Absence of refugee 'scare campaign' good for Australian election

4:54 pm on 17 May 2019

It's been good for Australia to have an election campaign free of scare mongering about refugees, a Manus Island refugee says.

Behrouz Boochani said refugees detained in Papua New Guinea and Nauru by Australia could also benefit from not being an election issue, because "nothing changed" for them after being a political football in previous campaigns.

The 14th day of protest at the Manus Island detention centre 14-8-17

The 14th day of protest at the Manus Island detention centre 14-8-17 Photo: Supplied

"We had two elections, we experienced three or four prime ministers but nothing changed for us so I think it is good that they don't talk about us," Mr Boochani said.

"But after the election something should change. Any party that gets in power should solve this problem. Australian people want this."

The journalist, author and this year's recipient of Australia's richest literary prize has been detained for six years on the island, where about 500 other men still languish.

About the same number of men and women are held on Nauru to deter others from sailing to Australia to seek asylum. Most fled Iran to Indonesia to make the perilous sea voyage to Australia's Christmas Island, but there are also those from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Sri Lanka and Myanmar.

The boat arrivals were largely staunched in 2013 by the declaration of the then Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd that none would settle in Australia, according to the former Australian civil servant, diplomat and businessman John Menadue. But that hasn't stopped the former immigration minister and now Liberal party prime minister Scott Morrison from taking the credit.

Hoda Afshar's picture of Behrouz Boochani which won the Bowness Photography Prize, 2018.

Hoda Afshar's picture of Behrouz Boochani which won the Bowness Photography Prize, 2018. Photo: Hoda Afshar

While he and his party have certainly prolonged detention offshore in conditions described as torturous by a UN rapporteur, Mr Morrison has resisted blowing his boat-stopping trumpet during the current campaign, the consequence of an Australian allegedly shooting dead 50 Muslims in Christchurch, Mr Boochani claims.

"Before the New Zealand terrorist attack the Australian government started a scare campaign against refugees in Manus and Nauru," he said.

"So the prime minister went to Christmas Island and they opened the detention there and spent so much money just to do that propaganda. And also News Corp and the Murdoch media did some stories against individual refugees on Manus Island and Nauru.

"So they started their scare campaign but after the New Zealand terrorist attack the Australian people became aware that these politicians who are spreading violence and do hate speech against migrants and refugees are responsible for this and they condemned them. So that's why the Liberal party thought it's better they don't talk about refugees in Manus and Nauru."

The removal of the refugee issue has led to an election being fought over "real problems" in Australia, including economics, climate change and inequality, Mr Boochani said.

"The politicians always hide themselves behind the refugee issue and they use it as a cover to manipulate the people of Australia. But now I think it is a good campaign," he said.

"They talk about many social and political issues in Australia rather than talk about innocent people in Manus and Nauru. Real issues, real problems because we are not a real problem. It is only Australian government propaganda."

The journalist said Australia's widely condemned offshore detention issue could be solved by getting the refugees off the islands, something the poll leading opposition Labor party says it will try to do.

It has committed to revisiting New Zealand's 2013 offer to annually resettle 150 of the refugees, which Mr Boochani has long advocated.

"What is important for us is to get off of these islands. We never said that we only want to live in Australia. Our request is just, 'let us go'. So I hope if Labor wins they accept this offer and don't waste time and let us go to New Zealand."

A banner from 104th day of protest on Manus Island

A banner from 104th day of protest on Manus Island Photo: Behrouz Boochani

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