Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Human Trafficking Repackaged?

Disclaimer:  This post is a personal reflection expressing my own opinions, which may not reflect the official position of The Salvation Army. You can find official statements on asylum seekers by The Salvation Army at www.salvationarmy.org.au or www.justsalvos.com

In the wake of the recent Australian government policy shift on asylum seekers, many Australians are left reeling over the perceived inhumanity of our Prime Minister's tough stance on people smugglers and "boat people".

While detention centres and off-shore processing has been the strategy by both sides of politics in one form or another, this recent move has seen the Australian government broker a deal with the Papua New Guinea government to transfer unwanted "boat people" to our neighbours with no chance of settlement in Australia, regardless of the legitimacy of their claim for asylum.  

In other words, we have come up with an economic arrangement to offload unwanted human cargo with a no return policy attached!  

As offensive as that sounds, it characterizes how Australia's political behaviour appears not that far removed from the behaviour of the people smugglers they are attempting to deter.  People smugglers relocate vulnerable human beings for economic advantage, whereas this new policy plans to relocate vulnerable human beings for political advantage.  While the two operate on different sides of the law, human beings are still being traded and transported with little regard for their basic human rights into another form of captivity and increased vulnerability.  Whichever way I look at this new asylum seeker policy, I am left wondering if it inadvertently falls into a politically justified form of human trafficking?

Beneath the distorted justifications for this policy, you can't escape the fact that an economic deal has been brokered with another country to trade human beings, who are not breaking the law, into an oppressive situation against their will.

This point of view may well be overstated and even a little controversial, but I hope it compels us as a society to critically assess and challenge any policy that increases the vulnerability of people who are exercising their internationally recognised right to seek asylum, which is not conditional upon their mode of transport.  We need to strip away politics and set aside prejudices so that we can reengage in a meaningful discussion that puts human rights back on the agenda to find a more appropriate and unified response to this human catastrophe!

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