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Boris Johnson, Asylum Seekers and Oz

Boris Johnson, aka the Blond Wombat, thrilled Australia in July by (reportedly) delivering the funniest ever speech by a visiting politician (how we have risen in the world!). One wonders whether he will discuss immigration with the country British Brexiteers see as an example to follow. Perhaps he’ll ask for tips?

Even as he employed his comedy routine to drum up a trade deal, the unfortunate refugees on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, were being forcibly evicted into hostile territory. The immigration detention centre there was ruled illegal by PNG’s supreme court in April, and refugees are now being forced out as it is demolished around them. Outside they meet hostility, with several machete and knife attacks on them in the last weeks alone. There is nobody to defend them, and nowhere for them to go. In March the US said they ‘might’ take 1250 – but US officials assessing detainees left PNG abruptly last month without taking even one, when Washington said it had reached its annual refugee intake limit. Trump’s US is full.

Offshore detention of asylum seekers costs Australia an annual $700m, with a further $15m spent advertising in Afghanistan and Pakistan to deter those who might otherwise seek to have their human rights abused by Australia rather than at home. In June the government agreed a $70m out-of-court settlement to 1,905 men for the physical and psychological damage caused by their illegal detention on Manus. Critics claim the government settled to avoid court scrutiny of conditions there, but these are hardly secret. Whistle-blowers, despite serious attempts to legally gag them, have described children sent to adult detention, mental illness, sexual abuse, systemic sexual assault, repeated suicide attempts, suicidal children, violence and murder by guards, mass hunger strikes, self-immolations, and deaths of sick detainees due to deliberately delayed evacuation. Australian citizens have protested, marched and mounted vigils to bring those stranded to safety, but the government remains determined that nobody who seeks asylum by sea should ever set foot in Australia.

Boris didn’t make any jokes about Manus Island, instead he attempted to buy an Australian trade deal by promising to despatch two British aircraft carriers to the South China Sea to help uphold “the rule of law”.  Perhaps he wants out of Europe at any price, as he did not mention that it is the Australian government, not refugees, who are breaking the law, (it is completely legal to seek asylum). He omitted to mention that it is legally indefensible to imprison and abuse one group of innocent people purely as a deterrent to others, or that the UN has repeatedly condemned Australia’s actions. But at least he got a laugh by saying Bonzer in his best Etonian. The Sydney Morning Herald described him as ‘entertaining in an absurd kind of way’, but the rest of us were left unclear what he really thought of a country prepared to commit reputational suicide through a dogmatic and hysterical attitude to immigration. Or of Australia, for that matter.

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