The Last Straw

The Last Straw

The recent passing of the Border Force Act seems to be the last straw when it comes to the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees and those who advocate and care for them. I use the phrase “seems to be” because, in the words of another concerned Australian: “Just when you didn’t think it could get any worse, it does!” It is hard to comprehend that the situation has deteriorated to the extent that it has.border force

The policies affecting refugees and asylum seekers, and those who work with them, have deteriorated drastically in this current term of Australian government. As a health professional and human being, I am in utter dismay about the passing of the Border Force Act and the implications of this legislation for those who care for the health and wellbeing of asylum seekers and refugees. Medical practitioners, who uphold the Hippocratic Oath, have both ethical and professional obligations to follow particular standards related to the health and wellbeing of patients. In addition to this, standards have been set in law across our country whereby harmful and damaging behaviours – sexual abuse and neglect – directed towards children must be reported. Further, some of the states and territories in Australia have introduced mandatory reporting laws for domestic violence involving any person.

How is it that any particular context within either the federal or state jurisdictions is exempt from the respective laws? Exemptions not only permit double standards to exist, they also weaken and make a mockery of the laws that are already in place. Rushing through new laws that are in opposition to existing laws to which Australian people have committed and endorse, is an action of autocratic proportion.

The Little Children are Sacred report shocked all Australians and people from other countries, with the revelations that were made from the investigation of child abuse and neglect in Aboriginal communities. From this report, greater responsibility was taken by the country to protect all its children, regardless of cultural or any other defining trait.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse has further outraged the community with the extent of child abuse that has been found to have occurred under the veil of secrecy within various institutions. The highest level of investigation has been implemented in efforts to uncover the facts. How is it that in the context of particular types of institutions, that is, detention centres, this same law and level of investigation is not applicable, but instead, the veil of secrecy has now become encoded in law? This is an absolute contradiction. As with both the aforementioned investigations, which have become Australia’s shame, the current treatment of people in detention centres will also be found to be one of Australia’s most deplorable and shameful periods in time. Why it is that the law of the land requiring mandatory reporting for child abuse and neglect, does not apply to children in detention centres? These children are in the care of the Australian government and Australian workers.

There is still concern for the health of baby Asha who was born in Australia and removed to Nauru, when her parents were forcibly taken from a Melbourne detention centre in the middle of the night. This baby’s health has deteriorated since being deported due to feeding problems. How is it that this child, who is in the care of the Australian government, can be left in a place that would otherwise by termed as perilous for a baby, and for which the situation would be deemed as one of neglect? In another context, government workers would be rescuing this child in an effort to promote her health and strengthen her prognosis for normal growth and development. Why is Asha not being cared for in this same manner and returned to Australia where she can be given the health care that is vital for her to thrive? Vulnerable people, and babies especially, should not be deported to conditions that are hazardous.last straw

The actions and policies of the current Australian government relating to refugees and asylum seekers are indeed shameful. Yes, the issues are incredibly complex and require considered deliberation and decision making, but I am appalled that the government of this country, that attests to Christian values, operates in a totally un-Christian way.

We are fast becoming a most despised country in the world, which is in stark contrast to our previous positioning as one of the friendliest and most welcoming countries. The United Nations has found that “aspects of Australia’s asylum seeker policies violate the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment” and our government, supported by the Opposition, remains defiant of both the UN and the human perspectives.

If Australia continues on a path of exclusion and disrespectful behaviour to people from other countries, we can most certainly expect to have many more enemies: to think otherwise is naïve. Putting up more barricades, creating a climate of fear, and holding forth to a position of righteousness, will only mean that others work harder and in more intense ways to break through the barricades: to think otherwise is ignorant. This is not the way to move the country forward in positioning itself in the world in more harmonious ways.

Introducing laws that enforce secrecy around the harm of children and vulnerable adults in Australian care, is not only contradictory to existing Australian law, but is utterly shameful, unethical and immoral.

The Border Force Act effectively condones child abuse by silencing workers in detention centres. We have learnt from previous investigations and reports, that child sexual abuse is perpetuated through secrecy. There is urgent need for a revision of policies relating to refugees and asylum seekers, for consistency of Australian law, and for justice and mercy to be prioritized, over fear and secrecy.

It is reassuring that there has been such widespread expression of public opposition to the Border Force Act – so many Australians are objecting to these inhumane policies, and have stated they will not be silenced when they witness harm to children and adults.11703558_518252695000084_3465026341761154593_o

In the words of Mahatma Ghandi: “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” In respect to refugees and asylum seekers, and in particular their children, it is clearly evident that our nation is a long way from being great.

Hopefully there will come a time soon when Australia will return to its foundation principles of a fair-go for all, and a return to its previous status of the friendly country, when Australians will welcome others respectfully and with a generous heart.

prayerforpeaceFeatured image in this blog obtained Profectus Psychiatry – http://profectuspsych.com.au

Margaret welcomes your comments. You may have your own healing story and some insights to share, or some questions or responses to this article.

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