To: Angus Houston - Asylum Seeker Policy Group and MPs
STOP THE BOATS
PLEASE RETHINK AUSTRALIA'S APPROACH TO STOPPING THE BOATS
I have lived in Indonesia for many years and I am aware of the circumstances that prompt Indonesian fishermen to participate in people smuggling, although most of them don't see it as such. They'd prefer to describe their activity as helping desperate refugees find a new home. Regardless, most are tempted by their own economic plight which has seen fisheries diminish and livelihoods destroyed by earthquakes and tsunamis. Often the last straw is to sacrifice their boats and freedom; a decision they would most likely not make if there were other avenues to support their family's future and wellbeing.
Having worked as Camp Manager on Manus Island for nearly a full year with IOM in 2002, I have seen first-hand the enormous pain and psychological damage inflicted on asylum seekers, many of them children, scarred for life watching their parents inflict self-harm and suffer mental breakdowns. These are not isolated cases and the longer incarcerated, the trauma increases with children’s bed-wetting and social disengagement. How either of the main political parties can even contemplate reintroducing this shameful treatment of innocent human beings is beyond me.
However, because of loss of life on way to Australia, I do understand the sincere concerns about stopping the boats. But the deterrent of offshore processing is not the only solution. Referring back to my first point, if we were to divert some of the many millions spent on detention centres and direct these monies through our aid budget to needy fishermen and their families on the south coast of Java (and other key locations used by ‘the boats’) to help them restore and manage their enterprises, I’m sure this would be a much preferred outcome for them, rather than being labelled as a ‘people smuggler’ and locked up for years.
I urge you all to use your imagination and explore other options to address this problem through courage and compassion. Consider other means of discouraging fishermen to take desperate measures and move away from using the asylum seekers as just a political football. A coordinated approach with our neighbours and UN agencies, combined with targeted assistance to small fishing villages will not stop the boats altogether, but it will surely reduce the need for them to take such high risk actions.
As a proud Australian I look back fondly on a period when we lead the world in human rights and a willingness to help others less fortunate than ourselves. As leaders of this wealthy nation, I urge you to reconsider our intake of refugees that reflects a more benevolent approach; one that encourages our friends in Indonesia to work together for a win/win solution that treats asylum seekers with dignity and respect, and acknowledges their human right to look elsewhere for a life free of persecution and fear.
Why is this important?
Our relationship with our neighbours and the manner in which we work together to solve common problems will help determine our long term security. Building our partnership with Indonesia is a most critcal element in this process. By acknowledging that the plight of asylum seekers requires a coordinated response and providing assistance to Indonesia to address their needs, much increases the chance of us jointly developing comprehensive long term solutions to complex regional challenges.