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Manus and Asylum Seekers: The Case for a Nonviolent Response

The death of a 23 year old asylum seeker and injuries to over sixty others on Manus Island are the inevitable consequences of a policy of violence based on bullying and brute force to arrest, detain and humiliate vulnerable and weak people.

The present government’s policy runs counter to the UN Refugee Convention and our international legal obligations, is an abuse of human rights and an affront to ideals of a common humanity. No asylum seekers are illegals. All merit a nonviolent response to their efforts to escape persecution and oppression.

A nonviolent policy initiative would include on shore processing of applications and the management of the special needs of traumatised asylum seekers by experienced, professionally trained and carefully chosen caseworkers.  The goal would be to assist those found to be refugees to become productive members of the community as quickly and efficiently as possible.  That policy should include a human rights education programme to explain to the public the world wide dimensions of the refugee tragedy, plus explanations as to where people seeking asylum in Australia have come from and why they are fleeing.

Yet instead of nonviolence, the major political parties have engaged in a race to the bottom to demonstrate who is the toughest, who the most intolerant. The present government has opted for a policy aimed at frightening asylum seekers who contemplate turning to Australia for help and punishing those who still try by sending them to one of the most dangerous countries on the planet.  Our pugilistic Prime Minister would have it that anyone who objects to this institutional mistreatment of others is a ‘wimp’.

Further, these policies have been sustained by extraordinary secrecy.  They are being justified on the basis that, as the provocatively named Operation Sovereign Borders suggests, we are under attack and on a war footing.  That proposition is both shameful and ridiculous.

The events on Manus Island should make all of us think again about principles of human rights and the philosophy of nonviolence. Those principles and that philosophy should underpin our response to asylum seekers from wherever they come and by whatever means they come.

If arguments based on the rule of law and common decency can be dismissed as “moral blackmail”, another angle should be considered:  Given this government’s commitment to fiscal responsibility and budget reduction, why not deploy its battalions of productivity analysts to compare the billions of dollars spent on the current asylum seeker policy with costs of a nonviolent alternative?


For further information or interviews please contact Professor Stuart Rees:

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