Culture

The New York Times Has Urged Australia To Ditch Offshore Detention In A Scathing Column

"Scrap a policy that shames a nation with its pointless cruelty."

The New York Times has had Australia’s offshore detention program in its sights for a while now. In September last year, the paper published a scathing editorial condemning Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers as “brutal” and “unconscionable”, and this year has extensively covered Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s dismal handling of the suicides and suicide attempts that have transpired on Nauru in recent weeks.

Now the Times is ramping up the pressure. In today’s edition, longtime columnist Roger Cohen has launched a scathing attack on Dutton, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, and the government’s offshore detention policies, calling them “textbook rules for the administering of cruelty”.

“People — dubbed “illegals” without cause — who are caught in this Australian web under a policy now dating back almost four years … are rarely visible. They are often nameless, merely given identification numbers. Women and children are vulnerable in squalid conditions where idleness and violence go hand in hand,” Cohen writes.

Cohen singles out Dutton’s comments about “illiterate” and “innumerate” refugees taking Australian jobs and clogging up welfare queues for particular criticism, saying they hark back to Australia’s overtly racist past.

“The refugees are consistently demeaned, as when the conservative immigration minister, Peter Dutton, said this month that they could not read and would somehow contrive at once to steal Australian jobs and ‘languish in unemployment queues’ — a statement that prompted Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to call Dutton ‘outstanding’, no less.

“…This country’s history includes the long and unhappy chapter of its White Australia policy under which a vast land mass was portrayed as under threat of invasion by uncivilized “natives” from across Asia. Politicians like Dutton are playing scurrilously on similar fears.”

Cohen also takes aim at Turnbull himself. Noting that the PM “came to office with a reputation for being from the more progressive wing of the conservative Liberal Party,” Cohen says that Turnbull “has proved beholden to the hard-line right” elements in his party and clearly believes “casting the marooned of Nauru and Manus Island as threats to Australia will play well with voters.”

“Beyond electoral calculations, people are dying,” Cohen continues, highlighting the death of Iranian refugee Omid Masoumali and the self-immolation of Somali refugee Hodan a short time later. “Their acts were reflections of the desperation and exhaustion inflicted by Australia under a policy that was supposed to be temporary, has not been thought through, and places people in conditions of hopelessness.”

“Bring those stranded in Nauru and on Manus Island, many of whose refugee claims have already been deemed legitimate, to Australia,” Cohen urges. “Treat them with humanity as their demands for permanent settlement are assessed. Scrap a policy that shames a nation with its pointless cruelty.”