“Compassion-mongers” or just people with common sense

Writing in The Australian, Nick Cater continues the conservative campaign against asylum seekers, labelling those against the conservative worldview as “compassion-mongers”.

He wrote as though compassion wasn’t a quality you would want in anyone with the temerity to call themselves human. I would’ve thought that “mongering” would be more associated with things like “fear-mongering”, which is what people like Cater love doing, day-in and day-out.

Cater did himself no favours either by getting his readers to take a “look at the scoreboard”.

Between 2002 and 2007, when the Pacific Solution was in place, there were 288 arrivals. From 2008 to last year, when the rules were eased, there were 51,796 arrivals.

Sorry Cater, but that’s not the point. There were probably thousands of refugees who could have arrived that 2002 and 2007 for whom the opportunity for us to offer protection was forgone. Regardless of how many asylum seekers that could have arrived between 2002 and 2007 that we would have rejected, that group of “genuine refugees” would have been much larger. And what a tragedy that is for those refugees.

Misuse of the English language aside and childish references to the scoreboard aside, there is still the unanswered argument that asylum seekers, regardless of the outcome of their claims, have certain rights and dignities that Australia currently does not even pretend to respect.

Even when some asylum seekers turn out to be economic migrants and economic migrants only (and thus have their claims rejected — this is not a point in dispute from the left), Australia doesn’t have the right to punish them — through detention centres, crap food, abuse etc. — for the crimes of people smugglers.

This group of asylum seekers were essentially deceived into handing over good money by criminals. It is unreasonable to expect that they should have known better, given the general assymetry of information. Most asylum seekers don’t even know Australia does offshore detention!

It’s not as though the Australian government also punishes anyone who’s been scammed on the Internet for having the nerve to fall for a scam. The entire point is that the scammed didn’t know that they were being scammed, just as asylum seekers don’t know that this isn’t the most effective channel to get to Australia.

Once we start accepting that line of analysis, then we should at least be able to restore some sorely needed balance to our bizarre approach to refugees.

Claiming asylum seekers were after jobs misses the point

Andrew Bolt:

…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.