…Every passenger I’ve seen interviewed so far say nothing about having been “persecuted”, with just one vague exception. All have said they were on their way to Australia or New Zealand to search for work…
So? Firstly, it hasn’t been proven that the 41 asylum seekers that were sensationally returned to Sri Lanka hadn’t been persecuted, or that their primary intention of going to Australia or New Zealand was to search for work. Just bringing up a few quotations where asylum seekers said that expanded economic opportunity was something they hoped for doesn’t prove that jobs was their primary motivation to hop on a boat. Omitting to mention persecution doesn’t mean persecution never happened.
But secondly, and more importantly, even if it is proven that these were not “genuine refugees”, that in no way excuses the government’s disgraceful disregard for its obligations to asylum seekers. Even if a person is later shown to not be a refugee, they still have the right to seek asylum, the right to have that claim processed fairly and speedily, and the right to be treated with dignity while they wait for the outcome of that claim.
On all those counts, the federal government has performed atrociously. In no way was the rushed process fair, with no reasonable access to legal advice. Nor was much attention paid to proving that there would be no serious risk in just sending them back to Sri Lanka. And from all accounts, their dignity as humans with a right to access basic necessities of life was not fully respected.
The debate as conservative commentators see it needs to be broader than just speculating on answers to a narrow question of whether a specific group of asylum seekers arriving by boat are “genuine refugees” or not. The real debate should be whether Australia expends any effort on being a decent global citizen by setting a process that respects the rights of those who attempt to arrive here by boat.