Foucault’s insight

Stephane J Baele, Live and let die: did Michel Foucault predict Europe’s refugee crisis?, The Conversation, February 25, 2016 In March 1976, philosopher Michel Foucault described the advent of a new logic of government, specific to Western liberal societies. He called it biopolitics. States were becoming obsessed with the health and wellbeing of their populations. And […]

via Live and let die: did Michel Foucault predict Europe’s refugee crisis? (2016) — Foucault News

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Neo-nazis, white-supremacists, islamophobic groups active in Australia via the Internet.

Here is a list of active Australian groups that are typically behind racist and supremacist posts, especially anti-muslim, on Facebook and other forms of communication. I am indebted to the original work of the Antifascist ANTIFA Australia Blog.

Q-Society of Australia
An Islamophobic group founded in 2010, it is associated with the U.S. Anti-Islamic activist Robert Spencer, and the discredited Christian extremist Jack Chick. Noted for propaganda and fear campaigns.

Australian Defence League
Another Islamophobic group founded in 2010 by Martin Brennan and fashioned on the English Defence League, associated with the Australian Protectionist Party and the Australian Patriots Defence Movement. Noted for propaganda and harassment.

Hellas Fan Club
Greek based support. Active at sports events, notably agitated for racial violence at the Australian Open 2008, 2009.

Croatian Social Club
Associated with fascist and Ustase supporters. Noted for harassment and hooliganism.

Nationalist Alternative
A youth oriented group formed out of the New Right, and associated with the Eureka Youth League.

Southern Cross Soldiers
Hooliganism is the main game here.

Rise Up Australia
A UKIP allied group and associated with ultra fundamentalist Christian groups. Nationalist and strongly racist.

Party for Freedom
Far right protectionists. Associated with Geert Wilders the Dutch Islamophobic politician.

Australian Liberty Alliance
Islamophobic group, also associated with Geert Wilders.

DEFCAN Defence Conservative Action Network
Right wing conservative group with extremist Christian views.

Australian Patriots Defence League
Racist and slanderous Islamophobic group.

Aussie Brotherhood
An Internet based Islamophobic Group.

United Australia Front
A small umbrella Internet group of Islamophobists.

Squadron 88
Sydney Neo-nazi group, predominantly anti Semitic.

A Perth based Islamophobic group.

Royal Australian Infidels
A small Islamophobic group.

National Republican Guard
A neo-nazi group modelled on British and German nationalist groups.

Southern Cross Hammerskins
A Neo-nazi skinhead group with foundational links to the U.S. Hammerskins group.

Citizens Electoral Council
Far right nationalists. Grew out of the Australian League of Rights in 1988. Had internal divisions in the 90s with the eruption of the LaRouche Movement.

Adelaide Institute
Intellectual revisionists who deny the Holocaust.

One Nation
Far right nationalist political group.

Australia First Party
Far right white nationalist party founded by Graeme Campbell in 1996. Noted for racial hate propaganda.

Patriotic Youth League
A small ultra nationalist group. On the verge of collapse and reinvented through the Eureka Youth League. Associated with the Volksfront and has a large Nazi element.

New Right/National Anarchists
An anti Semitic and racist youth oriented group founded by a German immigrant who was a former fascist activist.

Golden Dawn
Established in Greece in 1980. A fascist group noted for extremism and violence.

Stormfront Downunder
A white nationalist website, established by Don Black a leading US white supremacist.

Blood and Honour
A neo-nazi organisation.

A US based nazi skinhead group noted for violence.

Creativity Movement/World Church of the Creator
A US based white supremacist group with a strong Neo-nazi element.


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The characteristics of Fascism and how we might note its presence today

Does it matter if democracy shifts to the right? That depends on where you stand politically. But if the shift is extreme then I think it is of grave concern. And what concerns me even more is the tendency to ignore the shift.

If you don’t look closely you never really notice it or generally laugh it off.

The Fourteen Defining Characteristics of Fascism by the author Lawrence Britt, originally published in Free Inquiry Magazine Vol. 23, No. 2, Spring, 2003 are worth noting in regard to current politics in the west These fourteen points are similar but not the same as those published by the author Umberto Eco in 1995, which are also worth reading.

