Australia’s shameful trade in refugees and asylum seekers

What’s the going rate, the market value, for refugees and asylum seekers these days? Ask the Australian government.

Australia and Cambodia are close to finalizing a deal on refugees. No one seems to know the details of this arrangement, because both countries are keeping it very hush-hush. But what we do know is it involves refugees and asylum seekers being moved from Australia’s catastrophic adventure in Nauru, to Cambodia. Some, in the Cambodia opposition, say this could involve as many as 1000 refugees, and they are most likely going to be `relocated’ on a remote island off the coast of Cambodia.

We also know that Australia is one of Cambodia’s largest aid donors. Over the past four years, for example, Australia has donated over $329 million to Cambodia. We know that Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world. We also know that Australia has criticized Cambodia’s human rights record, more than once and most recently at the United Nations.

We are told that refugees will be `relocated’ only if they volunteer, but if they refuse to volunteer, their refugee status will be reviewed.

In both Cambodia and Australia, opposition to this deal has been fierce and intense. Much of it has centered on the conditions in Cambodia and the folly of sending refugees, many of them fleeing the violence of conflict zones, to an area just emerging from a long and brutal civil war. Others point to the economic hardship of life in Cambodia and others to the difficult political, civil and human rights situation.

What about the marketization of refugees and asylum seekers? Australia won’t be `relocating’ refugees. It will be dumping human beings, like so much cargo, and wiping its hands clean … or dirty. One thousand human beings who have asked for help and have already been dumped on one inhospitable island are now to be dumped again on another, even more inhospitable island? This `deal’ takes the privatization of `care’ for asylum seekers and refugees to a new, and yet very old, place: offshoring.

Cambodia will `volunteer’ to take the refugees because Australia has offered it cold, hard cash, or financial benefits. And so the entire region will become one giant marketplace for human cargo, not quite slaves, not quite not slaves.

Australia is `shocked’ by its routine torture of children

Australia routinely throws asylum seekers into prisons, mostly in remote areas or, even better, on islands. Among `detained’ asylum seekers, children represent the greatest percentage of self-harm and suicidal behavior, according to Gillian Triggs, President of Australia’s Human Rights Commission. According to Triggs, between January 2013 and March 2014, there were 128 reported self-harm incidents by children in detention. Triggs characterized these numbers as “shockingly high.”

The numbers are high. The stories are heartbreaking. The pictures drawn by children are devastating. One girl draws her own portrait. It’s a close up of her face, pressed against bars. Her eyes are blue, her tears, streaming down her face, are blood red. All the self-portraits are similar: the children are crying and are all in cages. Doctors and others report that children can’t sleep, suffer trauma, regress, suffer clinical depression, self-harm, and die inside.

There is no shock here. This has been Australia’s public policy for over a decade, and the policy has only worsened. As Gillian Triggs noted, “Children are being held for significantly greater periods of time than has been the case in the past, and that leads virtually inevitably to greater levels of mental health disturbance.”

Leads virtually inevitably to greater levels of mental health disturbance. Just call it ordinary torture, and be done. The delivery of medical services is worse than toxic, and the stays get longer and longer. Today, Australia holds more or less 1,000 children in “closed immigration detention.”  The longer children stay in “closed immigration detention”, the more likely they are to suffer mental health crises and the more severe those crises will become.

At a hearing of the Australian Human Rights Commission this week, Triggs asked, “Is it acceptable to have children held on Christmas Island in shipping bunkers, containers, on stony ground, surrounded by phosphate dust in that heat?” The government representative replied, “The last time I looked, president, there was no shipping container. They are containerised accommodation, they are not shipping containers.” Unfortunately, “containerised accommodation” does clarify everything. The State sees these children as less than less than less than human.

A child will die in one of those cages, and that child will have been a human. Perception matters, as Australia’s women asylum seekers and their children well know. Torture matters. The torture of children matters. Children matter. Tell Australia, and tell all the nations of the world that throwing asylum seeking children into cages. Children matter. It’s not shocking.

