The Guardian September 5, 2001


Refugees and politics

There are an estimated 17-18 million refugees in the world at the 
present time and their resettlement has become a major international issue. 
A number of countries, and Australia is a front-runner, are attempting to 
slam the door shut and allow in only a small selected few.

There are millions of refugees in Europe caused by the continuing conflicts 
in the Balkans. There are an estimated three million Palestinians who have 
been forced out of their country by Israeli aggression and occupation and 
theft of Palestinian lands. 

Tens of thousands more have escaped from Iraq, fleeing from the 
dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and the dire economic circumstances created 
by the western economic blockade of Iraq. Huge numbers have been created by 
conflicts in Africa. Thousands are fleeing Afghanistan from the Taliban 
regime. These examples are only part of the story.

The claim of the Howard Government that Australia is the most generous 
country in the world (after Canada) in their intake of refugees is 
demonstrably untrue. Norway, for example, is planning to take in 20,000 
refugees this year. 

But why are so many fleeing from wars and conflicts or are escaping poverty 
and looking for a better life elsewhere? Who is mainly responsible?

Who has foisted wars and civil conflicts on the Balkans if not NATO? Who 
financed and armed the Taliban in Afghanistan? Who is financing and arming 
Israel in its long war against the Palestinian and other Arab peoples? Who 
is continuing to bomb Iraq and maintains the inhuman boycott, thereby, 
creating the immense suffering of the Iraqi people? Who is financing and 
arming the government of Colombia in the name of a phoney war against 
drugs, if not the US?

Australian governments have backed up American policies on all these issues 
and have to take their share of the blame for the refugee crisis.

It is very apparent that some refugees are accepted almost without 
question. Many have come from South Africa  those responsible for 
apartheid in the past  who cannot now accept the existence of a black 
majority government. Migrants from Asia have become acceptable so long as 
they have lots of money in their pockets. Not long ago the Australian 
Government welcomed refugees from Kosovo with open arms. It was part of the 
huge media campaign to justify the war against Yugoslavia and the 
demonisation of Slobodan Milosevic.

The treatment of refugees is a political question and the Government's 
attitude is determined by politics and there is little or no question of 
morality or humanity about it.

Refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran or Palestine are likely to be 
opponents of the repressive regimes there and could equally be opposed to 
the reactionary policies of the Howard Government. With this consideration 
in mind the government's immoral and inhuman stand on the refugees on the 
"Tampa" has to be seen as a political issue.

Ever since Federation in 1901, Australian governments have seen themselves 
as a bastion of conservative policies and capitalism, looking after the 
political, economic and military interests in Asia of British imperialism 
in the first place and now, American interests. The Australian capitalist 
ruling class pursues the same interests.

Prime Minister John Howard sees himself as the deputy sheriff with a 
revolver in his belt and this helps to explain the Government's rapid 
involvement of the military in the "Tampa" affair.

He has erected a big sign  "Trespassers will be prosecuted, (especially 
refugees from the Middle East)"  and is backing that up with naval force.

There is another example. In the past Australia did give sanctuary to many 
refugees from East Timor. Now, with their successful struggle for 
independence and the establishment of their own independent government many 
of the refugees are returning home despite the poverty and other 
difficulties that their new nation faces.

The message is clear. If the refugee problem is to be reversed let people 
live in peace, end the contrived wars foisted on many countries by 
imperialism and end the policies which are the direct cause of poverty and 
unemployment  the policies of corporate globalisation.
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