Of course, immediately some of you have retreated, because every time the issue of Fascism comes up it is considered passé or too sensational (you can’t say that!) or irrelevant (don’t be ridiculous that was then) and therefore such a comparison to today should not be used. But I believe we hide our heads in the sand when we ignore the trend, even when it is a niche or even isolated elements showing up. Fascism wasn’t closed off in 1945, indeed it continued in Latin America, Spain and Portugal, and periodically in Italy long after the war. It shows up in mass movements across Europe like the British Defence Force, the National Front, and recently UKIP, to use England as just one example. In defining fascism one should avoid Hollywood movies as signifiers of what Fascism actually is and what it looks like. For Fascism to exist today, it cannot be as it was, we have to look for the essence in what is happening now and to ask – what clothes is it wearing?

I am not looking to review Fascism historically, or to dwell on the symptoms of historical Fascism but rather to look at the structure of Fascism and what might be happening now.

Fascism is not by definition totalitarian, it can use that form of governing, but it can be present in democracy. So let’s not be fooled by trying to say its nothing like 1920, or 1933 that is merely a smokescreen.

Fascism developed in Italy. The term Fascism derives from ‘fasces’ the Roman symbol of collectivism and power (a tied bundle of rods with a protruding axe). The Italians also had a description for the concept of Fascism, Benito Mussolini stated that Fascism was ‘estato corporativo’ which means the corporate state (a view also promoted by Othmar Spann in Austria). Fascism is a pretence or veneer of “socialism” or collectivism controlled by capitalism which is in partnership with government (much the same as National Socialism in Germany).

Lawrence Britt studied the National Socialist regime of Germany (Hitler), the Kingdom of Italy (Mussolini), Nationalist or Francoist Spain (Franco), the Military Government Junta of Chile (Pinochet) and other Latin American regimes (Argentina, Paraguay, El Salvador, Brazil), and New Order in Indonesia (Suharto). What Britt found was fourteen defining characteristics as follows:

1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism: Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

2. Disdain for the recognition of human rights: because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of “need.” The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerationsof prisoners, etc.

3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause: the people are rallied into a unifying Patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

4. Supremacy of the Military: Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service is glamourised.

5. Rampant Sexism: the governments of fascist nations tend be almost exclusively male dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.

6. Controlled Mass Media: sometimes the media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.

7. Obsession with National Security: fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.

8. Religion and Government are Intertwined: governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government’s policies or actions.

9. Corporate Power is Protected: the industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

10. Labour Power is Suppressed: because the organising power of labour is the only real threat to a fascist government, labour unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.

11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts: fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.

12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment: under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.

13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption: fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

14. Fraudulent Elections: sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

In relation to Australia we can immediately rule out 1 (although even here there is the false mantra that refugees are illegal) 11, 13, and 14. And with 4, 6, and 8 there are identifiable elements but not the whole.

But the rest 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 10, and 12, half, are certainly present in the current federal government rhetoric and behaviour. And if you add elements of 4, 6 and 8, there is a strong shift to the right with a sense of an essence of fascism pervading.

In the current federal government there is:
a complete disdain for human rights (treatment of indigenous communities, gay people, people who need welfare support payments, disability pensioners, refugees);
they have manipulated the population by identifying an enemy and scapegoats (“terrorists”, Muslims, refugees);
the military is not supreme but it is being utilised for civilian purposes, therefore it has been elevated (customs and border control, the indigenous intervention); there is sexism (as demonstrated by Abbott, Pyne and Bernadi among others), and to add – Umberto Eco writes that fascism thrives on creating fear over difference;
there is a sense of control by cronyism with media, and there is censorship in regard to the refugees coming by boat;
there is an obsession (pathological) with national security;
religion is not intertwined but members of the government use their religious affiliation as a bargaining point and they use religious rhetoric to push agendas (Bernadi on the traditional family – whatever that was or is);
corporate power is definitely protected, even exclusively with environmental considerations, workers rights, and community needs overlooked;
the corollary is that labour power is suppressed by legislative means;
there is an unmitigated obsession with crime and punishment (this would be more true of State rather than Federal government but it is present in both).

