Thursday, 20 February 2014

The Manus Island Detention Centre

is not a nice place. It is not meant to be a nice place. It is most certainly not meant to be a first class hotel.
There will also be tensions there - even when everything appears to be calm on the surface.
The people who have been sent there are "irregular maritime arrivals", in this case people who endeavoured to enter Australia without a permit of some sort. They also wanted to settle in Australia.
I cannot comment on whether they are "refugees". It is however interesting to note that the majority of them are young men. They are young men who claim to be fleeing persecution. Perhaps they are. It is also possible that some of them are fleeing harsh punishment for breaking the law in their own countries. The laws in their countries are of course different from ours and we may not always agree with them but we would be expected to abide by them if we visited the country. 
Refugee advocates will argue they come here "because they have nowhere else to go". That is simply not true. There are other places they could go but they are less likely to be granted asylum there or they may have to wait much longer, especially if they go to a refugee camp.  
Compared with most refugee camps the Manus Island Detention Centre is five star accommodation - or it should be. It should be a safe place. 
Yes, people arrive there from many different places. They come from countries which are fighting one another, from groups which are fighting one another and from different religious, social and ethnic backgrounds. They don't all speak the same language. Many of them do speak some English, often more than they are prepared to admit - no English or little English means you get the benefit of an interpreter.
There are inevitably tensions there. These are people who were not prepared to wait, who believe that they have paid their passage and should now be granted asylum. Even those who set out knowing they would not be granted refugee status in Australia refuse to believe they will not be allowed to settle here.
There was a disturbance reported two days ago, a disturbance in which one man died and another has been brought to Australia for treatment following a fractured skull. Other people were injured.  There are conflicting reports of what "really happened". Advocates have been interviewed on television and stated, quite categorically, that certain things happened. They were not there. They did not observe these things themselves. Their sources of information are the detainees.
Official sources of information are much more cautious about what they have to say - and, of course, the politicians responsible are accused of "lying".
Who is "right" and who is "wrong" is not something I can comment on. I wasn't there either. I don't like our refugee policy but I also know that what some others are demanding is unrealistic - and it is cruel of them to keep demanding it because it raises expectations which will never be met.
I am also angry that hearsay is being presented as fact on our news services. Those offering it are of course trying to undermine government policy. They want to stir public sentiment and get the situation changed. They believe they have human rights, dignity and compassion on their side. They are endeavouring to make an intensely complex situation appear simple, "Just let them in."
It is not that simple.
If we really want to bring more people who need protection in then we have to accept that we cannot bring in everyone. We have to accept that paying for a place on a boat does not give anyone the right to come here. We could bring in many more people if we did not have to pay to screen those who arrive this way.
Is that reasonable?

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