view the refugee crisis in terms of security, populist pressures and national identity, as opposed to it being a global humanitarian crisis invited by wars, political strife and economic inequality, of which Europe is hardly innocent.

As long as Europe continues to operate with a skewed definition of the crisis, the crisis will continue to grow, leading to far dire consequences for all of those involved.

• Romana Rubeo, an Italian writer, contributed to this article

Evading Medical Care: Australia’s Refugee Arrangements with Taiwan

It is a credit to the venality of Australia’s refugee policy that much time is spent on letting others do what that particular country ought to be doing.  For a state so obsessed with the idea of a “rule-based order”, breaking those rules comes naturally – all in the national interest, of course.

Canberra’s policy makers, since the 1990s, have been earning their morally tainted fare evading international law with an insistence bordering on the pathological.  The reasons for doing so have been cruel and vapid: target the market of people smuggling by moving it to other regions; harden the Australian electorate against dissolute “queue jumpers” who don’t know their place in the international refugee system; and speak to the idea of saving people who would otherwise drown.

In a tradition reminiscent of secret treaties, clandestine compacts underhand arrangements, Australia has done well for itself. The Turnbull government, spear-tipped by the one-dimensional former policeman Peter Dutton of the Home Affairs Department, has shown itself to be obsessed with the clandestine when it comes to dealing with asylum seekers and refugees.  Its invidious sea operation, termed Operation Sovereign Borders, continues to deter refugee-carrying boats approaching Australia.  Last month, it took the revelations of a Taiwanese official to The Guardian to show that Australia had forged a deal with Taiwan on treating some of the most dire medical conditions afflicting refugees on Nauru.

The memorandum of understanding was made with Taipei in September last year. Since then, some five refugees have been flown to the state – some 5,500 kilometres – to receive treatment.  “The government has been clear,” came the cold, unchanging line from a spokeswoman for the Department of Home Affairs, “that people subject to regional processing arrangements will not be settled in Australia.”

The punitive dimension here has been stressed.  Medical transfer would not be used as “a pathway to settlement in Australia”.  Besides, Taiwan’s medical system was more than adequate, being “consistently ranked as having some of the best hospitals and medical technology in the world”.

There is an element of the police state grotesque about this, a whiff of the tyrant in search of satisfying a sadistic whim.  Those who have found their way to treatment in Taiwan have been in particularly acute medical distress.  There have been questions about incomplete understanding on the part of patients, and problems with informed consent.  But such vulnerability is not one to prompt Australia’s officials to well up.  No excuse will be accepted in permitting resettlement in Australia.

Such conduct continues to rattle human rights advocates who continue skirmishing with the Home Affairs department.  Refugee lawyer David Manne sums up the issue.

The fundamental concern must be the person’s need for medical treatment.  Once again, we see the absurd spectacle of the Australian government searching the globe to hive off its basic obligations… to properly care for people subject to its policies which inflict such devastating harm.

To that end, such individuals as an Iranian woman in need of critical heart surgery was sent to Taiwan to be treated, after which she was returned to Nauru.  (This resembles, in part, the ailing person awaiting execution treated to ensure his good health on being hanged.)  A 63-year-old Afghan man has been offered a similar option in terms of treating his lung cancer, but has been eminently sensible, and damned for that reason, for wanting to go to Australia.

The scrap over outsourcing medical care to third countries, and not merely the processing and housing of refugees, has also received attention in the Australian Federal Court.  Lawyers from the National Justice Project this month won a bid to prevent a 30-year-old Somali woman from being sent to Taiwan.  The lady in question had been a victim of female genital mutilation, and was seeking an abortion.

Expert evidence was given that the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne, or the Westmead Hospital in Sydney, would be appropriate venues to treat victims of infibulation.  The Taiwan Adventist Hospital, it was suggested, would not be up to scratch to supply either the medical expertise or the psychological ballast for the patient. Taiwanese physician Dr Sheng Chiang told the court that experience in performing pregnancy terminations on women with female genital mutilation was conspicuously absent in Taiwan.

In Justice Alan Robertson’s words, “infibulation carries significant emotional and psychological implications and those aspects of care need to be expertly managed.”  Risks also came with later terminations, becoming “increasingly complex and dangerous”.

As for Taiwan’s side of the bargain, Shyang-yun Cheng, deputy representative of the Taipei Representative Office in the UK, has written glowingly about Taiwan’s commitment “to cooperating with like-minded countries to provide high-quality medical support and humanitarian assistance.”  Encouraging, indeed, if for the obvious point that is permits Australia to evade its obligations while showing Taipei to be a good international citizen.