Detention centers: No country for young girls

Two girls, both under five years old, were released after two days and nights in detention. Last night, Basirat and Rashidat, and their mother, Afusat Saliu, were released from Cedars pre-departure `accommodation’. They spent Wednesday at Cayley House, “a non-residential short-term holding facility at Heathrow Airport.” It’s not a facility. It’s a prison. Here’s how their mother, Afusat Saliu, describes their first night: “It was terrible. We had to sleep on the floor. There was no privacy – if you went to the toilet, you went in front of everyone. I felt terrible. Some of the crew at Cayley House were nice, but it was not a good environment for a child.”

No place for a child. In a report released today, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons agrees. Too much force is used too often. Officers show up in full battle gear, don’t announce themselves, don’t knock on the door, batter the door down and rush in. They have two speeds: terrifying and terrorizing: “Whatever one’s views on immigration, the distress described in this report of the families passing through the centre and its potential impact on the children involved is disturbing. It was difficult to see how the children’s welfare was being promoted in line with statutory requirements.”

42 families `passed through’ Cedars last year. Suicide and self-harm measures were initiated 25 times. This is the new math of neoliberal fortress nations. The mothers who seek help are bad mothers, the children who need help are bad girls. They’re defective products that must be removed.

Thanks to a mighty hue and cry, including leaning on Richard Branson not to allow his airline to be used for deportation, Afusat Saliu and her daughters, Basirat and Rashidat, were given a reprieve, while their case is `reviewed.’ In the name of the girls, Afusat Saliu applied for asylum, because she fears her daughters will be forced to undergo female genital mutilation in Nigeria.

Think of all the work and time that has gone into keeping two young girls out of prison.

Those two young girls, those babies, should never have been in prison in the first place. They should never have been forced to leave their home in Leeds and shuttle from one hole to another. They should never have been forced to feel their mother’s distress. You don’t need a government commission – not from the United Kingdom, nor Australia, nor the United States, nor anywhere – to know that. You know in your bones and in your soul.

Detention centers, prisons, are no country for young girls. They are terrible. I feel terrible.

Did Mother’s Day end early this year?

Mother’s Day seemed to end early and abruptly this year.

In Australia, under the proposed new national budget, women who have a child, otherwise known as mothers, face paying 30% more on student loans than their male counterparts. No matter that another government policy encourages women to have three children, one for ma, one for pa, and for the nation down the road: “These aren’t choices we force on men. These are penalties we extract from women, based on their gender.”

Speaking of penalties, this week, the Pennsylvania ACLU revealed that in Pennsylvania, pregnant women prisoners are routinely shackled, including during childbirth. Pennsylvania is one of the states that actually has a law, the Healthy Birth for Incarcerated Women Act, which prohibits this kind of treatment. That law was passed in 2010. The ACLU has written to the Attorney General of Pennsylvania asking her to `clarify the law.’

Speaking of clarifying the law, Marissa Alexander still can’t catch a break. For having shot once in the air and not endangered anyone, in order to ward off an abusive partner, Marissa Alexander still faces a possible 60 years behind bars. While her lawyers may have all sorts of new evidence, the prosecuting attorney says the evidence isn’t new enough and the judge is worried about the precedent set by having a second Stand Your Ground hearing. Happy Mother’s Day.

But for the women farmworkers of Immokalee, it may just be a Mother’s Day to celebrate. For the fourth year in a row, farmworker mothers, members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, stormed the ramparts of Publix, armed to the teeth with hope, a vision of a decent and dignified future for all, a dream of industrial democracy, and a letter, which read:

“May 11, 2014
Mother’s Day

To Publix:

We are farmworker women.  This is the fourth celebration of Mother’s Day in which we are writing to Publix to ask that you join the Fair Food Program.

