Wednesday, April 18, 2007

"Bizarre Refugee Swap"

Australia's Latest Export To United States : Sri Lankan Asylum Seekers

This is surely one of the most bizarre government policy announcements in years. Few on the Left or the Right can seem to comprehend WTF it's all about.

Here's the short version : The Howard government and the Bush administration have reached a deal which will see dozens of Sri Lankan asylum seekers, currently held on Nauru Island off the coast of Australia, packed off to the United States, where, presumably, they will eventually be given green cards and allowed to settle.

In exchange, the Bush administration gets to free up some space in Guantanamo Bay by sending hundreds of asylum seekers from Haiti and Cuba to Australian shores.

Here's Australian immigration minister, Kevin Andrews :

"This arrangement will ensure the integrity of the international system of protection and the integrity of Australia's borders is maintained, by providing protection to those who need it. It also sends a strong deterrence message to people smugglers."

It does? How? By allowing people smugglers to raise their prices because they can now say, "Hey, we'll get you near Australia, then you get to go to America!"

Have the senior ranks of the Howard government been sitting around licking cane toads?

Some sanity :

...refugee advocates have called the Mutual Assistance Arrangement, signed in Washington last week, a "bizarre refugee swap" and questioned the motives of the US Government.

And perspective :
The agreement will hose down fears in the lead-up to the election that asylum seekers could be cast into indefinite exile on Nauru. These include the 82 Sri Lankans who were intercepted by the Australian navy near Christmas Island earlier this year.

"It points to the human rights credit of Australia that the only country that will assist us is a country with whom we are in the coalition of the willing," said Pamela Curr of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. "It's shocking. My other concern is what does America expect of Australia in return for taking our refugees? The Yanks don't do anything for nothing."

The whole thing is like a a pitch for some new demented reality TV show : "We follow desperate asylum seekers from South East Asia all the way to Australia. But here's the twist. They won't get into Australia. Instead, they will be stuffed onto a plane for a mystery flight, all the way to the USA! Wait till you see the looks on their faces!"

Naturally, there's a political angle for John Howard, who's never been afraid to use the poorest and most desperate of people as bargaining chips and publicity footballs. Problem is, nobody seems to be quite sure just what that political angle will be.

The most likely angle is Howard needs to get get the Sri Lankans out of the way, and put the hose on a few Nauru Island spot fires of dissent.

Nauru Island has told Australia the Sri Lankan asylum seekers currently housed there have to be gone within six months. Howard doesn't want the status of the Sri Lankans left unresolved as he moves into election mode, and he sure as hell won't let them come to our precious shores.

Nauru is playing tough with Howard now because they no doubt fear a repeat of the situation where legitimate asylum seekers, from countries like Iraq, were detained, at a cost of tens of millions of dollars to the Australian taxpayer, for as long as six years.

Not surprisingly, Nauru is developing something of a complex about being treated like a human dumping ground by the Australian government.

Wait until Howard asks them if they'd mind storing some of the nuclear waste winging back our way from international uranium sales.

Refugees Are 'Not Washing Machines'