Umberto Eco makes the point that the very first appeal of a fascist movement is the appeal against the intruders (find a scapegoat and you control a large portion of the voting public).

So is Australia Fascist, well no, not in the historical sense of 1920 or 1933, but there is an alarming trend towards fascist methodology (whether overtly or otherwise) and there is a trend towards corporate control, which is a move away from the rights of groups and individuals, and there is a disregard for our international treaty obligations. The government clearly uses manipulation of the population as to be judged by the government rhetoric that is parroted back on talk back radio by the public often couched in fear ( the refugees would be the clear issue here). There is a disdain for the environment too. And in the proposed education review there is a desire by the education minister to go back in time in terms of how we present contemporary history, labour history, indigenous history, international history (it was Herman Goerring who liked the phrase “when I hear the word culture I reach for my gun”).

The fourteen points demonstrate that what is at stake is freedom, language, history, culture, national identity, and human rights. Fascism is an attitude, albeit a political one, but one that pervades the way governments think and behave.

With seven of the fourteen points by Britt recognisable in current government action and rhetoric there should be more concern in the community about our identity as a nation and therefore our future as a nation. Umberto Eco puts it well when he says “Ur-Fascism is still around us, sometimes in plain clothes.”

Giorgio Agamben. ‘Homo Sacer Sovereign Power and Bare Life’ California, Stanford, 1998
Giorgio Agamben. ‘State of Exception’ Chicago, Chicago Press, 2005
Hanna Arendt ‘The Origins Of Totalitarianism’ Florida, Harcourt, 1968
Umberto Eco. ‘Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt’ New York Review of Books, 1995, pp. 12 – 15.
Roger Griffin. ‘The Nature of Fascism’ Oxon, Routledge, 1993



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Australian Federal Election

I wonder. So many times I have voted now and so many times I have been  bemused by voter response. Currently I am reflecting on my own month long polling of voters, being as my vocation puts me in touch with so many people I am able to canvass their views. The only concern I have, not withstanding that their vote is absolutely their vote, is that no one could actually tell me why they voted as they did other than that they did not like either Rudd as PM, or that they did not like Labor as a party due to all the leadership issues. Set piece issues that were raised such as the Carbon Tax, elicited no real understanding other than “it’s destroying business” or “stop the boats” did elicit how people still believe the myths  that have been perpetuated by several groups about asylum seekers.  My question is: did any Australian know what they were really voting for. I’m not talking about the shallow personality view of life where we simply pit one ego against another as a leadership contest (somewhat immature in reality).  I am talking about having some basic knowledge of the policies on offer. I felt that people were voting in a negative reactive way to personality rather than from an informed base, especially comparatively. My general unease about this comes from a further reflection that such voter behaviour simply perpetuates a constant cycle of rebound voting which only serves a two party focus.



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Seeking Asylum (Part 4) How Many Come?

The way the Australian media report on refugees or asylum seekers is either by overstatement or the opposite, silence. But then you would only have to look at who owns the media to work that out, as Australian media is (with the exception of the Australian Broadcasting Commission and SBS) privately owned with bias towards the ownership (which is to be expected). However, you would think that journalism might actually be journalism and question government and anti-refugee rhetoric. There is precious little reporting in the mainstream commercial media that challenges the lies and myths surrounding those seeking asylum.

According to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (2012 data) “23,000 persons per day leave their homes and seek protection elsewhere – more than the total number of asylum seekers arriving in Australia in a year.”

According to the UNHCR: 

As at December 2012 there were 45.2 million people displaced. of which there were 15.4 million refugees, of which there were 10.5 million (with 4.9 million Palestinians under UNRWA mandate) refugees in 2012. Of that number 1,638,500 were being hosted by Pakistan, 868,200 hosted by Iran, 589,700 hosted by Germany, 564,900 hosted by Kenya, 476,500 hosted by Syria, and 376,400 by Ethiopia.

