From the January-February 2018 issue of News & Letters
Since 2012 Australia has held around 2,000 refugees and asylum seekers in brutal detention camps on the island nation of Nauru and, until recently, on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. Poor and working-class refugees—apprehended traveling by boat—are targets of these racist policies.
Afghans, Iranians, Iraqis, Uighurs, Rohingya and Kurds, thrown together, have been subjected to stress, violence, and rape. The purpose is to isolate people from legal aid, instill despair, and force refugees to return to their countries of origin.
In the face of criticism, Manus Island camp was closed in November—water and electricity were turned off, and refugees left to fend for themselves. Senator Nick McKim, who witnessed this, called Immigration Minister Peter Dutton “a racist, a liar, a fascist, and a human rights abuser.”
Once wealthy from phosphate stripmining, barren Nauru is now dependent on its prison camp, as well as the laundering of Russian mafia money.
THE STRUGGLE OVER HISTORY
The first laws passed in independent Australia, in 1901, were racist immigration laws designed to guarantee a “White Australia.” This began to break down in the 1960s, when Indigenous Australians were first considered citizens, and 1970s, when Vietnamese boat people were allowed in. For a time Australia boasted of its multicultural society.
But as capitalism’s crisis deepened, racism came back into mainstream discourse—including demonization of Muslims and violence against non-white immigrants.