It is about time that Australia withdraws from the Refugee Convention and cognate documents protecting refugees and asylum seekers.  In making arrangements with Taiwan, a non-signatory to the Refugee Convention, the point is clear enough.  At the very least, it would be an honest admission that the legal order of the time is up for dissolution and repudiation.  While US President Donald Trump scours the world for deals to abolish and arrangements to upend, Australia can be looked upon as a prime example of disruption in a field that is now crowded with contenders from the United States to Hungary.  A disturbing accolade indeed.

Separation and killing of children

President Trump’s cruel policy of separating immigrant children from their parents as they sought asylum here mocked the idea that the US government values families. Unfortunately the US has a long and sad history of separating children from their parents. For example, the US took American-Indian children from their parents and Black slave families were often torn apart.

Fortunately the media provided non-stop coverage of Trump’s latest abomination. In addition, the US public continues to express its outrage about this horrific situation. This public outrage is one of the factors that finally caused Trump to end his appalling policy.

Unfortunately, the media has not provided much coverage of the reasons these immigrant families are leaving everything familiar behind and seeking asylum. The media sometimes mentions the terrifying violence in Central America while ignoring the US role in creating it.

Some US interventions

For example, since early in the twentieth century, the US has frequently intervened in Central and South America in support of US corporate interests. For example, in 1935 US Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler, one of the most highly decorated Marines in US history, wrote:

I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.

In his writing, Butler specifically referred to his service in Mexico, Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and Honduras among other places on behalf of Wall Street, US banks and other corporate interests.

The US has continued to intervene in Central and South America, including the overthrow of elected governments. In 1954 the US supported the illegal coup against the democratically-elected Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz. Perhaps more well known is the US support for the military coup against the democratically-elected Salvador Allende, president of Chile, in 1973 that led to a brutal dictatorship and horrendous human rights abuses.

Skipping over many more interventions, more recently the US quickly recognized the results of a coup in Honduras in 2009 that ousted the democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya who was not favored by the US. Increasing violence and repression against the Honduran people by the coup government and gangs followed almost immediately and continues today.

Little media coverage of some children’s deaths

Contrast highly warranted public outrage over the separation of families to the relatively little public reaction to the reported large number of extra deaths of Iraqi children during the 1990s. These deaths followed the attack on Iraq in 1991 and the subsequent sanctions. In a 1996 interview, Leslie Stahl asked Madeleine Albright, then US ambassador to the UN: “We have heard that a half-million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And — and, you know, is the price worth it?” Albright replied, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it.” The number of deaths reported was likely overestimated but, regardless, Albright’s response is chilling. The sanctions preceded the 2003 US-led attack on Iraq that was even more destructive.

Perhaps this lack of public outrage was partially related to the US media that didn’t provide non-stop coverage of US war crimes similarly to its current coverage of Trump’s sickening and indefensible separations.

Also note the meager media coverage of the killing of children and their families and the US role in these murders in Yemen, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan. Have we as a people become so jaded to the deaths of the other when it is supported by both major political parties? Or is the lack of outrage related to the media’s poor coverage?

In addition, where is the outrage against the illegal siege of and the lethal Israeli attacks on Gaza that are incredibly devastating to the entire Palestinian population in Gaza, particularly to the children? Unfortunately the US media pays little attention to Palestinians, allowing the incredible suffering and the trauma to continue.

Lastly, consider the Israeli treatment of Palestinian children who are forcefully separated from their families and imprisoned where they are often further abused. Rep. Betty McCollum has introduced H.R. 4391 that would stop US support for Israeli abuse of Palestinian children. Encourage your representative to support this bill.

Dark Precedents: Matteo Salvini, the MV Tampa and Refugees

In August 2001, Australia’s dour Prime Minister John Howard demonstrated to the world what his country’s elite soldiers could do. Desperate, close to starvation and having been rescued at sea from the Palapa I in the Indian Ocean, refugees and asylum seekers on the Norwegian vessel, the MV Tampa, were greeted by the “crack” troops of the Special Air Services.

A bitter, politicised standoff ensued.  The Norwegian vessel had initially made its way to the Indonesian port of Merak, but then turned towards the Australian territory of Christmas Island.  Howard, being the political animal he was, had to concoct a crisis to distract.  The politics of fear had a better convertibility rate than the politics of hope.

Australian authorities rebuked and threatened the container ship’s captain, claiming that if Rinnan refused to change course from entering Australia’s territorial sea, he would be liable to prosecution for people smuggling.  The vessel was refused docking at Christmas Island.  As was remarked a few years later by Mary Crock in the Pacific Rim Law and Policy Journal, “The stand taken by Australia in August 2001 set a precedent that, if followed by other refugee receiving countries, could only worsen the already deplorable problems facing asylum seekers in the world today.”

And so it has transpired. Italy’s response to the migrant rescue ship, MV Aquarius, eerily evoked the Tampa and its captain’s plight.  The charity ship, carrying some 629 African refugees, found all Italian ports closed to it under the express orders of Matteo Salvini, who has debuted in stormy fashion as Italy’s new deputy prime minister and minister for the interior.

