SYDNEY: Thousands of Australians are taking to the streets to protest the policy of off-shore detention for asylum seekers.
SYDNEY: Thousands of Australians are taking to the streets to protest the policy of off-shore detention for asylum seekers. Richard Milnes

Time to restore humanity to refugee policy

ENOUGH is enough, let's have some humanity before Australia's international reputation is completely trashed.

That was the plea today from Swinburne Institute for Social Research Professor Linda Briskman in a public lecture at the University of the Sunshine Coast.

Prof Briskman, who has a 15-year background in refugee research, advocacy and activism said it was time for both the Government and Opposition to begin treating asylum seekers as human beings rather than commodities.

She said the recent Papua New Guinea Supreme Court decision detention on Manus Island was illegal because it violated the constitution should have triggered a change of tack.

That it hadn't was a result of making offshore detention such a big part of Australia's refugee policy it was now really hard for either of the major parties to talk about dismantling it.

"Two young men have died on Manus Island, one murdered and the other from an entirely preventable cause and now we have two self-immolations on Nauru,'' Prof Briskman said.

"What will it take?

"The future is terrifying. We've had two acts of extreme self-harm on Naura.

"There is no other way of getting voices heard. People have lost hope.

"If they don't dismantle the gulags fairly soon I fear for people in them who have been treated appallingly."

TIME FOR CHANGE: Professor Linda Briskman wants to see asylum seekers treated as human beings rather than commodities.
TIME FOR CHANGE: Professor Linda Briskman wants to see asylum seekers treated as human beings rather than commodities. Patrick Woods

She said the isolation of Nauru and Manus Island and the government's tight control over information and stiff penalties of up to two years imprisonment for detention centre staff who spoke out about conditions meant there was no certainty about the extent of self-harm that has occurred.

"They must take the criticism of the PNG Supreme Court and act,'' Prof Briskman said.

"There is now another legal action under way by people detained on Manus. It needs a quick decision.

"Advocates, academics and health providers are anxiously awaiting how the Australian Government will respond and what will happen to the men held there against their will.''

Prof Briskman said Australia's policies meant children were growing up in detention and witnessing the acts of self harm.

She said our policy was creating a damaged generation.

It was time Prof Briskman said for Australia's asylum seeker policies to be rehumaised.

"It is time to be misty eyed,'' she said in reference to the Prime Minister's call for the public not to become that in reaction to the immolation of Omid Masoumali who has since died and Hodan Yasin who remains in a critical condition.

"We need to be more compassionate and emotional. There is nothing wrong with that.''

Prof Briskman said she had been outraged by attempts from Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to blame refugee advocates for precipitating the acts of self harm.

"That is a blatant distortion of the truth,'' she said. "Advocates offer what limited support they can."


THE RULINGS:

  • NAURU: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says the centre "does not provide safe and humane conditions of treatment in detention."
  • The former head of the detention health provider IHMS says that treatment of asylum seekers on Nauru is "akin to torture".


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