The Hawke government has declared open season on migrants. The situation is deteriorating with every new announcement by the Department of Immigration and Ethic Affairs. The government is introducing repressive measures targeting 90,000 so-called “illegal immigrants.” At the same time, it has reduced the annual immigration intake by 14,000 — half of this number coming from the family reunion scheme and changed refugee regulations to stop a supposed “blowout” in the refugee intake.
“Socialist Left” Immigration Minister, Gerry Hand, told The Age newspaper that changes to regulations for refugee intake are necessary because of an unprecedented surge in the number of people applying to live in Australia on refugee grounds. Migrants have complained to a parliamentary committee that the government has changed the rules on humanitarian entry to such an extant that a humanitarian visa no longer exists. Those applying for refugee status will be granted temporary entry permits instead of being granted resident status, as was previously the practice.
Obtaining a temporary entry permit will be made more difficult for refugees. An application to stay on humanitarian grounds will only be granted where the applicant’s country is one which has been gazetted by parliament as a country where human rights abuses occur, yet to date no countries have been so gazetted! This ruling means that some desperate and persecuted people will be prevented from entering Australia and, for radicals attempting to flee rightwing regimes, this is almost a death sentence.
George Papadopoulos, Chair of the Victorian Ethnic Affairs Commission, has described the current situation as “outrageous.” He says he has no doubt that many people who return to the country they fled from were not heard of again for a variety of reasons. But he pointed out that “you almost have to produce your own corpse before they believe you will be endangered if you are sent back to your country of origin.”
A federal parliamentary committee, the Joint Standing Committee on Migration Regulations, was told at recent hearing that the Australian immigration system is so uncaring that Jews seeking to escape Nazi Germany would have no hope of sanctuary under existing laws.
Spokespeople for ethnic communities told the committee that some “illegals” could face imprisonment or death if they were deported to their country of origin. The hearings also revealed examples of some “illegals” being ripped off by lawyers and immigration sharks, who charge up to $30,000 for basic information!
Government moves to reduce the intake and tighten up the rules for humanitarian entry are the beginning of a massive attack on migrants dubbed as “illegal.” The Age reported an announcement on 6 August that the Immigration Department was to get a budget boost to triple its staff of immigration snoops and cops. The department will also receive increased funds for its computer system to enable it to more efficiently track down any visitors who overstay their visas. The system will help officials to match more than three million entry and departure records each year to determine if visitors are actually leaving the country. The system used in the past meant that, at any one time, between ten and fifteen thousand cards were unmatched.
The government’s current policies, coupled with the use of the new technology, will allow detailed information on people who don’t leave Australia when their visa expires to be supplied within the week to the Department of Social Security! The DSS is to reciprocate by giving immigration officials the addresses of people with expired visas, who contact it so that these people can be deported. Laurence Bugden, assistant secretary of the Immigration Department’s compliance branch, told The Sunday Herald on 2 September, “We will then go and get them.” Unionists in the public service must place an immediate ban on this activity.
It seems that in this era of cuts to socially useful public services, such as health, transport and education, it is only the repressive State apparatus that is expanding. The new immigration crackdown will cost $18 million dollars in the first two years. Gerry Hand explained that the task of its increased staff will be “to follow up” visitors and students who “overstay” their temporary entry permit; to “make sure” that immigrants leave the country when their applications for visa extensions are rejected; to detect “illegal” entrants who are working; to check employers and education institutions; and to investigate organised “immigration rackets,” such as “contrived marriages.”
Late last year, snoopers from the department visited many inner suburban factories for the purpose of “informing” migrant workers of their rights and “advising” them about the planned changes to regulations. In reality, these visits were intended to identify “illegals” and workplaces that employed them. Many educational institutions already require migrant students to show their visa or prove their residency before they can enrol in courses. Outrageously, this is standard practice for English as a Second Language programs!
