Australians are wimps for allowing asylum seekers to be ill-treated and killed

Oh lovely readers, I do not even know how to write this. I'm despairing of what has happened to Australia since 2001, since that first time, in my memory, we turned back those seeking refuge.

This doesn't feel like my country, the country which provided a haven for my darling parents.

Honestly, I'm a ferocious flag-waver. Australia, I'm for you. But the murder of Reza Berati, in front of others he knew, made my heart pound.

It took me back to when I was 11 years old. I think I was 11. It was the time in my life when my overprotective parents told me the truth about my grandparents - or, at least, what they knew.

What they knew was little, only that sometime during World War II my grandparents disappeared. My father's parents. My mother's parents.

My own parents were not graphic. All they knew was that their parents had disappeared, were gone. My father's younger sister disappeared too.


There are lots of 11-year-olds who have vivid imaginations. That was me. And my imagination was fuelled by what I discovered about the ways Jews were killed during what is now called the Holocaust.

So, I do not know exactly what happened to my grandparents. My parents did not know what happened to their parents. I do not know what happened to my aunt. My father did not know what happened to his little sister.

But when I was young, I used to wonder how they died. I had no difficulty in terrifying myself with what little I knew. We barely spoke about the Holocaust in our house.

My father never spoke of his time in a forced labour camp; my surviving aunt would wear long sleeves so no one would see the number tattooed on her wrist.

My world didn't have much horror then, but I had the frantic imagination of a young child adored by her frightened parents, so protected that I wasn't allowed sleepovers for years.

But when I knew more, when I could spend time at the library, looking things up, I used to wonder how they died. The four of them would have been in their 50s when the Nazis came.

Photographs show them as portly and unlikely to look fit enough for work, but when the Nazis did come and dragged away the very old, the very young, the sick, those who didn't fit in, their methods were clinical.

Those not fit enough for work would have been gassed, either by carbon monoxide produced by internal combustion engines, or with hydrogen cyanide, called Zyklon-B. If you are interested, I can direct you to photos of the murdered, piled high.

We had one distant relative who was the subject of medical experiments. She and her sister had their reproductive organs sliced out of their bodies.

Sometimes the old people were just shot - point-blank - in front of spectators. Sometimes a child was shot in front of her parents, then the parents were shot in front of their neighbours.

Clinical. Systematic. Six million dead.

And strangely, what terrified me most was imagining that the Nazis would take over Australia and come for my parents, kill them in front of me. That, I thought at the wise-old age of 11, would be much worse than if I were killed first.

Don't be ridiculous. I'm not likening the federal government to the Nazis. That would be far too Godwin's, even for me. In 1991, Mike Godwin, a US lawyer, wrote of Usenet groups: "Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies: As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches."

And how ridiculous would it be if I popped in that famous Heinrich Himmler quote: "The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy.

''All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

As far as I know, the government is not herding people of a particular ethnicity into camps and then killing them. Well, not killing them on purpose.

But those who run our country are now prepared to tolerate, without much fuss, the murder of refugees. Inside a detention centre established by Australia. Yes, they are. And they are doing it in all our names - not just those of you who voted for the Coalition, but all of us.

Robin Margo, the immediate past president of the Jewish Board of Deputies, spoke at a Light the Dark rally in Sydney on Sunday night. "Jews know what it means to seek asylum and we express our solidarity with all asylum seekers, of any religion or none," he said.

He also urged the government to comply, to the letter, with all of Australia's obligations under the UNHCR refugee convention.

Author Tara Moss wrote a compelling Facebook post yesterday, with information directly from a worker on Manus Island: "The '20+ shots fired' (not 'a couple', as previously claimed). The spent shells. The evacuation of staff (but not asylum seekers) before the violence began.

''The fact that people from outside came in and opened fire on the people there. The fact that it happened deep within the compound where people were trapped, far from the entry gate.

''All of his info has proved true so far. Every last detail. And though he is stationed there, and can't speak publicly, he wanted me to know that many of the staff there are excellent, highly qualified expat Australians doing the best they can in bad conditions, but that Manus Island detention centre should be shut down as unsafe."

I'm sure neither Scott Morrison nor Tony Abbott gives a shit about what the UN thinks. Rather, Abbott's world view is one of goodies and baddies, wimps and those whom he considers decent. But The New York Times ran a story on Saturday quoting the UN's human rights' office saying Australia's treatment of refugees was "cruel, inhuman and degrading and it violates international law".

We are the ones wimping out on our international responsibilities. We are now the baddies.

Twitter @jennaprice or email


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