Australia has no idea how to handle a few thousand refugees

We are led by cowards and fools, governments and oppositions afraid to treat asylum seekers as human beings. Instead of processing the relatively few people quickly and carefully, they are housed away in privatised prisons run by a British multinational, Serco, with no accountability.

This feature in today’s Melbourne Age shows the disgrace:

Today over 6000 asylum seekers are held in Australia’s overcrowded detention facilities – close to a postwar record. They wait in places such as Curtin, Darwin and Christmas Island to have their claims for refugee status assessed, reassessed and, where necessary, appealed through the courts.

It is a process that can take several years because of the huge backlog of cases created by the Rudd Government’s bungled six-month moratorium on refugee processing.

”We could easily end up with 10,000 in detention because people-smuggling pipelines through Indonesia are so well established they cannot be closed,” a well-placed federal government source told The Age.

”Canberra is the second-biggest jailer in the land and the cost is blowing budgets out of the water. The present position is unsustainable.”

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, estimates that it costs up to $150,000 a year to house a detainee (or close to $1 billion annually for all detainees) and that figure does not include numerous ancillary costs. ”We are rapidly approaching a situation where we not only have nowhere to put people, but it is prohibitively expensive to go on locking people up while their claims for asylum are tested.”

So who are those in detention? Some employees of Serco, the private company running the detention centres, provided the following sketchy profile. Among the Afghans, they say, are significant numbers of young men of Hazara ethnicity from remote rural areas where they often worked on the land tending herds and crops. Some may be related to Afghans already living in Australia and go to great lengths to avoid being identified.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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