World in View: Australia’s castaways

February 2, 2018

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 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.

—Gerry Emmett


One thought on “World in View: Australia’s castaways

  1. Australia’s main political parties – both the Federal Government Coalition of Liberal and National Parties, and the opposition Labor Party — support the continuation of Australia’s inhumane policy regarding asylum-seekers arriving by boat. The main reason the major parties are reluctant to soften their asylum-seeker policies is the fear of a racist backlash from voters at election time.

    The only party in Federal Parliament that maintains a consistent opposition to these policies, including to the detention of asylum-seekers in camps on Nauru and Manus, are the Greens. Unfortunately, the Greens hold only a few seats in Parliament, although their voice is important in exposing these barbaric practices for what they are. Senator Nick McKim, mentioned in your report, is a Greens Party senator. He has good grounds for his comments, as he visited the detention camp on Manus Island last year, and witnessed the inhumane treatment and dire conditions of the detainees there.

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