Salvini had, at first instance, pressed Malta to accept the human cargo, but only got an offer of assistance with air evacuations.  “The good God,” he bitterly surmised, “put Malta closer to Africa than Sicily.”  The result was initial diplomatic inertia, followed by growing humanitarian crisis, and a Spanish offer to accept the vessel.

The situation clearly, as it did in the case of the Tampa, was calculated for maximum political bruising.  One of Salvini’s many political hats is federal secretary of the populist Lega party, which capitalised, along with the Five Star Movement, on the shambles of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s failure to form a government in May.  The nature of that calculation was made clearer by the uneventful rescue of 937 refugees off the Libyan coast who were taken to Catania in Sicily by the Italian warship, the Diciotti on Tuesday. Little fuss arose from that engagement.

The target seemed to be the French-based non-governmental organisation SOS Méditerranée, who so happens to own the Aquarius.  The implication here is the Salvini camp are none too pleased with those rescue organisations they accuse of feeding a people smuggling racket.

Again, this very sentiment accords with Australia’s manic obsession in breaking what is termed by all major parties to be a “market model” that ignores humanity for profit.  In categorising such activity with an accountant’s sensibility, it becomes easier to dispose of the human subjects in a more cavalier manner.

The sentiments expressed by the newly emboldened Italian authorities do not merely speak volumes to a change of heart which, given the boatloads of irregular arrivals in the wake of Libya’s collapse in 2011, was bound to happen.  They point to a disintegration of a common front regarding the rescue and processing of asylum seekers and refugees, a general fracturing of the European approach to a problem that has been all too disparate in responses.

Over the last few years, the number of arrivals fell but this has been occasioned by patchwork interventions by such countries as Greece, which has in its place a questionable agreement with Ankara to keep a lid on arrivals from Syria. Italy has much the same with Libya, courtesy of a 2017 memorandum of understanding hammered out by Marco Minniti ostensibly in the field of security and cooperation to stem illegal immigration.  Salvini lay, in due course, in not-so-quiet incubation, becoming a vocal representative of a front suspicious of intentions in Brussels and northern European states.

Righteous France, fuming at Italy’s conduct, has done its bit to keep pathways to its territory with Italy shut.  Ditto Austria.  Other states such as Spain and Malta have preferred indifference, leading to the assertion by Salvini that his country has become the “refugee camp of Europe”.

For the interior minister, the Australian “stop the boats” mantra is something like a godsend, a note of clarity in the humanitarian murkiness.  He has also admired the firm-fisted approach of Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, who supplied Salvini with ample electoral ammunition on the refugee crisis in Europe, not to mention those bleeding, yet stingy hearts in Brussels.

The Tampa platform has become something of an inspiration to a range of European politicians, be it Germany’s Minister of the Interior Horst Seehofer, and Austria’s Sebastian Kurz, not to mention Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia.  They form a collective of hardening irritables who are taking the issue of regulating refugees away from the centralised assumptions of the EU polity.

The Italian government’s plans on the issue of irregular migration refocus interest in evaluating asylum applications in countries of origin or transit, stemming migrant flows at external borders, targeting international trafficking utilising the assistance of other EU states, and establishing (Australian politicians would delight in this) detention centres in all of Italy’s 20 regions. The standout feature here is abolishing the Dublin Regulation obliging countries on the border of the EU – and in this, Italy is most prone – to host arrivals.

Had the warnings and urgings of the previous Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni been heeded, notably on the sharing of the housing and processing burdens across other countries, the spectacle of a rebuffed Aquarius may well have been averted.  EU complicity in this debacle is unquestionable and it is not merely refugees who need rescuing, but the European Project itself, which will require a Good Samaritan to storm in with vision and purpose.  To save one may well save the other.

States of Cruelty: The Dead Refugees of Manus

In those seemingly interminable refugee debates being held in various countries, cruelty is pure theatre. It is directed, stage managed, the victims treated as mere marionettes in a play of putrid public policy and indifferent public officials.  Barriers have been set; barbed wire has been put in place. Open zones such as the European Union are being internally bordered up, the principle of mobility derided and assaulted.

In all of this, Australia has remained a paragon to be emulated. It first began with tentative steps: the establishment of onshore detention facilities at Villawood, Sydney and Port Headland, Western Australia, in 1991.  Then came that vile concept of mandatory detention, introduced in 1992.  The hobgoblin of offshore detention, financed afar by the Australian tax payer, would come with the Howard government.

The worded rationale since the Hawke years has tended to follow variants of the same, only differing in terms of shrillness and savagery. “Australia,” came the grave words of the Hawke government, “could be on the threshold of a major wave of unauthorised boat arrivals from south-east Asia, which will severely test both our resolve and our capacity to ensure that immigration in this country is conducted within a planned and controlled framework”.

