Murray Horton: Root causes of Manus refugee crisis need to be sorted


Papua New Guinea immigration officials last week started dismantling parts of a prison camp housing hundreds of defiant refugees as an evacuation deadline loomed yesterday. Video: Al Jazeera

OPINION: By Murray Horton of the Aotearoa Independence Movement

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is to be congratulated for trying to do the decent thing by, in her words, “offering to lend a hand” with regards to Australia’s appalling treatment of refugees detained, then abandoned, on Manus Island (not to forget the others detained on Nauru).

Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull tried to swat her away by saying that he has a deal with the US to take the Manus men – I think pigs will fly before Donald Trump honours what he calls “the worst deal ever”, made by Barack Obama.

Nor do I see why there is anything stopping Jacinda from dealing directly with Papua New Guinea. After all, the Manus Island men are being detained in its country and Australia has abandoned them. NZ and PNG are two independent countries, so what’s to stop the two governments sorting out this mess of Australia’s making?

And let’s give credit where credit’s due – the John Key National government made the same offer, namely to take some of the Manus men. It got the same response from Australia. That just goes to show that NZ Tories have got more humanity (in this case, at least) than their Aussie counterparts.

And, to his further credit, Key refused to countenance creating a new category of second class New Zealanders, ones with no rights to travel to Australia. Because that’s why pig-headed Turnbull and co won’t take up NZ’s bipartisan offer.

The excuse given is that the Manus men could then enter Australia through the New Zealand “back door” — i.e. via the free entry allowed to New Zealanders.

That is just so much crap. There is a precedent for New Zealand cleaning up Australia’s refugee mess, namely the Clark government taking in a swag of people from the Norwegian freighter Tampa, which was famously blocked by John Howard in 2001. Not only that, NZ did the decent thing and let their families join them.

‘Back door’ myth
Hands up if you’ve heard of any of those people going to Australia via the “New Zealand back door” and becoming “terrorists”. No, I thought not. Those Tampa refugees made their lives in New Zealand and have become an asset to this country.

“Resettled in New Zealand and allowed to bring in their families, Tampa refugees have become doctors, civil engineers, lawyers, police officers, nurses, architects and business owners, employing others. About two dozen in the trades worked on the Christchurch rebuild, ” said the Christchurch Press in an editorial. I’ve met one of the Tampa people myself – a young Afghan woman working as a checkout operator, complete with headscarf, in a central Christchurch supermarket. She told me she was a baby on the Tampa. So that’s what big tough Australia’s scared of – babies.

Australia needs to hang its head in shame (this crime against humanity has been perpetrated by both Liberal and Labor governments). If you read, heard or saw a news report about civilians imprisoned without charge, trial or hope of release, who were then abandoned without food, water, power or toilets and in imminent fear of attack and/or death by hostile locals, your first reaction would probably be that this was the latest atrocity by ISIS.

And that’s how we need to judge this – Australia is enacting a policy of state terrorism. Its “Pacific Solution” is starting to resemble the Final Solution that Australia and New Zealand fought to defeat in World War Two.

I’ve experienced a little bit of this deprivation myself – no power, water or toilet for several days after the February 2011 Christchurch quake, and it was no fun in a First World society where we had the expectation that somebody would do something about it ASAP. How much worse it must feel then on a Third World island, with no such expectation.

But if our government is serious about “lending a hand”, then it needs to look much further than the (admittedly spectacular) symptoms like Manus Island, and do something about the causes of the global refugee crisis.

Why are these tens of millions of people (of whom only a few hundred are the victims of Australia’s unforgiveable cruelty) fleeing their home countries?

Plenty will be economic refugees, they simply want a better life for their children and themselves. That is a story as old as humanity. That is why several hundred thousand New Zealanders have moved to Australia, after all. It is the same reason why my Australian grandfather moved from Queensland to Wellington – to get a job.

Global poverty, wars
The cause is global poverty and inequality. That’s a very big problem, and tiny little New Zealand can only do so much about that. But we can do our share, and we can start from the recognition articulated by the most unlikely of sources – Winston Peters – that more and more people see capitalism as their foe and not their friend.

He was talking about New Zealanders, so multiply that by the billions of people living at the coalface of global capitalism and you start to get an idea of the scale of the problem. Capitalism is predicated on a few winners and an awful lot of losers.

Not unreasonably, tens of millions of these “losers” want to move to where they think they can join the “winners” (they are bound to be disillusioned by what they discover upon arrival, but that’s another story).

Hand in glove with global poverty as a cause of refugees is war. This is a direct and immediate cause of huge numbers of people fleeing for their lives. There is nothing unusual about people running away from a big disaster, whether man-made or natural – tens of thousands of Christchurch people fled the city in the hours after that February 2011 killer quake (and plenty of them have not come back).

This is an area where the new government can deal with the root cause of the global refugee crisis – get out of other people’s wars that we’re already involved in (such as Afghanistan and Iraq); stay out of the absolute tarpit that is Syria; don’t go haring off after Donald Trump if he goes to war in Korea.

More fundamentally, build on the good work done in the 1980s (which made NZ nuclear free and out of ANZUS) and get out of the Five Eyes spy network and break the remaining military ties that bind NZ to the US Empire. Build a truly non-aligned and independent foreign policy that prioritises peace over war.

There is a direct cause and effect between war and refugees. Our “traditional allies” are very good at creating the mess via war, then expressing indignant surprise when that very same mess comes back to bite them in the bum in the form of a human tide. Libya is a textbook case – NATO military powers, with US assistance, played a vital role in violently overthrowing the Gaddafi regime in 2011 (including being complicit in his being tortured to death).

Even Iraq’s Saddam Hussein got a show trial before his enemies killed him. Funnily enough, Libya has been a failed state ever since and Europe has been inundated with refugees arriving by sea – dead or alive – from Libya. I imagine Gaddafi is laughing in his grave.

‘Charity begins at home’
So, there is self-interest for New Zealand in staying out of other people’s wars and in working to end existing wars and preventing new ones. And for those who say “charity begins at home” – I agree.

We can help our immediate neighbours on tiny Pacific islands that are threatened by inundation due to climate change. These people did nothing to cause that problem but New Zealand certainly did and continues to do – we have an obligation to open our doors to these climate change refugees.

That is not a solution to the problem (at least this government recognises there is a problem and has pledged to do something about it) but it is an amelioration of the dire effects of that problem. Even if we took in all of those affected Pacific islanders, plus the prisoners from Manus and Nauru, it would all only add up to a few thousand people. We bring in more foreigners than that every year to milk them in shonky “education” courses and to supply New Zealand employers with cheap labour.

How about we change the emphasis from bringing people in to exploit and rip them off to bringing them to help them and, as the Tampa experience shows, helping ourselves in the process? Sounds like a win-win to me.

Murray Horton
Aotearoa Independence Movement (AIM)

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