Developing countries  hosted over 80% of the world’s refugees (compared to 70% ten years ago).

Pakistan hosted the highest number of refugees compared to its national economy – 552 refugees per 1 USD of GDP. Ethiopia was second (303), Kenya third (301), South Sudan fourth (209). Germany was the first developed country on the ranking placing it 31st, with 15 refugees per 1 USD of GDP. Australia hosted 0.7 refugees per USD of GDP ranking it 77th in the world!

Australia’s World Ranking by:

  • Total number of asylum claims 20th.
  • Compared to our population size (per capita) 29th
  • By hosting 77th
  • Compared to our national wealth GDP (PPP) per capita 52nd

Australia’s Ranking of 44 Industrialised Countries (2012):

  • by total number of asylum claims 12th
  • compared to our population size (per capita) 16th
  • compared to our national wealth GDP (PPP) per capita 14th

Note: PPP is purchasing power parity.

By asylum applications received in 2012:

  • Asylum applications received in 2012 out of a global total of 2 million applications globally was 29,610. Australia’s share – 1.47%; Australia’s ranking 20th.
  • Asylum seekers recognised as refugees in 2012 globally 1.3 million. Australia’s recognition 8,367. Australia’s share – 0.61%; Australia’s ranking 28th.

For further statistical resource see:

Although New Zealand (pop. 4.3 million; Australia 22.2 million) only takes small numbers of asylum seekers under the quota system (750 per annum – plus/minus 10%) and although in 2011/2012 there were 364 extra claims from others who arrived in New Zealand by various means, only 115 were validated, it is the way they handle it. For a small nation they have a very healthy attitude to reception, processing, and the integration of asylum seekers. It certainly puts Australia’s attitude and policy(s) in a poor light despite population difference.

So, whether we look at our ranking within the industrialised nations, or globally across all nations, or wether we look at per capita (thus in relative context) Australia is woeful at taking in refugees.

A correlative is migration (another sticking point in Australian politics). A recent article at “Can I get the bill, please? Are immigrants a burden or net contributors to the public purse?” by Jean christophe Dumont and Thomas Liebig asks a number of questions about migration. One significant question is “the current doxa about the fiscal impact of migration is indeed that immigrants contribute less in taxes than they receive in benefits …” It is an expectation an unfounded attitude but not a reality. the converse is also true as the article explores the question as to whether immigrants are a fiscal panacea, and they are not. However, the authors contend that immigrants are neither a burden nor a panacea, but rather that “immigrants have a positive net direct fiscal position in most countries …” in other words, they are not a drain on any society.

The official immigration impact on OECD countries, including Australia is negligible when considered over a period of fifty years of migration study, to the point that the fiscal impact is “close to zero, rarely exceeding 0.5% of GDP …”

The subject of asylum seekers also raises the doxa of negative fiscal impact but that is also not true. In Australia refugees cannot access Centrelink, do not get public housing, rarely are able to get transitional housing, a limited number are able to get the Red Cross Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme (which is 89% of the New Start Scheme) for a short period of time. Refugees face higher rates of homelessness than other groups in Australia. Until a visa is granted they cannot access Medicare. They receive less than what it costs to pay rent and buy food let alone pay up-front for medical and dental costs.

There are many other myths surrounding asylum seekers. We need detention centres: well between 1948 – 1992 we successfully resettled 452,000 refugees, all processed directly within the community. There were no detention centres then and we more than coped. We must protect our borders: we do and have always done so, refugees by boat have always been checked and scrutinised no one is at risk in Australia from a boat arrival in spite of the government or media rhetoric (manufactured moral panic?)!

So, we are not being overrun, or flooded by refugees. We are not at risk. We take the least of many of our fellow industrialised nations. We are way behind developing nations in accepting refugees. They are neither a major drain on our economy nor a panacea (using the immigration ideal which is not radically different) as they have limited access to welfare or assistance.

So I’m wondering what the problem is?