The list of obituaries arising from such a policy is growing and should be chiselled into a wall of remembrance.  There is the Kurdish-Iranian refugee Fazel Chegeni, who perished on Christmas Island in November 2015 after escaping the North West Point detention centre.  His state of mental deterioration had been documented, along with three reported attempts at suicide.

There is the youthful Hamid Kehazaei, who succumbed to sepsis after his request for a medical transfer was sternly refused, only to then flounder before the overgrown resistance of Canberra’s bureaucracy. The details of his maltreatment laid before the Queensland coroner Terry Ryan have proven to be kaleidoscopically torturous: the refusal to supply intravenous paracetamol for two nights in a row; suffering hypoxia; being left unsheltered at the airfield un-sedated.

The case of Manus is particularly grotesque, given the decision made by the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court in 2016 that detaining people indefinitely was decidedly illegal, a constitutional violation of personal liberty. Those facilities replacing the camp have done little to arrest the decline of health of the remaining population.

Earlier this week, a Rohingya refugee by the name of Salim was found dead in an apparent suicide, taking to seven the number of asylum seekers and refugees who have met gruesome ends on Manus since July 2013.  He had jumped from a moving bus near the refugee transition centre, and duly struck by its wheels.  The Refugee Action Coalition’s Ian Rintoul was adamant: “He should not have been taken there in 2013, and he should not have been returned there after he was brought to Australia for medical treatment in 2014.”

Farce became tragedy when a call by a staff member of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre to Salim’s spouse revealed, prior to any notification from Australian officials, that her husband had committed suicide.  The worker in question, a certain Kon Karapanagiotidis, was, by his own admission “lost for words”.

During Question Time, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton exercised his long held approach of rebuking the heart sleeve wearers. “I’m not going to take a morals lecture from the Greens when it comes to border protection policy.”  His own department, also adopting another standard line to questions on Salim’s death, deemed it “a matter for the PNG government.”

What is in place in Australia’s singularly styled gulag is a measure of calculated degradation, a brutal hierarchy of violence manufactured to defeat the spirit and aspiration of the UN Refugee Convention.  Few countries of the nominal democratic world have been so avidly dedicated to this cause, citing counterfeit humanitarian considerations even as the noose – quite literally – is being tightened.

Adding to the heavy handed attempts by those in Canberra to deter refugees and asylum seekers from contemplating a journey to Australia, resources and services are being trimmed back.  Nait Jit Lam, the UNHCR’s Deputy Regional Representative in Canberra, offered the following observation on May 22: “With the passage of too many years and the withdrawal or reduction of essential services, the already critical situation for refugees most in need continues to deteriorate.”

Medical care in acute situations is being refused, notably when it requires treatment that would only be possible on the Australian mainland.  The oldest Afghan Hazara held on Nauru, one Ali, is said to have advanced lung cancer.  He is being housed at the Australian-built RPC1 camp, a woefully inadequate, threadbare facility which is bearing witness to his last days.  Doctors have had the ear of the Australian Border Force, but the establishment remains stony towards calls for help.  The Department of Home Affairs has preferred to remind Ali that he best shove off his mortal coil back in Afghanistan.

The growing list of deaths, the burgeoning number of psychological wrecks, the casualty list in what can only be deemed a planned campaign against refugees and asylum seekers, is such that even the extreme centre, the Australian consensus approving such treatment, might be changing.

The Victorian State Labor conference, by way of example, will consider an urgency motion calling on the party, on winning federal office, “to close offshore detention centres, transit centres and other camps on Manus and Nauru within the first 90 days, and to bring all the children, women and men who are refugees or seeking asylum remaining there to Australia.”

As ever, such moves stem from the left wing of the party, those condemned as bleeding hearts or soggily wet with teary sentiment.  But in federal parliament, refugee advocates could get some hope at the remarks made by Labor MP Ged Kearney, fresh from her by-election victory in the Melbourne seat of Batman.

Still untainted by the wearing grime of the Labor Party apparatus, she could still state in her first speech to the federal parliament that Australia’s refugee policy was not only vicious but corrosive. “We are a rich country. We can afford to take more refugees. I doubt, however, we can afford the ongoing cost to our national psyche of subjecting men, women, children to years of indefinite detention in camps.”

Psyches captive to the police mentality that afflicts Dutton and government front benchers happily tolerate such ongoing costs.  As would many of those on the opposite of the aisle.  For such political creatures, deterring refugees who arrive outside that planned controlled framework stated by the Labor government of the early 1990s is not merely a job but a duty.

As Israel marks 70 years, what have been the true costs?

Independence Day celebrations tomorrow should be a moment for Israelis – and the many Jews who identify with Israel – to reflect on what kind of state it has become after seven decades.

The vast majority of Israelis, however, are too busy flying blue-and-white flags from their cars, venerating their army as the “most moral in the world” and poring over the latest official statistics in the hope that more Israeli Jews than Palestinians were born over the past year.