As mothers, we work in the fields to support our families, especially to help our children through school.

As mothers, we do not make enough to fully support our family.  And the little that we do make is not easy to earn: We work under the sun and rain of Florida.  We do everything so that you can have tomatoes:  we plant, we tie up the plants, we harvest, and then we do it all again the next season.  In spite of all that, it seems that you do not understand and do not want to hear the voice of farmworkers.

Publix profits from the sweat of those of us who work in the fields.  We deserve respect and we deserve a fair wage.

Now is the time to join the Fair Food Program to protect the rights of workers and ensure a fair wage, with the penny per pound that 12 other corporations are already paying.  What are you waiting for, Publix?

Sincerely,

The Women’s Group of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers”

After deliver the letter, Lupe Gonzalo reported, “Publix presumes to say that they support families — but in reality, we don’t see this support. And we are not afraid to tell them that what they are saying is not true.  We are not afraid to come and protest in front of their stores.  Because we are speaking the truth, with our heads held high. For all of us, when we speak to our children, we tell them the truth.  And we tell them that Publix has not signed onto the Program because they are afraid.  Even children can see that.  But what does Publix say to its children?  Only lies?  Is that how they are educating their children?  That is not how we prepare our children for the future.”

Others, like Nely Rodriguez, mother of four, agreed. Now is the time!

Thanks to the work of women like Marissa Alexander, Lupe Gonzalo, Nely Rodriguez, maybe Mother’s Day didn’t end early this year, because, for them, the struggle of women continues, and that’s what Mother’s Day is all about.

Reza Barati’s blood

Reza Barati died last week or was it yesterday. Reza Barati, 24-year-old Iranian asylum seeker, was killed in an `encounter’ on Manus Island, the dumping grounds for those who seek asylum in Australia. Prisoners protested the lies they were being fed, the conditions they were forced to endure, the ongoing abuse. Guards rushed in, rushed out, rushed in again, and then the protest turned into `a riot’. According to eyewitness reports and an initial police report, when the guards, employees of G4S, rushed in, violence erupted.

Manus Island, in Papua New Guinea, is Australia’s new final solution to the asylum and refugee problem. That there is no problem is irrelevant. Australia is not being overrun by asylum seekers.  As with other nation-States choosing punishment as a default response to asylum and refuge seekers, Australia is the problem. Not the seekers.

Liz Thompson worked as an asylum claims processor on Manus Island. She knows the situation, and she says: “It’s not designed as a processing facility, it’s designed as an experiment in the active creation of horror, to deter people from trying in the first place. These guys are smart, they know what’s going on, they know they’re being lied to, and having that stuff come to them from Immigration, from us, is just part of the active creation of horror. That’s what Manus Island is: it’s the active creation of horror in order to secure deterrence. And that’s why Reza Berati’s death is not some kind of crisis for the [immigration] department – it’s actually an opportunity, an opportunity to extend that [deterrence] logic one step further, to say, ‘this happens’.”

Across Australia, people have protested and held vigils. Artists have withdrawn from the Sydney Biennale because its principle corporate sponsor profits from “offshore detention.” Call it torture. On Christmas Island, asylum seekers have gone on hunger strike. When asked why, they answered, “Reza Barati’s blood.”

Meanwhile, outside of Australia, the news media, particularly the English language news media, has been silent. Search for Reza Barati, and you’ll see … or you won’t.

Instead of silence, let us hear: “In this desert of silence that now passes for our public life, a silence only broken by personal vilification of anyone who posits an idea opposed to power, it is no longer wise for a public figure to express concern about a society that sees some human beings as no longer human; a society that has turned its back on those who came to us for asylum – that is, for freedom, and for safety. And so, with our tongues torn we are expected to agree with the silence, with the lies, and with the murder of Reza Barati… There are no more fairy stories. The cane toads grow fatter. And Reza Barati’s corpse lies in a Port Moresby morgue with a large hole in the back of its head as inexplicable, as shameful as what our country has done.”

