Australia’s own immigration policy has been condemned by many as harsh and excessive, and it makes little distinction between refugees and migrants.
Invoking the need to fight against people traffickers and save the lives of those wanting to make perilous ocean crossings Australia has imposed a hardline policy, pushing back boats packed with people that manage to get anywhere near Australia’s shores.
In 2010 Prime Minister Julia Gillard tried to get an agreement with Australia’s regional neighbours to stop people arriving.
“The purpose would be to ensure that people smugglers have no product to sell. A boat ride to Australia would just be a ticket to the regional processing centre,” she said, claiming problem solved.
Migrants managing to complete the journey find themselves assigned to remote camps. Canberra sends them to the islands of Manus, in Papua New Guinea, and Nauru, and foots the bill.
But in April 2016 Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court ruled that the asylum seekers’ detention camp at Manus was unconstitutional, throwing Australia’s entire asylum policy into the air again.
“The arrangement was not in the interest of this country, was not for the benefit of this country, but it was for the benefit of a foreign country,” says Attorney Loani Henao.
Manus is home to asylum seekers and migrants mainly from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iraq or Iran. None know how long they will stay here. There are 1,600 people in all waiting to be granted asylum in Australia.
“We are illegal here now, we came from Australia, we belong to Australia, we are not belong to PNG, we are not belong to another country,” said one man.
“We are still a refugee, we are brought here by force not voluntarily, just we need help,” said another.
The camps are controversial. There have been suicides and abuse, and the fact remains that these people have been internationally recognised as refugees, but Australia refuses to take them in.
Until the 1960s Australia gave a preference to white immigrants and it was in that decade that the Australia’s aboriginal peoples were finally classed under the law as people and not part of the continent’s flora and fauna.