The Zionist project was intended, so its founders claimed, to provide a sanctuary from persecution for all Jews around the world. But at what cost, both to the native Palestinians on whose homeland a Jewish state was built and to the moral character of those who settled there? And has it really provided the sanctuary it promised?

Those questions should be especially troubling to Israelis in the wake of three weeks in which Israeli sharpshooters have been killing and wounding hundreds of Palestinians involved in unarmed protests along the perimeter fence in Gaza.

The context for the protests – ignored by most Israelis – is a decade-long siege imposed by Israel that has cut off Gaza from the outside world, engineering a humanitarian catastrophe and intermittent Israeli assaults that have laid waste to large areas of the enclave.

Israelis were unshaken, even after the broadcast of a video of soldiers excitedly debating, as if in an arcade game, which protester in Gaza they were best positioned to shoot “in the head”. When one Palestinian was felled by a bullet, the soldiers could be heard whooping and cheering, delighted to have caught the moment on their phones.

In response, Avigdor Lieberman, the defence minister, said the sniper “deserves a medal”. Meanwhile, the Israeli army’s only concern was the lack of “restraint” shown by the soldier who filmed the shameful incident.

This is not about young hotheads. Recent statements from government officials have a decidedly genocidal flavour. Mr Lieberman observed that “there are no innocent people in Gaza” while a spokesman for the ruling Likud party claimed “all 30,000 [protesters in Gaza] are legitimate targets”.

Earlier, when Israel attacked Gaza in 2014, justice minister Ayelet Shaked called Gaza’s Palestinians “enemy combatants” and their children “little snakes”.

Such views have clerical support as a new wave of extremist settler rabbis have moved into the mainstream. According to a rabbinical handbook called The King’s Torah, Jewish law justifies preventatively killing Palestinians as “terrorists” and their children as “future terrorists”.

It was this twisted logic – a presumption that Palestinians are terrorists, not human beings – behind the government’s decision to prevent protesters seriously wounded by Israeli sniper fire from being transferred for emergency treatment outside Gaza, where hospitals can barely function after years of Israel’s blockade.

The same logic justified Mr Lieberman’s ban on Palestinian families who have lost loved ones to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from joining similarly bereaved Israeli families for a joint Memorial Day ceremony in Israel this week.

The profound racism in Israeli society is not only directed towards Palestinians but to other non-Jews. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this month scrapped a United Nations plan to re-settle nearly 20,000 Africans currently seeking asylum in Israel in western countries.

The right was outraged that a similar number would remain in Israel. They want all of them returned to Africa, even if it means the refugees’ lives will be put in danger as a result.

One commentator recently warned in the liberal daily Haaretz: “A clerical fascist state will rise here much faster than you think.”

The only bulwark till now has been the supreme court. It overturned government bans both on medical treatment for wounded Gazans and on the entry of bereaved Palestinian families.

But it is being aggressively cowed. This week Mr Netanyahu announced his intention to block the court’s power of judicial review so he can safeguard racist and grossly anti-democratic legislation. The gates are opening to the tyranny of an ethnic Jewish majority already lording it over the native Palestinian population.

But the government has Jews in its sights too. It is well-advanced in a campaign to incite against Israel’s shrinking community of leftists and human rights activists – as well as, of course, against its large minority of Palestinian citizens.

It started by characterising as “traitors” the whistleblowing soldier group Breaking the Silence but has now targeted mainstream progressive groups.

Mr Lieberman suggested Tamar Zandberg, leader of the small left wing parliamentary party Meretz, was a Palestinian agent after she called for an inquiry into the killing of the Gaza protesters.

And Mr Netanyahu has accused the New Israel Fund, the largest donor to progressive causes in Israel, of endangering the “security and future of Israel” for backing the UN asylum seeker plan.

Those human rights activists who seek to record abuses by settlers or the army are now threatened with legislation backed by Mr Lieberman that would jail them for up to 10 years.

The Israeli right has introduced what is effectively a political test – dividing “good” Jews from “bad” ones – not only in Israel but for Jews overseas.

Those who support a fortress-like Greater Israel oppressing Palestinians are welcome; those who vocally oppose the occupation or want Israel punished with boycotts to encourage it to mend its ways are most definitely not. They are being denied entry at Israel’s borders.

Despite Israel’s continuing claim that it is a safe haven for Jews, in reality it is no such thing. It is an ugly ethnic supremacist state and one closing its doors to Jews who decry the oppression of the native Palestinian population.

That is what Israel and its supporters around the world will be celebrating this week.

• First published in National Abu Dhabi

Racial Preferences: Peter Dutton and White South African Farmers

It has been the great misfit Australian policy since the 1990s: a refugee and immigration policy that shows itself to be scrupulously fair, calculable and clean.  Nothing shall be permitted to sully this presumption.  Even as refugees and asylum seekers gather dampness, decay and depression in Pacific camps, the Australian immigration policy shall remain, like Caesar’s wife, above reproach.