Cry the beloved country, cry the beloved world in which it exists. Reza Barati deserved better. We all do.

War against the refugees, madness, madness, war

The news today presents the two faces of a spinning coin. On one side, the direct war against asylum seekers. On the other side, the structural war against asylum seekers. Spin the coin, and the two become one.

On a morning talk show today, Australia’s Prime Minister was asked about the varieties of silence and secrecy that mark the State’s campaign against boat people reaching Australia. Boats have been secretly towed to Indonesia, according to some reports. Reporters are routinely denied access to immigration prisons. The Prime Minister’s response is telling: “The public want the boats stopped and that’s really what they want – that’s really my determination. If stopping the boats means being criticised because I’m not giving information that would be of use to people smugglers, so be it. We are in a fierce contest with these people smugglers. If we were at war we would not be giving out information that is of use to the enemy just because we might have an idle curiosity about it ourselves.”

When it comes to the immigration centers, the Prime Minister continued his line of reasoning: “I am confident that we are running these centres competently and humanely … Let’s remember that everyone in these centres is there because he or she has come illegally to Australia by boat. They have done something that they must have known was wrong. We don’t apologise for the fact that they are not five star or even three star hotels. Nevertheless, we are confident that we are well and truly discharging our humanitarian obligations. People are housed, they’re clothed, they’re fed, they’re given medical attention, they’re kept as safe as we can make it for them, but we want them to go back to the country from which they came. That’s what we want.”

The public wants, we want, war. Under the new campaign, Operation Sovereign Borders, Australia militarized its refugee practices, policies and policing agencies. In permanent of border protection, all’s fair, and no need to discuss justice. It’s about winning the fierce contest. The Prime Minister bristles with military `confidence’.

On the other side of the world, the British government today received a report from its National Audit Office. The report, COMPASS contracts for the provision of accommodation for asylum seekers, suggests, in detail, that the `confidence’ placed in private corporations that house asylum seekers was, at best, misplaced.

COMPASS stands for Commercial and Operating Managers Procuring Asylum Support. As always, this outsourcing was meant to save the government money. In March 2012, the government contracted three companies: G4S, Serco and Clearel. From the beginning, Clearel seemed to meet its contractual obligations, and complaints from residents were far and few between. G4S and Serco, on the other hand, started poorly and continued in that vein. This is not surprising, given that neither Serco nor G4S had any experience in housing asylum seekers. They knew how to detain them, how to put them in cages and throw away the keys, as the Yarl’s Wood experiences have shown. But they had never actually housed asylum seekers in communities. So … how did they get the contracts?

Confidence.

The two largest outsourcing and private security corporations in the world exuded confidence. The State felt confident as well. And now, two years later, they’re failing, and the government wants to recover £7m, and that’s just for starters.

Sometimes the housing was substandard, other times the processes were inhumane. With little to no prior warning and absolutely no consultation, women and children, in particular, found themselves shunted from one side of the country to another. Women asylum seekers also reported that staff would carry out unannounced property visits. Sometimes staff would enter into the house or apartment without even knocking. Some women asylum seekers reported these intrusions “made them feel unsafe.” The majority of women asylum seekers in England, as everywhere, are fleeing sexual violence, more often than not from partners or community members, and are single. None of that mattered to the staff; they had their jobs to do.

When it comes to refugees and asylum seekers, only confidence counts. The State has confidence in itself and in its contracted confreres. In the Australian and the British cases, this confidence is intensified by the racial/ethnic dynamic of White majority governments declaring war on individuals and populations, and in particular women and children, of color.

Where once the situation was “war amongs’ the rebels, madness, madness, war”, today the song sung with confidence is “war against the refugees, madness, madness, war.”

