Why we still need to demand #BringThemHere

| February 14, 2018 | Reply


In recent weeks, there has been discussion about using the demand “Bring Them Here” in regard to the asylum seekers and refugees on Manus and Nauru.

Partly that stems from the fact that Manus refugees in particular (including Behrouz Boochani) raised the slogan “Let Them Go” during the Manus siege, both because understandably some people do not want to come to Australia, but mostly because for some of them “Let Them Go” was seen to be a more achievable demand, that is, there was an acceptance that Australia was never going to bring them here.

In subsequent discussions, Behrouz, and others on Manus, have indicated that “Let them Go” was an immediate demand in response to the emergency situation of the Manus siege. They recognise the need to ensure that Australia’s responsibility for the refugees and asylum seekers is not forgotten, and do not object to the movement using the demand now the siege is over. Some think a combination of “Let Them Go, Bring Them Here” better fits the current Manus situation and New Zealand’s limited offer to take 150 refugees a year and the possibility of individuals finding a third country.

The refugee movement in Australia needs to raise the demands that best fit with its task to both free the people on Manus and Nauru and change the offshore detention policy of the Australian government to ensure that any asylum seekers who arrive in Australia get the protection they need, in Australia.

Both Turnbull and any incoming Labor government need to know that the movement will not settle for anything less. To “Let Them Go” to a third country that is not Australia would mean surrendering to the idea that the Australian government can maintain offshore detention and deny protection to those who arrive and seek protection in Australia.

Why we still need to demand #BringThemHere

The demand to “Bring Them Here”, for the refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island to be brought to Australia, has been a central demand of the refugee rights movement.

We believe the demand remains central. The refugee rights campaign has insisted that the asylum seekers and refugees on Manus and Nauru are Australia’s responsibility. Despite the government’s denials and claims that they are now PNG and Nauru’s responsibility, they remain under the Australian government’s control.

From within Australia, the main focus of the pressure that the movement can apply is on the Australian government. Our demands must be directed on them to solve the crisis that they have created on Manus and Nauru. “Let Them Go” as an alternative to “Bring Them Here” does not have the same clarity, or leverage against the government.

“Let them Go”, contrasted to “Bring Them Here”, would mean that the movement actually accepts the injustice of the expulsion of asylum seekers offshore and would accept an outcome that does not require Australia to recognise its responsibility to protect asylum seekers, as long as they get safety somewhere else.

And there is no safe, third country to “let them go” to. The Australian government has been seeking third country resettlement deals for over four years. Other than the US, New Zealand is the only country that has offered to take the refugees—and they are only offering to take 150 people. Most countries have refused to accept the refugees, who are widely seen as Australia’s responsibility. The US deal is capped at 1250 places, and just 230 have been accepted for resettlement more than a year after it began. Another 1600 people are still on Manus and Nauru, and hundreds more in Australia as part of the Let Them Stay group. This means that, at a minimum, hundreds have no prospect of resettlement. Iranians, the largest nationality group on the islands, are now subject to delayed resettlement (if not an outright ban) in the US under Trump’s refugee restrictions, as are Somali and Syrian refugees.

All the refugees and asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru need to be evacuated as soon as possible, as it is not safe for them on either Nauru or PNG. If this is to happen, Australia is the only place they can go in the short term. On that basis, the wider refugee sector demanding third country resettlement have supported the “Bring Them Here” demand as an immediate step. Once in Australia, refugees and asylum seekers who so chose, could apply for third country resettlement from within Australia, while the fight for permanent protection continued in Australia.

For almost five years the Australian government has held refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru. We have to keep the pressure squarely on them to end offshore detention.

The right of asylum seekers to cross the border, to be welcomed and gain protection in Australia, is at the heart of the campaign. Without that, a form of Fortress Australia will survive.

The immediate demand about Manus and Nauru is linked to the long-term goals of the refugee campaign for a humanitarian policy where everyone, including boat arrivals, are provided with the protection they need in Australia.

The only way to do that is to continue to demand that the Australian government “Bring Them Here”.

Refugee Action Coalition Sydney

Category: Statements

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