Many and sharp the num'rous ills
Inwoven with our frame!
More pointed still we make ourselves
Regret, remorse, and shame!
And man, whose heav'n-erected face
The smiles of love adorn, –
Man's inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!
~ Robbie Burns
Hundreds of miles from the north coast of Australia is a monument both to man’s inhumanity to man, and to one of its causes.
Rich phosphate resources once made Nauru rich, it’s people one of the world’s wealthiest. Now, its riches exahausted, it sells itself to a foreign country to be its garbage can for unwanted immigrants.
Exposed this week on Nauru is the largest cache of documents to be leaked from within Australia’s asylum seeker detention regime detailing assaults, sexual assaults and self-harm. They sought asylum, they sought desperately to breathe free – no crime but that of vision -- and instead have been locked up in concentration camp conditions with narry a date for release. What they are forced to endure there is inhuman.
The Nauru files set out as never before the assaults, sexual abuse, self-harm attempts, child abuse and living conditions endured by asylum seekers held by the Australian government, painting a picture of routine dysfunction and cruelty.
The Guardian’s analysis of the files reveal that children are vastly over-represented in the reports. More than half of the 2,116 reports – a total of 1,086 incidents, or 51.3% – involve children, although children made up only about 18% of those in detention on Nauru during the time covered by the reports…
Some reports contain distressing examples of behaviour by traumatised children. According to a report from September 2014, a girl had sewn her lips together. A guard saw her and began laughing at her. In July that year a child under the age of 10 undressed and invited a group of adults to insert their fingers into her vagina…
In the files there are seven reports of sexual assault of children, 59 reports of assault on children, 30 of self-harm involving children and 159 of threatened self-harm involving children…
Allegations of sexual assault, particularly against young women, are a persistent theme of the files. In one report an asylum seeker described being told she was “on a list” written by local Nauruan guards naming single women they were “waiting for”. “She has received offers to get her pregnant when she gets out,” the caseworker wrote.
They reveal allegations of misconduct by Wilson Security guards at the detention centre. In one report a “cultural adviser” for Wilson Security, the company that employs guards at the detention camp, allegedly told an asylum seeker who had been sexually assaulted in camp that “rape in Australia is very common and people don’t get punished”…
Health and medical experts have consistently warned of the mental harm caused by prolonged detention. The files show in graphic detail how this harm has manifested.
One man asked a caseworker where he could buy bullets so he could get someone else to shoot him. A woman sharpened a pencil with a razor blade, then cut her wrists. Another wrapped a rope around her neck and tried to hang herself…
This is not how other human beings should be or need to be treated. The stories, more than 2000 of them, are dire. You can read them all here, if you can, detailed in a unique database. (Don’t do it over lunch.)
It’s like a psychotic experiment writ large: Give thugs unmonitored virtually life-or-death command over desperate people, and then stand back to find out what happens.
What happens is bestial.
Australian’s themselves can’t disclaim responsibility for this shameful treatment of other human beings on the basis that it’s their government doing it, not them. Every election the go-to move for an Australian Prime Minister in trouble is to damn these folk they call “boat people.” To mistreat them. To banish them. To make them go away. How? Somehow. This is being done in the name of every Australian, and everyone bears the stain.
As author Robert Heinlein suggested, successful immigrants demonstrate just by their choice and gumption in choosing a new life that they are worthy of respect. So God damn you if the only two words you can find to put together when talking about people who leave their homelands to seek a better life for themselves and their families are ‘illegal aliens.’ Or ‘boat people.’ And God damn you to a hell of your own making if this is the way you treat them.
And what’s at the heart of the inhumanity? What could make people we think we know turn barbarian like this?
Let me suggest an answer. Instead of seeing these people as a net benefit, they see every one only as another mouth to feed. They see them not as other producers, but as beneficiaries. They have been made to think that way by politics. By politicians whose job it is to set one group against another.
What condemns these people to die in squalour is the Welfare State. The dark secret at the heart of the Welfare State is that it's an essentially tribal structure. It's a kind of caveman collectivism: if you're inside the group, you can eat. If you’re outside the group, you can starve.
There is no cow more sacred than our creaking and bankrupt welfare state. By its very nature, the Welfare State dehumanises people—viewing them as nothing other than either a mouth to feed or a wallet to plunder. In defence of their wallets, they think, Australians demand defence of their shores. Defence against the helpless, the hopeless, the dying.
Not just bankrupt. Morally bankrupt.
And once again, this dehumanising moral bankruptcy at the heart of the Welfare State lies exposed, this time on a small island several hundred miles and well over the horizon from Australia.