Be care­ful over Manus Is­land — English

The de­part­ment of pol­i­tics at the Univer­sity of Otago cel­e­brates its 50th an­niver­sary in 2017. This is the 11th in a se­ries of re­flec­tions on pol­i­tics over the past 50 years. This month Vicki A. Spencer looks at the refugee cri­sis and the UN’s 1967 Pro­toc

Otago Daily Times - - GENERAL - DEREK CHENG

WELLINGTON: Op­po­si­tion leader Bill English is warn­ing the Gov­ern­ment to tread cau­tiously on its po­si­tion on the hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis on Manus Is­land, say­ing New Zealand owes Aus­tralia for stop­ping boat peo­ple reach­ing our shores.

About 400 refugees con­tinue to refuse to leave a de­ten­tion camp on the Pa­pua New Guinean is­land since its clo­sure two weeks ago, de­spite food, wa­ter and power be­ing cut.

Some who have moved to al­ter­na­tive ac­com­mo­da­tion say con­di­tions there are worse than in the closed de­ten­tion cen­tre.

Prime Min­is­ter Jacinda Ardern met her Aus­tralian coun­ter­part Mal­colm Turn­bull on Tues­day night, of­fer­ing $3 mil­lion to help Pa­pua New Guinea with the costs of keep­ing the asy­lum seek­ers, in con­junc­tion with an agency such as the Red Cross.

‘‘New Zealand’s of­fer [to take 150 refugees] re­mains on the ta­ble,’’ she said in Manila, where she was at­tend­ing the East Asia Sum­mit.

It was ex­pected to take about five months to process and re­set­tle any refugees sent to New Zealand, but those on the is­lands still needed care in the in­terim, she said.

‘‘We in­tend to work with Pa­pua New Guinea and other agen­cies like the In­ter­na­tional Red Cross to fi­nan­cially sup­port them with any ad­di­tional needs that they may need to be met while those refugees re­main on the is­land.’’

Mr English ques­tioned whether Ms Ardern’s of­fer was gen­uine, or putting on a show.

‘‘To what ex­tent is our prime min­is­ter mak­ing a show­piece out of this, know­ing full well that the Aus­tralians are very un­likely to take up the of­fer be­cause it would be a fun­da­men­tal shift in their pol­icy about boat peo­ple?

‘‘The Aus­tralian sys­tem is what pro­tects New Zealand from peo­ple ar­riv­ing in boats.

‘‘They’re the ones who find the boats and then turn them around . . .so we need to keep that in mind at a time when the New Zealand Gov­ern­ment is crit­i­cis­ing their pol­icy.’’ — NZME

AS the Pol­i­tics De­part­ment gears up to cel­e­brate its 50th an­niver­sary by host­ing the New Zealand Po­lit­i­cal Stud­ies As­so­ci­a­tion Con­fer­ence this month, it is worth­while re­flect­ing on an­other an­niver­sary. Fifty years ago the United Na­tions adopted the 1967 Pro­to­col Re­lat­ing to the Sta­tus of Refugees.

Refugees are those flee­ing their coun­try of ori­gin due to a well­founded fear of per­se­cu­tion based on their race, re­li­gion or na­tion­al­ity, their mem­ber­ship ina par­tic­u­lar so­cial group or their po­lit­i­cal views.

But the orig­i­nal con­ven­tion only ap­plied to those flee­ing per­se­cu­tion from Euro­pean coun­tries prior to Jan­uary 1951. It was the land­mark 1967 Pro­to­col that made the UN’s con­ven­tion uni­ver­sal.

It is, how­ever, of­ten crit­i­cised. It fails to in­clude those flee­ing from eco­nomic hard­ship and in­ter­nally dis­placed per­sons. It thus ne­glects the de­pri­va­tion many suf­fer due to gov­ern­ment poli­cies, war and famine.

The world is cur­rently ex­pe­ri­enc­ing an un­prece­dented num­ber of dis­placed per­sons. The UN Refugee Agency’s 2016 es­ti­mates were 65.6 mil­lion, with 22.5 mil­lion refugees among them. The top host­ing coun­tries were Tur­key, with 2.9 mil­lion, fol­lowed by Pak­istan, Le­banon, Iran and Uganda with 940,000.

But since then we have wit­nessed the tragic at­tacks on Myan­mar’s Ro­hingya Mus­lim mi­nor­ity. UNHCR re­ports 582,000 Ro­hingya refugees have crossed into Bangladesh since Au­gust 25 this year, far out­num­ber­ing the head­line­grab­bing flight of Mediter­ranean mi­grants into Europe for all of 2016.