Things that begin with A: Aqua, asylum, atrocity, Australia

A new year begins: “Australian Federal Police are investigating an allegation of sexual assault made by an asylum seeker detained on Christmas Island. An AFP spokesperson confirmed the matter was referred to the police on 27 December… Union of Christmas Island Workers’ president Gordon Thomson told Guardian Australia the allegations were made by a female asylum seeker housed in Aqua compound, one of the family compounds in the detention centre.”

Christmas Island and Aqua family compound are such lovely names for such sinister operations. Aqua and Lilac “family compounds” are part of the immense immigrant, refugee and asylum-seeker prison system Australia employs Serco to run. It’s a bad place, as reported by Serco staff, prisoners current and former, and doctors who have served on the island.

Serco staff members complain that the prisons are overcrowded and understaffed. For example, at night, 11 security workers monitor hundreds of prisoners. Women prisoners have complained, repeatedly and to no avail, of their fear for their safety.

Women prisoners fear sexual assault. They also fear systemic abuse. Pregnant women, such as Elham, are told to lower their expectations, when it comes to medical care. When asking for an ultrasound, Elham was told, “You are in detention and should not expect a lot.” Women who need to terminate their pregnancies are in even more dire conditions. Women in high-risk pregnancies are treated like everyone else, poorly and viciously. The new policy is to ship them off to even more isolated and desolate Manus Island and Nauru. If a few women die in childbirth, well … it’s the price of public policy, isn’t it?

Women with disabilities are treated like trash. A 30-year-old woman with severe mental disabilities was separated from her family until doctors and others forced the Government’s hand. How many others living with severe mental disabilities languish and deteriorate right now in what is effectively solitary confinement?

The stories continue: an epileptic child held without treatment for at least two months; a baby with a defective pacemaker had to wait for two months to leave the island, despite the pleas of a waiting hospital; a woman with level-five cerebral palsey who receives little to no treatment; the HIV+ person who went poof, lost in the system that is nothing more than a system of loss and losing.

The 15 doctors who wrote and presented, last month, a 92-page letter of concern describing the conditions, describe the prison island as “life-threatening” and “harmful.” They talk of the risk to lives that is endemic to the entire process. Others describe the situation as “inhumane.”

It is all of those and worse. The worse is that this system of atrocity and abuse is, around the world, business as usual. It is the situation that emerges when the State works to persuade its citizenry that immigrants are `a flood’ and, worse, `a tsunami.” When human individuals and populations become jetsam and flotsam, so much trash to be cleared before it pollutes the pristine beaches and bucolic alleyways, prisons become overcrowded. In those overcrowded prisons, women are routinely attacked. Other women are systematically abandoned to new forms of isolation and self-harm. Other women are simply lost. There is no surprise here.

Australia, along with other so-called democracies, has been building this world for decades. Another asylum is possible, isn’t it?

Let a thousand Yarl’s Woods blossom, and may the women be damned

On Friday, Zimbabwean activist, outspoken critic of Robert Mugabe’s regime, grandmother, long-time resident of Leicester, England, Evenia Mawongera made her weekly visit to the Border Agency. She shows up each week because she’s applying for asylum. Mawongera was detained, held and then shipped off to Yarl’s Wood, where she now awaits deportation.

Evenia Mawongera has lived in England for a decade. She went to England, fleeing persecution in Zimbabwe. She went to Leicester because her two daughters lived there. They had gone to University in England and had been allowed to stay. The daughters have lived in England since 1999. Mawongera has no family left in Zimbabwe.  Her daughters and her grandchildren are all British citizens.

By all accounts, since her arrival, Mawongera has been a model and exemplary person. A little over three weeks ago, Evenia Mawongera was awarded the Good Neighbour Award for her many contributions to the community.

And now she sits in Yarl’s Wood.