The comments of Australia’s Peter Dutton who resembles, with each passing day, a plumed and emboldened commissar, have given political figures pause for thought.  Openly, and without reservation, the Home Affairs Minister decided to bank for a particular racial group in the immigration stakes, namely those poor oppressed white farmers of South Africa.

This goes against the policy of ethnic caution and racial neutrality, albeit ensconced behind the customary prejudices typical of all stances on immigration.  Here was the most direct expression of race and culture as twin categories.

Dutton preferred the language of “special attention” for specifically white South African farmers suffering what he deemed to be “horrific circumstances”.  He spoke of damning footage and lurid stories.  They, he explained, needed protection from a “civilised country”.  South African farmers would be a good fit in Australia, integrating (note the stab against certain refugees) and avoiding the welfare rolls.  Perversely enough, the mantle of guardianship – that of Afrikaners overseeing the civilising mission in South Africa – seemed to have moved to the confused Dutton.

As a key proponent of apartheid, the South African prime minister Hendrik Verwoerd, would enunciate in February 1960, it was the white men who were “the people… who brought civilisation here, who made possible the present development of black nationalisation by bringing the natives education, by showing them the Western way of life, by bringing Africa industry and development, by inspiring them with the ideals which Western civilisation has developed for itself.”

Dutton’s remarks fell on the ears of the furious.  Ian Rijsdijk of the University of Cape Town’s Media Studies Centre found the remarks “incredibly retrograde.”  “The majority African population regard a reference to civilisation,” piped South African advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, “as an insult.”

Spokesman for South Africa’s Foreign Ministry, Ndivhuwo Mabaya, claimed in a statement that, “There was no reason for any Government anywhere in the world to suspect that any South African is in danger from their own democratically elected Government.  That threat simply does not exist.”

In fairness, the minister’s intervention had already been forecast by party machinations at the state level some months prior.  The West Australian Liberal Party had chewed over the issue of those colonial hangovers in South Africa and Zimbabwe in discussions in 2017.  A resolution at the party’s state council meeting last year called upon the federal government to “resettle persecuted European minorities” from those benighted states.

Not far from such considerations was the influence of South African expatriates in various seats, making their defenders sound much like advertisers pushing a flawed product.  Ian Goodenough, a WA Liberal representing the federal seat of Moore, opined to the ABC that, “Violence and suffering affects all people universally.” (This affected nonsense only extends to particular communities in such racial politics – violence is universal, but politics is particular.)  “Given our close connections to the South African community, consideration should be given to providing a quota of places.”

On March 15, the MP tweeted that “favourable consideration” be granted to “South Africans fleeing persecution who share our values and will integrate into Australian society.”  This was humanitarianism, washed marble and cultural white, with a handy number of additions to Australia’s conservative voting bloc.

Other conservatives decided to vent their fury at reports about violence against white farmers, sometimes careful to avoid racial tags and labels.  The sense behind such anger was undeniably strategic: the Coalition government is stuttering in the polls, and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is looking for easy fodder.  To that end, Andrew Hastie expressed “outrage” and pressed Alan Tudge, Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, to visit his own seat of Canning.

The reasoning there, like that of a calculating Goodenough, was placating, keeping and even gathering, more conservative South African votes, a hoovering exercise of a local member thinking of the next election and whether he will survive the voter’s chop.  Dutton, claimed Hastie, was “going to hear from concerned citizens and expats about what is happening in South Africa.”

Queensland Liberal MP Andrew Laming has also gotten on the electoral stage to claim that he “called out South African politicians for their do-nothing approach to vicious attacks on farmers”. He suggested that Dutton was merely asking his department “to monitor and consider our offshore humanitarian program”.

This is not to suggest that the world of South Africa, in its post-apartheid torment, is not afflicted.  Crime and land redistribution remain enduring social headaches, though the new South African president Cyril Ramaphosa has told Parliament that “land grabs” would be intolerable, instancing moments of “anarchy”.  That said, the ownership of agricultural land in South Africa – with white South Africans having 72 percent of the portion despite making up some 8 percent of the country’s population, is an invidious formula.

The country’s politics is troubled, best exemplified by the presidential strife of the now departed Jacob Zuma.  But the hot-and-bothered gamesmanship of Dutton also ignores the role played by invigorated democratic health in South Africa itself – the movement against Zuma being evidence of it.  A civil society collective of investigative journalists, judicial officers, even police, were vital in showing that the Republic of South Africa, far being sworn enemies of civilisation, are its vigilant defenders.

Dutton’s ploy is preferential, cultural and obvious, an embrace of colonial, property-owning elites who have fallen on hard times.  His idea of civilisation, quite literally coloured, is inimical to democracy.  His adoration for the South African farmer has also had a confessional effect: behind the veneer of decent immigration policies will always be indecent preferences.

