When I was a secondary student at a Christian (!) Brothers’ College in the 1960s, I witnessed much verbal brutality and bullying from some of the brothers. There was one student in particular in our class who was the target of constant, almost daily hounding and belittling from one brother. I could never understand why he was singled out above all but then was grateful that attention on one student meant less attention on the rest of us.
More recently I discovered to my shock that this same ‘boy’ was now in prison, serving a long sentence for child sexual abuse. Of course it doesn’t necessarily follow that the brother’s bullying was responsible for the later crimes of this man. Situations are always more complex but I think I can safely say that systematic cruelty and bullying can often create abusers.
I now believe that the Australian government’s asylum seeker policy, particularly with the recent Manus island development, has crossed a line and morphed into a systematised structure of brutality. Last night’s (23/7) SBS Dateline program, (http://www.sbs.com.au/dateline/story/about/id/601700/n/Manus-Whistleblower) detailing abuse of asylum seekers, was a very, very disturbing development in this sad saga. It appears now that a non-compassionate, politicised policy on asylum seekers from both sides of politics has naturally developed into a structured system of abuse. Whistleblower Rod St George, a man with obvious humanity, has revealed that violence and sexual abuse takes place within the Manus system and officials turn a blind eye.
Australia appears to have somehow been able to manufacture a truly abusive system of dealing with asylum seekers, resulting in deaths at sea, self-harm and just four days ago the destruction by fire of the Nauru detention centre, not to mention fires and riots on Christmas Island earlier. There has been a litany of disasters attached to our policy of dealing with people fleeing violence. How did we come to this? Of course the government will point the finger at individuals responsible for the Nauru fire but haven’t we created the system that is responsible for such desperate actions of violence?
For years psychologists such as Louise Newman have been warning us of the deteriorating mental health of asylum seekers condemned to a cruel system. Why should we be surprised that people fleeing torture and abuse, and then delivered to a system of further abuse should take desperate measures? What do they have to lose?
Prime Minister ‘Lazarus’ Rudd has made a truly cynical, politicised choice in condemning asylum seekers to Manus on the pretext of saving lives at sea. Desperate people would probably prefer to take a chance at sea than to suffer slow and painful psychological and spiritual death on Manus.
It’s ironic that the government’s travelsmart program (http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/zw-cgi/view/Advice/Papua_New_Guinea) advises visitors to ‘exercise a high degree of caution’. The International Women’s Development Agency has recently reported that 67% of women in Papua New Guinea have experienced family and sexual violence with the number increasing to 100% in the Highlands. Where does this leave female asylum seekers?
As recently as May this year men were executed in Iran where homosexuality is punishable by imprisonment and execution. In PNG homosexuals are liable to prison sentences of fourteen years if found out. Where does this leave homosexuals, fleeing Iran who wind up in PNG? Furthermore in May this year the PNG parliament introduced the death penalty, with one suggested method being suffocation. Sending desperate people to such conditions is truly cruel and unconscionable.
In recent days thousands of words have been written about Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers so what can my words possibly achieve? Many of us feel totally powerless as these horrors are daily revealed and our words just the whinging whine of a few ‘bleeding hearts’. These days will surely go down in our history as truly days of shame.