The deportations have already quietly started. The department’s official figures for the number of “illegals” is 90,000. In the last year, over 2,000 of these people have actually been identified. Almost 400 have been deported already, a further 615 forced to leave as “monitored departures,” and 664 left the country “under supervision.” Some of the people who have been deported have formed relationships with or married Australian citizens and have children born in this country. The department’s own figures estimate that 10% of the 90,000 “illegals” have been in the country more than seven years and nearly 20% for more than 5 years. Since the new laws were announced, more than 30,000 “illegal” immigrants, no doubt fearing what lay ahead, have “left the country voluntarily.”
Late last year the department announced that people on a visitors visa could no longer apply to change their status while in the country. Many people are suffering financial and personal hardship as their lovers, friends and spouses are forced to leave Australia and apply for permanent residency from another country. At the same time, it was also announced that applicants for permanent residency will now be subjected to a compulsory AIDS test. This move is a disgraceful breach of all applicants’ privacy rights and is a cruel blow to those who are HIV positive.
The Lesbian and Gay Immigration Task Force protested against the new regulations and expressed concern that the move will be used to force a number of gay men with HIV to leave the country. Some of these men, who have spent years living in Australia, have applications pending for permanent residency for an overseas lover, but they are not treated equally under the immigration law. Lesbian and gay couples have to go through particularly rigorous proof of their relationships before permanent residency can be granted. The Health Department claims that there will be room for “compassion” and that each case will be individually reviewed by the Minister for Immigration. But previous experience by the Lesbian and Gay Immigration Task Force makes it sceptical of this assurance. In the past, AIDS or HIV infection of a migrant partner has been grounds for denying an application. This is inhumane, and we must protest.
The attacks on migrants are laying the groundwork for attacks on the privacy rights of everyone in Australia. The so-called “Australia Card” may have been shelved, but all that was stopped was the plastic card itself. The threat behind it — a massive interlocking national computer database of information on all of us to be used by government departments — is proceeding at a rapid pace. And all of this is being sold by a government pointing to “cheats” getting away with evasion and fraud. This, they say, is unfair to the rest of us. Yet the real cheats — the big capitalists, who grow rich on the backs of both migrant and Australian born labour — get tax concessions and legal loopholes to “encourage” them to keep exploiting us!
The government’s planned witch-hunt against immigrants is intended to prevent them from getting jobs, drivers licences, legal aid, social security benefits and access to health, education, childcare, housing and training. It aims to send them underground and make them non-people, denied access to all services. The bonus for the government in all of this is that it will have exploited racism in some backward sectors of the working class to destroy the basic privacy rights of us all.
At the very time the government is laying the foundations for its anti-migrant witch-hunt, migrants are being blamed for everything, from the destruction of the environment to the crisis of the economy. There has been barely a whimper from the union bureaucracy, which is busily trying to prop up the system through nationalist tripartite deals with the Australian government and Australian bosses.
The Freedom Socialist Party calls for a united campaign to prevent this government’s campaign of terrorism against immigrants. We demand full legal and political rights for all migrants in this country. Full access to all social services. We demand privacy for all. Capping off the struggle is the fight for open borders, the right of all to live and work anywhere they choose.
We need a strong and united campaign to resist the racist offensive currently being drummed up. The Freedom Socialist Party has taken steps towards initiating such a campaign. We have, with the Workers Revolution group, sent a letter to a broad range of migrant, left, union, feminist, lesbian and gay organisations, calling for the formation of a united campaign of action around these demands:
- No immigration controls; smash the racist limits on immigration!
- For trade union/migrant/community action to stop deportations and resist the racists!
- Full citizenship for all migrants, now!
We intend to shortly organise a meeting in Melbourne of all groups and individuals responding to this call, so that we can start to plan activities. The exact nature of such activities will depend on the extent of support for the proposed united campaign and the agreement of its participants. Suggestions include leafleting union mass meetings, a demonstration against new immigration regulations and quotas, and pickets of racist events.
It will be a tragedy of monumental proportions if radicals do nothing. We must act swiftly against the anti-immigrant juggernaut.