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In Our Back Yard – Manus Island and Nauru

Written By: - Date published: 12:04 pm, September 9th, 2015 - 12 comments
Categories: activism, afghanistan, aid, australian politics, human rights, International, iraq, Syria, war - Tags: , , ,

Where has our outcry been these past years as desperate refugees rode airplane undercarriages to their deaths, drowned in the Pacific or the Mediterranean and otherwise wasted away in the ‘middle of no-where’, in transit camps or detention centres?

We can’t say that we didn’t know. We did know. But we chose to shuffle the knowledge away.

Even now, with sizable numbers of people here demanding something be done about Syrian refugees, we are stepping over the misery and desperation of people interned in Manus Island and Nauru. Some of those people came from the same places and countries as those trying to escape to Europe (if that matters), and yet we appear to be shuffling knowledge away again.

Why will our apparent and new found empathy extend half way around the world to connect with people who we imagine to ‘know’ via extrapolations from a photograph, yet continue to stay firmly ‘switched off’ to the compatriots of those same people, who have been thrown into Australia’s ‘black sites’ in the Pacific?

Are we ‘John Key’ comfortable that guards at Nauru, a privately run detention centre operated by Wilson Security* , a subsidiary of Transfield Services, set up by the Australian government, apparently sexually predate the children and women there? Are we similarly relaxed at evidence of the men being beaten and tortured?

A revealing 10 minute ABC report on the situation in Nauru is here

I know that we as New Zealand society can’t be expected to solve the worlds’ refugee problems, but the people on Manus Island and Nauru are in our back yard. As such they are, or ought to be to us what the Afghani, Syrian and Eritrean refugees are to the peoples of Europe at the moment.

Our government is fairly close to the action. McCully just cut NZ$1.2 million of aid to Nauru’s justice sector the other day just when it’s meant to be taking the Nauru allegations on board. Coincidence?. Because our government has far more political sway over Australia than it has over (say) Hungary or Romania, it’s incumbent upon us, if we care, if we are serious, to join with Australians and pressure our government to lean on the Australian government to end its heinous ‘Pacific Solution’, and get those refugees currently detained on Nauru and Manus out and on to safety.

If European, specifically UK newspapers headlines are any kind of a barometer for where we our ‘correct’ thoughts and sentiments are meant to lie, then we only have a very small window of opportunity to push our institutions in a humane direction. Already, the same newspapers that amplified the hue and cry over Aylan Kurdi’s drowning, are calling for increased military action in Syria. Now see, I can’t quite articulate the vile insanity of that logic.

First, our governments wanted to bomb Assad, whose enemy was Isil. Now they want to bomb Isil, whose enemy is Assad. And yesterdays heroes who retook Kobani from Isil are now demonised and on the receiving and of air strikes by Turkey…who are also bombing Isil. Meanwhile, our governments are upset that Russia might be gearing up to fight the same guys that they themselves want to see defeated. It’s as though an international virus of madness has taken hold of foreign policy strategists . Ground rules for all sides in Syria looks to be along the lines of – ‘If it moves, kill it’. As though (Hello Winston) more killing and violence will reduce refugee flows.

Something about refugees. If there are four countries between you and a country of safety, I’m not saying you can’t make that journey without a passport and money, but with those things, you can maybe get a bus or a train or ferry and go through normal border check-points and otherwise ‘grease the wheels’ of your escape. Poorer people can’t do that so readily. So maybe just like you – all those tertiary students, lawyers, managers and what not were doing well; then they were in a foreign country, in a camp and had nothing.

If the infrastructure and services for refugees in NZ is lacking, then we ought to insist that they’re developed and expanded. Refugees aren’t going away any time soon. As pointed out here, climate change contributed to the situation in Syria. It’s uncomfortable, but maybe we need to reflect that this is at less than one degree of warming; that two degrees is in the rear view mirror and three degrees is in the offing with four degrees possibly rumbling on down the pipeline. People fleeing intolerable situations is going to be common place, and Australia, though not quite the canary in the coalmine, is slated to be hammered particularly hard by climate change. I guess though, that the NZ government will have no problem ‘stretching’ resources for obviously white people who speak the same language as us. And sure, no worries for the rest of it because in general we are a long, long way away and safe as Japan.

In conclusion, if I’m reading John Key correctly when he says.

