Welcome back to university. I thought I’d tell you this week why Kevin Rudd and the Labor Party’s Papua New Guinea solution is a disgrace.
Papua New Guinea is not a country that is safe for people seeking to escape persecution.
It is not safe for women or queer people: one in two women in PNG have been raped, and two out of every three have been victims of domestic violence. Homosexuality is a criminal offence that attracts a 14-year gaol term, which is especially dangerous given that many refugees base their asylum claims on their homosexual and transgender status.
It is a severely underdeveloped country, where 60% of people have no access to clean water, 55% no access to sanitation and 55% of children receive no education. It ranks 168th in the world in life expectancy, 148th for death rates, 173rd for health. Smartraveller (an Australian government website) currently warns that Papua New Guinea is suffering a cholera epidemic, and cautions Australians not to travel there unless they take extraordinary safety precautions (against gang rapes targeting foreigners, the “ever-present threat” of car-jacking and violent clashes between ethnic groups, etc.).
We have actually received a significant number of asylum claims from refugees fleeing the country – there is absolutely no way that it can ever serve as a sanctuary for people fleeing persecution.
Apologists for the policy have already started arguing that it doesn’t matter if Papua New Guinea is a hellhole; a policy this hardline will be such a powerful deterrence, that no refugees will actually flee to Australia.
That has already been proved wrong. People have already come to Australia by boat under this policy and marked for resettlement to Papua New Guinea. This includes children. These are people whose lives have now been destroyed by this ‘solution’.
For many asylum seekers their only means of escaping persecution is to travel to Australia by boat, and Article 31 of the UN Refugee Convention provides refugees an inalienable right not to be penalised on account of their mode of entry into Australia.
There exist alternative ways of dissuading refugees from taking dangerous sea voyages, primarily by creating a vastly expanded and timely pathway for resettlement from Indonesia, but even if such policies are implemented asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat are exercising an inalienable right to take that pathway and should not be punished for it.
We should open our borders to those fleeing persecution immediately: we have no right to choose who comes into this country, or the circumstances in which they come.
David Pink, SRC President