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Monday, 14 August 2017

We need a refugee processing centre in Jakarta

Former journalist Mike Carlton tweeted this morning: "Before we disparage American society [for the riots in Charlottesville] we might reflect on the brutal cruelty we Australians inflict upon our refugee prisoners on Manus."

He joined editors at The Age in voicing support for the detainees on Manus Island and Nauru; they published a comment piece two days ago on the subject. And the government's control over the camps has anyway been weakened since the immigration minister removed legal gags preventing people employed to look after inmates from talking about what they see there. This means we can expect to see more reports about the terrible conditions refugees are forced to endure in the camps.

But offshore detention however unappetising for certain sections of the community remains a bipartisan policy. In fact it was reintroduced by the ALP in 2012 because after the Rudd government dismantled it the boats started coming from Indonesia again. I hasten to say that there is nothing wrong with people coming to Australia claiming refugee status. But while there remains a lot of ambivalence in the community about locking people up when they are doing nothing wrong, the unorderly arrival of people by boat causes many people discomfort. Which brings us back to Mike Carlton's comment, because it is this fascistic impulse in Australia for things to run in an orderly and predictable fashion that keeps both major political parties on their toes. And keeps the Pacific Solution alive.

So how about we open up a refugee processing centre in Jakarta? Clearly, refugees have no trouble getting out of the countries where they face persecution, or worse, such as Iran or Afghanistan. If they can make it to Indonesia then we can instead go there, where they are arriving by aeroplane, and help them to get across the last bit of ocean in safety, instead of on a dangerous, flimsy fishing boat.

Such a solution would help people currently stuck on Manus Island (which they have to vacate soon because of the 2016 ruling by the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court) and Nauru, because they could then be sent back to Indonesia for processing in an environment where their basic needs could be catered to efficiently and where they would not be subject to abuse. The governments of the two countries could work out how to support refugees who had made it to the archipelago, since we have very good relations with Indonesia. This option would also save a lot of money, money which is currently being wasted on border protection and incarceration.

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