Inevitably these things are heightened when the media coverage is so intense and over time some of that might dissipate a little bit.

then he hopes listless hobbits, ignoring the likes of what’s been outlined above, will just send off that check or hit that donate button and go back to the slumber of a week past Wednesday or whenever.

Some people will do that, and that’s fine. But I want to join with those who are ready to step beyond the lethargy of politics as mere consumer choice: those who are awake to the potential of willful citizens generating political heft. You?

* Uh-huh, in case you wondered, Wilson Security who run Nauru, if logos are anything to go by, is the same company that run car parks in NZ.

12 comments on “In Our Back Yard – Manus Island and Nauru ”

  1. roy cartland 1

    Excellent post. I’m sure many were thinking (and saying) the same, but we hadn’t reached the critical mass to think ‘collectively’ like that. Aylan’s photograph somehow galvanised opinion the way others didn’t.

    There is no argument against taking on par with Germany, some 40k, except the refusal to disturb ‘our way of life’. Rugby. Yachting. Flags. Trade deals. Boozing. Grabbing as much for me and sod the rest.

    It would be simple to take on as many refugees as there are, if everyone agreed to help. Those who won’t help only provide an extra – formidable – hurdle for those who would. You can’t force people to be empathetic.

  2. Steve Wrathall 2

    Why is there no outcry? Because Australia’s policies have removed the incentive to undertake hazardous journeys or pay people smugglers. Hence drownings have reduced to zero. If you build a welfare state, you have to build a fence around it. I thought you lefties were the big fans of everyone having to follow the correct rules and regulations and “protecting our sovereignty”.

    • Anno1701 2.1

      you think illegal immigration to Australia has stopped ?

      your a fool if you do

    • Possibly, but the suffering of people doesn’t stop just because they no longer feel it is possible to take a risk on a boat headed to Australia.

      Remember that we are talking about people fleeing oppression and who obviously feel they have so little hope where they are that they are willing to beg, steal or borrow to get a berth on an overcrowded and leaky boat to cross the ocean.

      Closing the door on refugees doesn’t change their suffering one iota – in some ways it may be an incentive to those who treat them badly at ‘home’ to ratchet up the oppression.

      Think of the treatment dished out in Guantanamo if you want a metaphor for what happens when captives have no hope of escape – and their warders are well aware of that.

    • Tracey 2.3

      You really need to stop looking up your arse for “facts” Steve.

  3. weka 3

    Bloody good post.

    I suspect one of the reasons is that it’s not quite in our backyard. If it were closer to us in the Pacific, I think we would pay more attention.

    But mostly I think you are right that it’s about other things. The photo that’s in our faces at the time, what’s trending on twitter, the fact that large scale disasters are always going to garner more compassion that smaller ones, the fickle attention of the MSM etc.

  4. Liam 4

    Wilson Security also owns, the NZ security firm, FIRST Security.

  5. Tracey 5

    To the heart of stuff again Bill.

  6. John 6

    Well if you are so worried about those in Manus Island & Nauru how about New Zealand takes them in? infact how about you take more refugees in the future from Manus Island & Nauru above your quota every single year from now on. as payment for New Zealand for not raising your annual refugee quota for almost 30 years.

  7. weston 7

    dead right bill these refugees have been waiting the longest so we should take them before the latest lot especially if australia plans to hold them indefinately as a deterrent to more boat people coming to their shores ,Poor barstards and what a rort charging them out at 2k a day !!! transfied services are the prefered contractors of Kaipara District Council laterly infamous for having the nats introduce the RATES VALIDATION BILL to make legal the illegality of the councils secret borrowing to fund the mangawhai sewage scheme .

  8. Smilin 8

    An old adage from the National party fighting socialism” Private enterprise can do it better” REALLY ? not by the sounds of this excellent article .

  9. Pasupial 9

    I find it difficult to have two much sympathy for detention camp guards, but this is indicative of the larger culture of abuse in Wilson Security:

    “Staff are being mistreated all the time and are forced to endure horrendous conditions.

    “There are significant issues with communication for these workers. The phone lines are often down, emails are strongly believed by staff to be monitored and workers are banned from using Facebook.

    “The strain on workers’ families is huge and that leads to marriage breakdowns, which just escalates the situation for the workers out there. It’s a pressure cooker environment and that doesn’t do anyone any favours.”


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