The scale of the in­ter­na­tional cri­sis puts into per­spec­tive New Zealand’s shock­ingly low an­nual quota of 750 refugees. Even the ad­di­tional 600 emer­gency places over four years for Syr­i­ans meant the in­take in 2016 was a mere 0.02% of New Zealand’s 4.6 mil­lion pop­u­la­tion.

By com­par­i­son, in 2015­16, Aus­tralia ac­cepted 8284 refugees but also has a hu­man­i­tar­ian visa pro­gramme for those flee­ing con­flict, with the to­tal num­ber 17,544. That is 0.07% of Aus­tralia’s 24.13 mil­lion 2016 pop­u­la­tion. It is no moral com­pen­sa­tion for the bar­baric treat­ment of off­shore asy­lum seek­ers by con­sec­u­tive Aus­tralian gov­ern­ments. But it is far bet­ter than the New Zealand record.

The Labour Party is com­mit­ted to in­creas­ing the quota to 1500 over three years, with the Greens to 4000 over six years. As part of the Green­Labour con­fi­dence and sup­ply deal, a re­view of the refugee pol­icy seems set to oc­cur.

But will Win­ston Peters’ an­ti­im­mi­gra­tion stance neg­a­tively af­fect any refugee in­crease?

Refugees flee­ing their home­land to save their own and their fam­ily’s lives should never be con­fused with im­mi­grants. In the ex­ist­ing state sys­tem, to be state­less with no safe home is the most wretched sit­u­a­tion peo­ple can find them­selves in.

In­ter­na­tional law en­sures refugees can­not be forcibly re­turned to their coun­try of ori­gin. But their need for proper re­lo­ca­tion means they are mostly at the mercy of oth­ers’ good­will. Some­thing, re­al­ists tell us, we can never rely upon.

Po­lit­i­cal the­o­rists of­ten ap­peal to our em­pa­thy. Think how you would feel and act if your gov­ern­ment threat­ened your life due to your re­li­gion or pol­i­tics.

Or to our sense of jus­tice. Or our self­in­ter­est. If you would want a safety­net in such a sit­u­a­tion, it is only fair you con­trib­ute to­ward one for oth­ers. And just in case you ever do need one!

But most of us can’t be­gin to imag­ine what it would be like. The ter­ror; the un­cer­tainty; the lack of ba­sic se­cu­rity and safety; the wait­ing for months, years; the end­less fear is more than we can com­pre­hend.

Rare is the film that doesn’t sani­tise the hor­rors of war and per­se­cu­tion to make it palat­able for us to watch. And who re­ally be­lieves it will ever hap­pen to them?

The refugee prob­lem not only raises is­sues for com­par­a­tive pol­i­tics, stu­dents of in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics and po­lit­i­cal the­o­rists. It af­fects do­mes­tic pol­i­tics too.

Refugees come from all walks of life and are of­ten highly skilled. They can con­trib­ute sig­nif­i­cantly to their new home. The re­cent elec­tion has seen the first refugee, Gol­riz Ghahra­man, elected to the New Zealand Par­lia­ment. And the Pol­i­tics De­part­ment’s re­tired col­league, Na­jib Lafraie, and his fam­ily are refugees from Afghanistan. His classes were some of our largest.

But refugees of­ten re­quire as­sis­tance to deal with their trauma. They need ba­sic pro­vi­sions, shel­ter, med­i­cal care and em­ploy­ment. They are, at first, a cost to the State.

How can help­ing oth­ers be jus­ti­fied?

From a real­ist per­spec­tive, refugees’ need for ser­vices cre­ates jobs. With Cad­bury’s clo­sure and 160 job losses at the Univer­sity of Otago, Dunedin should cam­paign for a greater refugee in­take. Along with a de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion of gov­ern­ment jobs, New Zealand First’s fo­cus on re­gional devel­op­ment should de­mand it.

Grand schemes for in­ter­na­tional jus­tice are some peo­ple’s utopia and other’s worst night­mare. But our in­ac­tion con­trib­utes to the suf­fer­ing of refugees, as do the gov­ern­ments they are flee­ing from.

So let’s not fool our­selves. The cru­elty un­der­pin­ning Aus­tralia’s de­ten­tion pol­icy is just as ev­i­dent in New Zealand’s refugee quota. Both ex­ac­er­bate the pain when we can do bet­ter. And we don’t need to wear rose­c­oloured glasses to know that di­min­ishes us all.

Refugees flee­ing their home­land to save their own and their fam­ily’s lives should never be con­fused with im­mi­grants

PHOTO: REUTERS

A group of Ro­hingya refugees, who fled from Myan­mar by boat, walks towards a makeshift camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, ear­lier this month.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Peo­ple dis­placed in fight­ing be­tween the Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces and Is­lamic State mil­i­tants are pic­tured at a refugee camp in Ain Issa, Syria, last month.

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