I personally believe that it has a lot to do with the development of the nation and our beliefs about the ‘other’ the foreigner. With the reaction to the Chinese on the Victorian goldfields (1851), the fear of a Russian invasion (1885), the framing of the constitution to deliberately exclude non-whites and restrict non-english speaking peoples (Section 51, sub-sections 26 – 30), the treatment of German people during World War One, the riot in Kalgoorlie in 1934 against Italian migrants, the Imperial attitude to race and culture, all of these and more are contributing factors to an anxiety about the foreigner in Australia today.

I believe that the current fear is, as a direct result of ignorance, a fear of Islamic people, beliefs and culture (White Australia Policy again). Which is not dissimilar to how people reacted to the Chinese and the Germans and Italians in the past.

In addition, it has become popular in political circles to utilise this anxiety for political gain, so that people have become politicised and therefore dehumanised. There is a worrying connection with the insights of Georgio Agamben in his work ‘Homo Sacer’  and earlier, Hannah Arendt’s ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism’ which demonstrate how easy it is to create scapegoats, and to dehumanise and demonise a race or culture for political gain.

We are not overrun, we are not inundated, we would not be financially burdened in the extreme (especially if we used an integration process rather than a detention process – which is costing us dearly), so it must be (irrational) fear.

Only this past week, the U.N. has reprimanded Australia for reneging on its U.N. treaty obligations in regard to 46 refugees. We have descended from a nation of foreigners (excepting the indigenous Aboriginal peoples),risen to a nation that welcomed some foreigners after both World Wars, and then plummeted to a nation that resists foreigners. We have lost sight of our responsibilities as a nation on the world scene. We have lost our compassion in regard to asylum seekers. We are surely hypocritical to be sitting on the U.N. Security Council, sitting making decisions that affect other nations, sitting in judgement of other nations as we seek to reinforce U.N. treaties and conventions!

It is entirely possible to change this. Education about asylum seekers at all levels from school to parliament would help to restore a positive understanding of their plight and our responsibility to them, and the possibility of  their positive participation in our nation. To deconstruct the myths and distortions would help to re-humanise those who come to our shores by whatever means.

We need a new way forward on asylum seekers and refugees, one that will see them as people with inalienable rights, but also to see them as future Australians.

See:  (chapter on the ‘White Australia Policy)  (reference to fear Russian  ship visiting Sydney)

“In Fear of Security: Australia’s Invasion Anxiety” Dr. Anthony Burke 2001

“U.N. castigates Australia for treatment of 46 refugees” Reuters, Geneva 22.8.2013  (refugee fact sheet)

Hannah Arendt ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism’ Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich  1973

Georgio Agamben ‘Homo Sacer’ Stanford University Press, 1998

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Seeking Asylum: Why Do They Come? (Part Three)

There are many reasons why people seek asylum, but following the previous post on the U.N. Convention (see below), the reasons enshrined in the Convention and International Law (and following Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) are: political and non-political persecution (persecution over sexuality, race), religious persecution, economic persecution, war (conflict), torture, barbarous acts, oppression, tyranny.

In the majority of cases people do not take risks to leave their family, community, nation and take further risks leaving savings and worldly goods to others, take the risk of unsafe travel, risk discovery and return, in order to just enjoy a western lifestyle. The reasons for someone to actually take these risks are substantive.

Self reflection here might be helpful. When communities are faced with bushfire or earthquake there is an understanding that one might need to leave home and belongings to escape danger. It is not easy to do that even when faced with danger, and people have recounted how they have left late, or have even stayed and risked death, rather than leave and face something new, no matter how temporary. For many, leaving what they know and control and make sense of is not an easy or simple matter. There are whole sets of relationships, opportunities, cultural connections, identity, and world view, that are so much a part of each person they cannot easily be junked at the drop of a hat or on a whim.

The Story of ‘Gus’ is familiar to a certain generation. His family fled Austria after Hitler’s Anschluss. The family didn’t rush into it but eventually they fled in 1939, to arrive in Australia and safety. Gus’ father was Jewish, but this meant that even his mother wasn’t safe even though she was not Jewish. (see this and other stories at There is the story of Maimun who fled the civil war and utter chaos of Somalia for a UNHCR camp in Kenya and in 1999 came to Australia. There is the story of Pierre who escaped certain death in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire) and who came to Australia in 2006. The story of Ayuel from Sudan whose family fled persecution and certain death, moving around camps in Ethiopia, Uganda (where the Sundanese militias pursued the refugees) and Kenya before being brought to Australia and safety. These are just some of a small collection of stories from refugees who have settled in Australia through the UNHCR program.

