There seems to be a global trend of countries closing their borders. Countries seem to be slamming doors, dividing and sectioning themselves off from one another, from their historical allies, and from progressive left-wing politics. There is an undeniable shift towards radical right-wing parties and policies in today’s western political spheres. Populism and self-preservation is in, global responsibility and the greater good is out. So where does this leave those who are locked on the wrong side of the doors, or those caught in-between as the door was closing, with one foot in and the rest of their bodies out? Where does this leave the heaving masses of asylum-seeking people, floating without a motor, upon seas whose currents will lead them to a reality nothing like what western sitcoms and smiling white family billboard advertisements showed them? What happens to the people whose search for something more leads them not to a life, but to a condemned existence of isolation, concrete walls and barbed wire fencing? What does our self-preservation cost them?
Both Italy and Malta turned away an NGO boat carrying over 600 asylum seekers in June. The people aboard, 123 of which were unaccompanied minors, were stranded in the Mediterranean sea, and whilst the ministers of Italy and Malta played hot-potato with the vessel, food supplies aboard the crowded ship threatened to run out. Italy’s rejection of the boat is a reflection of its current political attitude. Italy’s new Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, is a key figure of the new Italian populist government and is responsible for refusing the boat clearance to dock. Salvini, who is also head of the far-right league, has committed himself to a staunchly anti-immigration stance, promising to send back half-a-million migrants to their countries of origin and proposing to have them locked up for 18 months whilst paperwork for their deportation was completed. Salvini tweeted, “Victory!”, after recently elected Spanish socialist Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, announced that he and Spain would welcome the boat and its 629 asylum seekers in Valencia.
Italy’s disregard for the plight of asylum seekers is similarly seen around the world, where developed countries who teem with resources and privilege echo Italy’s tightening immigration policy. Trump’s America has committed itself to uncovering and deporting immigrants regardless of their work, family, or time spent in the United States. Two executive orders signed early into Trump’s tenure established unauthorised immigrants as America’s primary arrest targets. During the months between Trump’s January 2017 inauguration and September 2017, the number of immigrants seized in America increased by 42% compared to the figures during the same period in 2016. The Trump administration’s efforts to stifle immigration continues, as United States attorney general Jeff Sessions set a precedent earlier this year overturning a 2016 decision to grant asylum to an El Salvadorian woman on the basis of sexual, emotional, and physical abuse by her husband back in El Salvador. Sessions’ ruling determines that victims of domestic and gang violence are no longer applicable for asylum registration, a decision that has the potential to affect tens of thousands of asylum applicants, many of those unable to return back to their homes for fear of persecution or death.
And it’s not really an article about the global treatment of asylum seekers if Australia isn’t addressed. Our own treatment of asylum seekers is perhaps more relevant than ever with the arrival of Scott Morrison as our new Prime Minister. Hidden behind his cute Scomo nickname, Morrison has delayed asylum seekers permanent protection visas, criticised the Gillard government for covering the expenses of relatives of the 48 victims of the Christmas Island asylum seeker boat disaster to travel to funerals in Sydney, has been found by a human rights commission to have failed to act in the best interests of children in detention, has passed bills that allows the detainment of asylum seekers without charge and the ability to refuse any asylum seeker who arrives by boat regardless of the situation they were fleeing. Our mandatory off shore processing camps have been called a crime against humanity, a place where children as young as 10 are attempting suicide. There is no compassion in Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers and there hasn’t been for many years. It’s worth wondering how much blood is on the Australian governments hands. Many believe that there is more than the government would have us realise.
The true cost of suffocating immigration policies is to those people running from horror in their home countries so desperate that they are willing to throw themselves at the mercy of foreign governments rather than face life back in their country of origin. Rather than giving these people a soft place to land, Western governments turn what was once mercy into a repelling spike. The governments of today would rather refugees impale themselves upon protectionist legislation than work together to impart a sense of global responsibility and initiate global policies in order to aid those who cannot aid themselves. Italy would rather find victory in abandoning people at sea than in aiding people who are pleading for protection. America would rather mindlessly eject people than treat them with compassion. It seems that the world today would rather strand people in limbo than extend them an olive branch.