And what exactly is Yarl’s Wood? It’s Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, and, as we’ve written many times, it’s a bad place, and a particularly bad place for women: Mojirola Daniels, Aisha, Denise McNeil, Gladys Obiyan, Sheree Wilson, Shellyann Stupart, Aminata Camara, Leila. Bita Ghaedi. Azbaa Dar. Gloria Sestus. Brenda Namigadde. Albertina Ferreira Malungu. Betty Tibikawa. Lemlem Hussein Abdu. Marie Therese Njila Nana. Jackie Nanyonjo. Roseline Akhalu.

It’s only a partial list, which doesn’t include the names of those who must remain anonymous, to `protect’ their identities, nor the widows and widowers and children. Others have written as well of the sexual predation, of the abuse of pregnant women that takes place in Yarl’s Wood.

For example, yesterday, Tanja’s story broke. Yet another story revealed the systematic sexual predation that is the bread and butter of Yarl’s Wood. Yarl’s Wood is a designed community in which staff preys upon the most vulnerable, typically young women fleeing sexual violence. The police yet again say they will conduct an investigation.

For some, Yarl’s Wood isn’t the disease, it’s the symptom. Others have named the disease: evil. A building whose express purpose is `removal’ is a factory that produces sexual violence, torture, despair and death. It’s in the architecture of the mission. If human beings are just so much dross to be removed, then vulnerable human beings, and especially vulnerable women, are less and worse than disposable, and they are less and worse than despicable.

And this is where Evenia Mawongera sits today.

Yarl’s Wood is part of a global political economy in which vulnerability is a natural resource, meant for exploitation and abuse. Yarl’s Wood is meant for export. Just last week, the newly elected Australian government announced its plans to emulate the fast-track immigrant `processing scheme’ of the United Kingdom. Let a thousand Yarl’s Woods blossom, and may the women be damned, each and every one.

A girl hanged herself. A girl was hanged here.

Women prisoners in Eloy Detention Center in Florence, Arizona, are on hunger strike to protest conditions there. This hunger strike was sparked by the internment of the Dream 9 activists, and in particular of 24-year-old Lulu Martinez and 22-year-old Maria Peniche, who have spent practically all of their time in isolation. No doubt, the conditions are `preventive’. What is the women’s crime that places them in solitary? Too much autonomy? Too much independence? Too much hope?

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday ruled that overcrowded is overcrowded, and too much overcrowded is inhumane, as in cruel and unusual punishment. It’s good news for thousands of prisoners in the California prison system, who soon will be released. And who “bears the brunt” of California’s systematic prison overcrowding? Women.

At first, women benefited from both early-release programs and from alternative sentencing programs. Those benefits were shortlived. Now the women’s prisons are once severely overcrowded and getting worse by the day. As so-called low-level women offenders are shunted off to county jails, which are not and more to the point have not prepared for the particularities of this influx, the levels of violence in the prisons intensifies. This means more and more women are being sent to solitary. And so the cycle not only continues but spins ever more rapidly, ever more violently, ever more viciously.

Given all the studies that point to the concentrated levels of mental health issues among women prisoners, what has been California’s response? Solitary isolation. It’s … preventive. It’s also typical.

The same abuse of women prisoners occurs around the world. In Australia, journalist Christine Rau laments that nothing was learned from the abuse her sister, Cornelia Rau, suffered in immigration detention. It’s a common story. Cornelia was picked up and wrongfully detained, by immigration authorities. She then vanished into the system. Literally. For a year, her family and NSW Missing Persons detectives searched for her. Finally, she was located, in an immigration detention cell.

While fellow prisoners recognized that Cornelia Rau lived with serious mental illnesses, the prison guards and system chose to ignore the symptoms, and so effectively ignored the woman.

Upon her release, Cornelia Rau received a hefty settlement for her torture, but the money is meaningless. As Christine Rau, her sister, notes: “Her life is a misery. Her neurological pathways have been so damaged after 10 months in an untreated psychosis, that she cannot settle in any permanent residence, she can’t sustain relationships beyond fleeting ones, and she is one of the unhappiest people I know. The money is meaningless: it’s handled by financial administrators employed by the NSW Government; her medical needs are rarely followed up, and we rely on a network of friends and acquaintances to try and make sure she’s safe. It’s a nightmare; but anyone with a family member without insight into a mental illness would tell you that. It’s hardly unusual.”

