May 2016

Alternative policies urgently needed now

Australia’s refugee and asylum seeker policies are like an infected sore eating away at the fabric of society, says Good Samaritan Sister Clare Condon.

BY Clare Condon SGS

The imagery associated with a “running sore” is a stark one. An ulcerated leg or a protruding boil full of pus that cannot heal draws poison into the blood stream, into the whole body. Such a bleeding and infectious sore needs drying out and medication, and often requires the afflicted person to move to a complete change of environment if the whole body is to heal. For good health a radical change is required. A boil needs lancing.

For me, this is a tragic image for Australia’s refugee and asylum seeker policies. They are like an infected sore eating away at the fabric of society. The present policies supported by both major parties are like a running sore poisoning all of us. The body politic is like a bleeding boil. It will only be healed by a radical shift in thinking and a total change in policy. Our whole society suffers because of inhumane and brutal policies towards other human beings. We are being diminished as a nation and as a people.

Over the past few weeks we witnessed a 23-year-old Iranian refugee, Omid Masoumali, immolate himself through despair in Nauru. He died on Friday April 29. Then, on Monday May 2, again in Nauru, a young Somali woman named Hadon set herself alight and is still in hospital in a very critical condition. These tragedies, amongst many others, are the consequences of despair and hopelessness, where refugees and asylum seekers see no future way out of their desperate situations.

In the midst of these tragic situations, the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea on April 26 declared that the detention of refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island is illegal and called for the closure of these facilities.

Australians are now in the midst of a Federal election campaign. Yet neither major political party is prepared to address its damaging refugee and asylum policies. When will political leaders realise that these policies are unethical and immoral, as well as a breach of international law? These policies are the direct cause of hopelessness and despair for some of the most disadvantaged people in the world; people fleeing civil war, hunger and fear.

The current Minister for Immigration could only express anger and a certain hatred at these recent events. His face was as hard as flint as he faced the media to express the tragedy of Hadon’s condition. He attempted to divert attention from the real issue by blaming advocates who seek to support refugees.

But there are some amongst us who feel compelled to respond to the Minister’s seemingly callous response. In a letter to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald on May 4, Robyn Cupitt wrote: “Peter Dutton, how low can you go? Suicide is giving up, not the action of anyone given ‘false hope’ by anyone”. A few days later, Tom Ballard, also writing in the SMH wrote: “Minister Peter Dutton is so wedded to the current ‘solution’ that he’s deaf to any criticism whatsoever, instead preferring to slander senators and to blame everyone from refugee advocates to charity workers to the media for the scandals within his portfolio. It’s all justified by the ‘success’ of the policy. They’ve stopped the boats. Nothing can change. End of story.”

Despair and hopelessness drive people to unspeakable acts of destruction. It is hope that keeps us alive and psychologically well. Alternative Federal government policies are urgently needed now or there will be more deaths through self-harm from desperation.

When will our politicians put the lives of their fellow human beings ahead of their own political ambitions? In the meantime we all suffer from the damage to the social fabric of our nation. The infected sore continues to bleed. We become a lesser people! We are all diminished!

Clare Condon

Sister Clare Condon is a former Congregational Leader of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan. She served as leader from September 2005 until September 2017. In 2013, Clare was awarded a Human Rights Medal by the Australian Human Rights Commission in recognition of the Good Samaritan Sisters’ work with asylum seekers, Indigenous Australians and the victims of domestic violence.

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