By Daniel Rashid

One of Australia’s greatest horrors is its policy of mandatory detention, wherein for-profit concentration camps are run offshore to put asylum seekers in an indefinite lock up with no hope for reprieve. Many have fled from severe danger ranging from wars, or are escaping homophobic or transphobic violence and then put through awful sexuality tests by our government.

This means refugees resort to increasingly desperate measures. Many refugees on the journey here expend huge amounts of their life savings on boats that the government has no obligation to report.

They are then often held indefinitely, and there have been deaths, reports of constant self-harm, and constant allegations of abuse including sexual violence. Even whistleblowing by health workers about this has been criminalised.

Humiliating Sexuality Tests For Queer Refugees

Meanwhile refugees who do manage to make the next step on shore aren’t free. They are denied access to work and welfare, which creates a cycle of poverty.

Queer refugees in particular also face struggles with many being put through humiliating sexuality tests – some are even advised by migration agents to sleep with people for the purposes of affidavits and recordings. This should be considered nothing short of sexual coercion by the government.

In this context the recent Coalition government announcement that they would sign up to the ‘New Zealand deal’ seems like great news, but the devil is in the details. This deal doesn’t offer enough to refugees, queer or otherwise.

It’s great that the deal will allow 450 refugees the opportunity to resettle over three years, but the government’s general strategy here is to make the problem go away. Already, the New Zealand deal has led some to forget that Australia still brutalises refugees; it just now does so with less attention. The policies of mandatory detention and mandatory turn-backs are all violently cruel.

The deal formally excludes the refugees that have been left stranded in Papua New Guinea, and 70 of the 120 refugees on Nauru are ineligible because they are engaged in programs with the USA and Canada, even though their places aren’t finalised. Furthermore, there are over a thousand asylum seekers in Australia, who had been evacuated from Papua New Guinea or Nauru under Medevac and other similar laws. Over five hundred refugees will therefore be excluded from resettlement in this deal because there are not enough places in the quota. Finally, Home Affairs minister Karen Andrews has already made clear that the deal will not apply to any future maritime arrivals, and it does nothing to change the process of assessment.

Will Labor Do Better?

Some advocates are hopeful that Labor will do better, but Labor has been clear that’s a misplaced hope. Shadow Home Affairs minister Kristina Keneally made clear in a radio interview with the ABC and on Twitter that “Labor supports Operation Sovereign Borders”, and that by criticising Labor as soft on refugees, Scott Morrison is “trying to manufacture a difference with Labor where none exists”.

One piece of good news is that the Labor Party has promised to abolish these and grant its former holders permanent protection, and greater rights to work and welfare in the process. However, this remains only a promise, and refugee supporters will need to maintain popular pressure on an elected Labor government to make sure this promise is kept.

The only way refugees will be liberated is through mass, sustained popular pressure. More than anything, we need protests in the street; boycotts of companies involved in the government’s refugee brutality system; even industrial action, wherever possible. We need all this and more. All refugees – queer or otherwise – must get permanent protection, the mandatory detention system must end, boat journeys must be decriminalised and all detention centres must be shut down, for good.

Daniel Rashid is a unionist and an organiser with the Refugee Action Coalition (RAC).

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