It is hardly unusual.

It is more than hardly unusual. It is the entire system. While immigrants are treated abysmally in “detention centers” around the world and prisoners with disabilities are abused pretty much universally, there is a special hell designated for women immigrants, for women prisoners with disabilities, for women. In Australia as in the United States, private corporations profit from the particular abuse of women, and so does the State.

It is hardly unusual. It is the systematic abuse and torture of women.

So, the women prisoners of Eloy are on hunger strike. As Thesla Zenaida, a sister prisoner and hunger striker at Eloy, explained: “Look, a girl hanged herself. A girl was hanged here. [After] she was hanged, they didn’t want to take her body down. And for the same reason—because they treat us poorly. A guard treated her poorly, and that guard is still working here.”

The torture and abuse of women is the work of the State. That’s the lesson we are meant to learn.

Perception matters. Ask Australia’s women asylum seekers.

Recently, Geena Davis noted, “We just heard a fascinating and disturbing study where they looked at the ratio of men and women in groups. And they found that if there’s 17 percent women, the men in the group think it’s 50-50. And if there’s 33 percent women, the men perceive that as there being more women in the room than men.”

Perceptions matter, and perceptions of those in control are typically sexist and racist, especially when the `tipping point’ is involved, when those in power feel the threat of a `new majority’. That’s why perception can’t be the motor for public policy and, even less, for the pursuit of justice, Take Australia … please.

A key plank of Australia’s asylum policy has been deterrence. This has resulted in brutality, torture, horror, despair … and big profits for the private security corporations, most infamously Serco, who run the immigrant `detention’ and `transfer’ installations. With the shift in government over the past week, some wonder if anything will change in terms of Australia’s racist and sexist asylum policies.

If anything, it looks like they will get worse. Within hours of the new government’s installation, the new “de fact Immigration Minister” declared that most refugee applicants are “economic refugees”. There’s no evidence for that statement, but who needs evidence when `perception’ is on your side?

And what is the perception? The boats. The boats keep coming, and sinking. The refugees keep `swarming’. It’s a human tsunami bearing down on Australia. These images are merely part of the `ferocity’ of the anti-refugee anti-asylum-seeker discourse. Meanwhile, the women and children pile up in the `detention centers’. They’re prisons. Detention is too fine a word. Ask the children who go on hunger strike. Ask the 16-year-old Afghan boy who ended a five-day hunger strike yesterday. Why was he barreling towards his own death? He’s an unaccompanied child, in prison, in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by every form of hostility, with no visible end in sight to his torment. Perhaps that’s the reason.

The treatment of asylum seekers, and in particular of women and children asylum seekers, has been a mounting succession of cruel jokes. Each step of the way, the asylum seeker’s vulnerability and precariousness are intensified.

But here’s the thing: Australia is not drowning in asylum-seekers. Pesky numbers keep denying the `perception’. Yes, the numbers of refugees and asylum-seekers are rising. Yes, the numbers coming by boat are, for the first time, exceeding those coming by plane. BUT Australia takes a very small percentage of the world’s refugees, around 3 percent. Officially, there are 30,083 refugees currently living in Australia. That means, if you consider the size of the country, Australia has one of the lowest rates in the industrialized world. Australia has 1.4 refugees per 1,000 people. Germany has 7.3; Canada has 4.7; the United Kingdom has 2.4. (The United States has .8.)

There is no flood. Australia can stop building sea walls, prison colonies, and worse. It can. But it won’t. Rather, the new government will opt to continue, and probably fortify, the “`hard bastard’ approach.” Perception matters, as does patriarchy.