My own interaction has included working with “C” from Sudan (and “J” “J2” and “J3”, “D”). “C” was sent out of his village in south Sudan by his mother as the rebels entered shooting. “C” escaped the hail of bullets and wandered for days in the bush until entering Kenya. The story of “A” and his family is amazing, he escaped academic, religious, and political persecution and death in Iraq, he gave up a career, security, parents, and money to get here. 

Najeeba from Afghanistan reflects that for her to leave her friends and family and culture was the hardest thing she has ever done, but escaping the Taliban and oppression, abuse even death was a must that finally pushed her parents to come by boat to Australia.

Three years ago Ashane escaped by boat from Sri Lanka as a young man who the Tamils or even the government were attempting to press-gang into fighting in the guerrilla war (and please note that although the war is over, the government has continued its persecution of Tamils). (see

From Europe in the 1930s to Afghanistan and Syria currently, there are substantive threats to the security and safety of ordinary people. The threat of death, persecution, oppression, torture, religious persecution, and the loss of human rights in general is real.

Why do they come? Because in many cases the people would die if they did not try. They are willing to die trying rather than remain and be killed by others. I would do that too! They clearly struggle to come to the conclusion that they should leave, but leave they must if they wish to live or even have rights.

My contention is that we have fallen into the trap of tribalism whereby we harp on about border protection and population control without really looking to see that we are a global people. We are all human and we all have inalienable rights. we need to educate ourselves more on why they come and what it is like to live in the shoes of refugees and reflect on how we might react and respond through hearing those stories.

For further reflection I would recommend the book and film “Kite Runner” which tells the story of how Russian intervention brought the collapse of the Royal family and enabled the rise of the Taliban (with U.S. help) and how the Hazara are persecuted by other groups in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. I would also recommend Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut “In The Land of Blood and Honey” a romantic (sic) story set in the midst of the Serb-Bosnian war and tells of ethnic cleansing, murder, rape, concentration camps and love. “The Killing Fields” and “Schindler’s List” are also valuable in alerting us to ‘why.’

And very confronting is the 2011 short film “Unwatchable” which was commissioned by charities to shock western audiences into action over the human price of gold for mobile phones and the destruction of lives to obtain that gold. The story uses a fictional English family who are raped and murdered to tell the true story of a Congolese family who went through this (interestingly the Guardian journalist Jane Martinson whinged about its brutality saying it made her faint and others sick – but that was the point, this was real for someone who couldn’t just wander down to the video store and choose a Disney film or go to Maccas for lunch!) The official site is now closed but the video is available on or engine search for “Unwatchable” within Youtube. It is six minutes long but a hard six minutes!

Why do people come? Because they live in fear and face death for many different reasons.

The U.N. Convention is a commitment by all countries to honour the rights of those who come to us as asylum seekers. But I have also already suggested that we shouldn’t hide behind the convention, we should respond humanely without recourse to laws. 



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Seeking Asylum: The U.N. Convention (or part two)

On December the 10th,1948 the United Nations publicly proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the General Assembly, it was two years in the making. The draftees were one from Canada, China, Lebanon and France, and Eleanor Roosevelt was its champion for adoption by the U.N.

Article 14 was the Article stating the world’s agreement that a refugee fleeing persecution had the right to seek, and the right to be provided with refuge.

The Convention in general, and article 14 in particular, came out of the experience of World War Two. And it came at a time when the world was changing (again) and facing new anxiety over communism and nuclear war. It also came amidst demanding post-war recovery programs for many nations with many devastated structurally and economically, and some in long term debt. So it was no trivial matter to expect that Article 14 was going to be a high demand on any nation given that people movement continued, and then grew post war with such economic devastation to contend with.