Dumping Wilson Security: The NGV, Art and Refugee Detention

Art and politics mix, often poorly.  Artists are sometimes the hoodwinked emissaries of the latter, sponsored, enlisted and marshalled by the state and corporate entities.  Self-proclaimed radical artists can become compliant, or at the very least mute cogs, aware of their patronage and finite sources of funding.  To question is to impoverish.

In Australia, the links between security companies and the art world have come in for a recent sniping.  Such episodes should be more regular, but artists in Australia have woken up from a prolonged slumber of selfish apathy to push back against companies who provide the gruesome bill for Australia’s offshore detention centres.

The issue drew some attention in 2014, when the Biennale of Sydney chairman Luca Belgiorno-Nettis resigned in response to an artist boycott regarding Transfield’s security role in offshore processing on Manus Island and Nauru.  Transfield’s other hat was that of committed art patron, an association begun by Belgiorno-Nettis’ father, Franco, in 1961. The irritating bee in the bonnet was less Transfield than its subsidiary company.

At the time, the then Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull condemned what he thought was “sheer vicious ingratitude” on the part of artists.  The now retired Senator George Brandis found the gesture of protest “irrational” while chiding the Biennale board for capitulating “to the blackmail effectively of a small number of artists”.  Belgiorno-Nettis was unrepentant, claiming that there was “little room for sensible dialogue, let alone deliberation.”

The National Gallery of Victoria should have been cognisant of that episode when it sought the services of another security company linked to Australia’s offshore detention complex.  Hectored by disgruntled artists, the NGV announced at the end of last month that it would be ending its fraught association with Wilson Security.

During its tenure, the company presided over a lengthy log of abuses, physical, sexual and psychological, a point noted by the Australian Senate in 2015.   Last year, the company announced that it would cease providing security services at Manus Island and Nauru from October, an effort to rescue a tarnished brand rather than a wounded conscience.

The decision by the NGV has been put down to the Artists’ Committee, which made much noise last year against the gallery’s new contract with Wilson Security.  In August, a petition heavy with over 1,500 signatures, including various heavies of the Australian art world, was submitted to the NGV director, Tony Ellwood. In conducting business with Wilson Security, the gallery was effectively supporting “systematic abuse”.

Gabrielle de Vietri, speaking on behalf of the committee, put the position to Art Guide Australia.  “We’re talking about a company whose numerous and well-publicised ethical breaches while managing security at Australia’s reprehensible offshore detention centres amount to nothing less than human rights abuse.”

The attempt to ruffle feathers began in earnest in October, which featured the dyeing of water features outside the gallery a jarring red.  The participating artists courteously explained that the red dye was non-toxic and caused no damage.  On October 6, Picasso’s Weeping Woman was covered in black cloth sporting Wilson Security’s logo.  Twenty signatories stood in front of the painting, stymieing efforts of security staff from removing it for up to an hour.

The scene was set for the NGV Triennial in December, when international artists joined the scrap.  One salvo of protest involved South African installation artist Candice Breitz, who targeted the security outfit in Wilson Must Go, 2016, a seven-channel video installation spiked with reflections on the global refugee crisis.  It should, however, be noted that Breitz sensed an opportunity, less to create a work in direct protest against Wilson Security as renaming it for the occasion in an act of “self-sabotaging”.  (It had the previously bland title of Love Story.)

In Breitz’s words penned with political, albeit opportunistic purpose, “The new title will remain in effect for as long as the work is on the view at the National Gallery of Victoria, or when the work is exhibited in any other exhibition context on Australian soil, until the NGV severs its relationship with Wilson Security.”  Wilson Security, she noted, had “violently enforced the imprisonment of refugees and people seeking asylum in Australia’s offshore immigration detention centres.”

The position on sponsorship, supply and largesse between soiled companies and the art industry remains slippery.  The bar is subterranean for such figures as Brandis, who claim that art institutions should not “reject bona fide sponsorship from commercially sound, prospective partners on political grounds”.  This neat nonsense provides a long iteration about the artist prostrate before the state, rather than one in resistance to it.

If detaining refugees and asylum indefinitely in indigent tropical states is deemed a sound policy to begin with, it only follows that security companies will be given a clean bill of health.  Fortunately for those in the art establishment congregated around the NGV, the bar has been raised.

Netanyahu’s Corruption: How Israeli Journalists Project Israel’s Crimes on to Palestinians

In an article published in Al-Monitor without a single verifiable citation, Israeli journalist, Shlomi Eldar, went to unprecedented lengths to divert attention from the corruption in his country.

He spoke of Palestinian journalists – all speaking on condition of anonymity – who ‘applauded’ and ‘admired’ Israeli media coverage of corruption scandals surrounding the country’s rightwing Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Eldar’s approach is underhanded and journalistically unsound.

The Israeli media, which has largely supported Netanyahu’s devastating wars on Gaza, continues to relentlessly defend the illegal occupation of Palestine and to serve as a shield for Israel’s stained reputation on the international stage. It is hardly praiseworthy, even if it arguably provides decent coverage for the Netanyahu investigations.

For an Israeli journalist to handpick a few Palestinians who, allegedly, praised the war crimes-apologist Israeli media is a remarkable event that surely cannot be satisfactorily addressed in anonymity.

But Eldar’s journalism aside, one would think that seeking Palestinian admiration for Israeli media should be the least urgent question to address at this time. Others are far more pressing. For example:

Is corruption among Israel’s political elite symptomatic of greater moral and other forms of corruption that have afflicted the entire society?

And, why is it that, while Netanyahu is being indicted for bribery, no Israeli official is ever indicted for war crimes against Palestinians?

In fact, well before Netanyahu’s corruption scandals included more serious charges – for instance, quid pro quo deals in which his advisors tried to manipulate media coverage in his favor and offering high political positions in exchange for favors – it included bribes pertaining to fancy cigars and expensive drinks.

What Israelis are trying to tell us is that, despite all of its problems, Israel is a good, transparent, law-abiding and democratic society.

This is precisely why Eldar wrote his article. The outcome was a familiar act of intellectual hubris that we have grown familiar with.

Eldar even cites a supposedly former Palestinian prisoner who told Al-Monitor that, while in prison, “we learned how the democratic election process works in Israel. The prisoners adopted the system in order to elect their leadership in a totally democratic fashion, while ensuring freedom of choice.”

Others cited their favorite Israeli journalist, some of whom have served and continue to serve as mouthpieces for official Israeli hasbara (propaganda).

Many of Israel’s friends in western governments and corporate media have also contributed to this opportunistic style of journalism; they come to the rescue when times are hard, to find ways to praise Israel and to chastise Palestinians and Arabs, even if the latter are not relevant to the discussion, whatsoever.

Who could ever forget US Senator John McCain’s criticism of his country’s torture of prisoners at the height of the so-called ‘war on terror’? His rationale was that such a war can be won without torture, because Israel ‘doesn’t torture’ and yet it is capable of combating ‘Palestinian terrorism’.

Thousands of Palestinians have been tortured, and hundreds were killed under duress in Israeli prisons, the last of whom was Yaseen Omar on the day when this article was written. Moreover, according to the Palestinians Prisoners’ Club, 60% of Palestinian children arrested by Israel are also tortured.

If Israeli media was truly honest in its depiction of Netanyahu’s corruption, it would have made a point of highlighting the extent to which corruption goes well beyond the prime minister, his wife and a few close confidantes, but this would pierce through the entire legal, political and business establishment rendering the system itself as rotten and corrupt.

Instead, the heart of the discussion is relocated somewhere else entirely. In Eldar’s article, for example, he quotes the anonymous Palestinian who speaks about how Palestinians prisoners “rejected the political systems of Arab states and opted for the one they had absorbed from the ‘Israeli enemy’.”

This Israeli obsession of diverting from the discussion is an old tactic. Whenever Israel is in the dock for whatever problem it has invited upon others or itself, it immediately fashions an Arab enemy to beat down, chastise and blame.

In the final analysis, somehow Israel maintains the upper hand and self-granted moral ascendency.

This is also why Israelis refer to their country as “the only democracy in the Middle East”. It is a defense mechanism to divert from the fact that apartheid, racially-structured political systems are inherently undemocratic. So, Israel resorts to belittling its neighbors to confirm its own self-worth.

When Israel facilitated and helped carry out the Sabra and Shatila Massacre in Lebanon in September 1982, it used the same logic to defend itself against media outrage.

The then Israeli Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, was quoted as saying “the goyim kill goyim, and they blame the Jews.” By ‘they’ he meant the media.

The bottom line is always this: Israel is blameless no matter the hideousness of the act; it is superior and more civilized, and, according to Eldar’s selective reporting, even Palestinians know it.

But where is the outrage by Eldar and his Israeli media champions as thousands of black men and women are being caged in by Israeli police, ready for deportation, for committing the mortal sin of daring to escape war in their countries and seeking refuge in Israel?

How about the millions of besieged and subjugated Palestinians living a bitter existence under an inhumane military occupation?

Should not the Israeli media be targeting the very legal and political structures in their country that makes it okay to imprison a whole nation in defiance of international and human rights law?

In some strange way, corruption is one of few things that is truly normal about Israel, for it is a shared quality with every single country in the world.

What is not normal, and should never be normalized, is that Israel is the only country in the world that continues to practice Apartheid, many years after it was disbanded in South Africa.

Israeli media would rather delay that discussion indefinitely, a cowardly act that is neither admirable nor praiseworthy.