In 1951 the U.N. adopted the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, thereby expanding Article 14 into a full convention in its own right. it was put into force on April 22nd, 1954. but because the framing of the convention had been done with the recent World War in mind, it was limited in scope and geographical reference. So in 1967 the U.N. passed an amendment – the 1967 Protocol (which is the only amendment to date) which gave unrestricted universal application to the 1951 Convention.

The Convention and Protocol consolidated existing positive practices with regard to refugees such as the idea of a ‘Nansen Passport’ (Fridtjof Nansen the first Commissioner for Refugees – League of Nations 1922) which was to enable freedom of movement and gave identity to refugees. 

The Convention is status and rights based, and parallel to is has been the development of the International Human Rights Law.

There are some key points that should be noted about the Convention as I see it: 

  • The Convention was framed at a time when there was great upheaval and change.
  • The Convention was framed with the knowledge that the world was economically struggling.
  • The Convention was framed with cooperation from nations with diverse needs and views and often mutual antagonisms, but yet who rose above it all to make the Convention possible.
  • Arguably, the Convention came at a time, that because it was a different era, might be considered to be ‘primitive’ in  historical terms and development. Thus, if we live in a more enlightened and developed time, surely the Convention should not only stand inviolable, but if necessary, should be strengthened in favour of refugees rather than weakened by shallow political arguments! My contention is that if we consider ourselves to have progressed then surely we will have moved on from tribalism and selfish needs to global needs and reconciliation?
  • Australia was a proud and major contributor to the framing of the Convention and an avid supporter of its proclamation and adoption.
  • Australia was a positive sponsor of the 1967 Protocol.

The Convention also provides for protection of refugees by:

  • Requiring signatory states to provide asylum subject to the Convention.
  • Requiring signatory states to protect and provide basic life needs for refugees.
  • Requiring that signatory states do not expel or send refugees back to state they came from, this is one of the main principles of International Law – non-refoulment – which safeguards refugees from being returned to places of risk and danger. 

It seems to me that Australia has entered a time of psychological and cultural redoubt. 

Since the Howard Coalition Government came to power in 1996 there has been a desire to limit and prevent asylum seekers from directly entering Australia by the Coalition and by Labor. This was thought to be achievable by processing asylum seekers off-shore at Christmas Island, Manus Island and Nauru. This gets around the Convention because we are only obligated to accept asylum seekers who either (a) apply from within their own country to be given asylum in Australia or, (b) can enter by whatever means of their own or (c) are part of a U.N. negotiated quota. So that off-shore processing prevents direct entry, there are few places asylum seekers can apply to in any country, and therefore the number of asylum seekers is successfully diminished. However, while this may be ‘good politics’ (sic) it is a diminishment of our international role through the U.N.,  and it is an abrogation of our responsibility to the Convention in the spirit of the law. 

Since 1996 it has been politically expedient for politicians to play with the issue of Asylum as if it were an inanimate thing, rather than the lives of real people. A number of red-herrrings have been used to support the prevention of asylum seekers, economic (there have been no real (reviewed) costings of direct acceptance of asylum seekers in the public sphere), unemployment (a fickle topic to promote as definitive in any argument), population explosion (we are almost static). I can’t help but think that beyond these arguments, which are poorly argued in Parliament and in public, we are actually dealing with the issue of race, religion and culture. Which is ironic, because those are some of the very reasons the asylum seekers come in the first place. This is clearly in contravention of the Convention and International Law, to which we are proud signatories, this, I believe, is a classic example of hypocrisy and political cowardice.

I can only conclude through my own reading and my direct experience with refugee families that we are as a nation playing to the idea of Australia as the White redoubt. Epic moral failure and an inability to explore positive humanitarian options onshore (as most other nations do).

Basically, if we cannot abide by the Convention, then perhaps we should withdraw from it, rather than pretend, at least then we could be seen for what we really are and believe – at least politically – a race conscious, religiously intolerant, culturally narrow nation(?).

And yet in spite of that, I still hold to a hope that we might yet see the light and think more globally and live a less insular life and open up fortress Australia.


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