Kosovar Refugees: Howard Government’s Hypocritical “Hospitality”

Refugees need rights, not charity! Open the borders! Full citizenship rights now!

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A stand-off between 80 Kosovar refugees and the Australian government outside the army camp in Singleton New South Wales made headline news in June. The refugees demanded to either be returned to the East Hills reception centre in Sydney or the superior conditions of the Macedonian border tent cities they came from. They refused to leave a bus that had transported them from Sydney, preferring to put up with the freezing cold rather than go into the appalling accommodation awaiting them. There was no hot water or heating and no baths for the children. Toilets were 500m away from sleeping huts, along unlit bush tracks.

The Howard government responded with psychological and physical abuse. Until the protesters got off the bus, they were denied blankets or food. Many on board were infants, but with nothing to eat, breastfeeding women couldn’t produce milk. Elderly people were freezing; one was a 74-year-old woman suffering from kidney disease. “Humanitarianism” — like “tolerance” and “compassion” — is not a concept that Prime Minister Howard understands.

By the end of the third day, the government managed to starve and freeze out all but one family, and the protest came to an end. The family of seven who held out returned to Kosovo, their Australian ordeal behind them.

Ugly Australians. Feeding Hansonite bigotry and intolerance, Canberra painted the protesters as ingrates and freeloaders off the taxpayers’ purse. The Award for Cynicism has to go to Ruddock: “You’ve got to compare it to the situation they’ve been in,” he sniffed. Thanks to NATO’s blitzkrieg, most of Yugoslavia is without water or electricity, and Kosovars are returning to piles of rubble that were once homes!

Howard pontificated: “They can’t pick and choose where they stay at the government’s expense. The Singleton accommodation may not be 5-star, but it’s free!” The nationalistic Labor Party (ALP) joined in the charade — its immigration spokesperson accusing these survivors of NATO’s and Milosevic’s terror of being “precious.” As always, xenophobic rednecks surfaced to vilify the Kosovars. Even some members of Australia’s ethics communities joined in, saying that their parents had endured similar conditions in the ‘40s and ‘50s. As if two wrongs equal one right.

What is clear from this disgraceful episode is that these displaced persons were expected to be grateful, passive beneficiaries of “Aussie generosity.” But having known society in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo and a typical European city, they would not tolerate being herded into shacks intended for weekend training by young, fit, and untraumatised reservists. They found out, as Indigenous Australians and welfare recipients have, that to stand up for your rights is to be branded “undeserving.”

Blood on their hands. The government not only approves of the NATO war on Yugoslavia, it has actively engaged in the conflict through the CIA-controlled “joint facilities” at Narrungar, Pine Gap and North West Cape. NATO’s surveillance and bombing of Yugoslavia was arranged through these spy stations, and untold thousands of Kosovars died as cluster bombs pounded Pristina and slaughtered hundreds of refugees.

When countries started offering to take refugees from squalid camps in Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro, Ruddock refused to follow their lead. Forty-eight hours later, he and Howard capitulated to community disgust, agreeing, in their usual miserable way, to take a mere 4,000 exiles for only three months. Refugees who don’t want to, or can’t, return home will be deported. Meanwhile, in the spirit of the Cold War, Serbs are demonised as communists and killers. There’s been no assistance for the half million Serbian refugees expelled from Croatia and fleeing Bosnia and Kosovo.

The Howard government’s whitewashing of the 211-year-old genocidal war raging in this country is the ultimate hypocrisy. For “biological warfare” read “small pox-infected blankets.” For “booby traps” substitute “poisoned wells.” Replace “ethic cleansing” with “assimilation” — and “Wik legislation.” Tens of thousands of Indigenous people are refugees in their own country.

“Whites Only” assistance. Government aid policy is openly racist. Albanians are white Europeans — it’s the only reason they get any “help.” In 1994, 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis were massacred in just over 100 days. Over a million fled and are still crowded in the refugee camps of Uganda and Tanzania. Nothing was ever done for them by this government or its ALP predecessor. But then, they’re Black Africans.

Then there’s East Timor. In the 25 years since it annexed the territory, Jakarta has wiped out or exiled half of the Timorese population — by massacres, sterilisation of women and the illnesses and famine resulting from the war. Australian governments have denied the Timorese refugee status on the spurious grounds that they are Portuguese citizens, even though Australia is the only country to recognise the takeover. But these Southeast Asian people are not allowed refuge from the carnage, because they are people of colour. Who said the White Australian Policy was dead?

It didn’t take both major parties long to fall into (goose) step with Pauline Hanson’s One Nation. The Australian’s political cartoonist Nicholson regularly depicts Hanson as a Cabinet member.

Her ideas inform the Shadow Cabinet as well. ALP frontbencher Nick Bolkus, the former Minister for Immigration, introduced mandatory jail for undocumented arrivals. Bolkus treated so-called “boat people” (often Chinese) like a plague from the north. As a result of his policy, refugees are hunted down and sent to the Port Hedland Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) in Western Australia’s remote Pilbara region, before being expelled to face the persecution or poverty from which they fled. Stripped of human rights, and subjected to bureaucratic cruelty, they also try fighting back through hunger strikes and demonstrations. Between 1991 and 1995, 11 succumbed to despair and took their own lives.

In 1998, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission found that “mandatory detention violates international law.” Now there’s another inquiry into the forced repatriation of a pregnant Chinese woman. Two weeks short of full term, she was drugged and put on a plane to Shanghai. There, under China’s well-known, revolting one-child policy, she was taken to a hospital and forcibly aborted.

Open the borders! The assertion that Australia can take few refugees and immigrants is a lie designed to keep working people from other countries out and Australia’s working class divided by racism. Managed properly, the continent can sustain millions more than the current population.

Australians’ genuine welcome of the Kosovar refugees into their communities show that working people don’t share the politicans’ xenophobia. Bigotry is the creation of the ruling class. The Kosovars, and all refugees, should be allowed to stay in Australia with full citizen rights. When — and if — they want to return home, Canberra should give all possible government assistance.

Imperialism is the reason for the Balkan Wars. Before its disintegration, the ethnic groups of Yugoslavia lived harmoniously. Artificial boundaries, drawn up by the U.S. and the European Union, created the strife, and must be removed for stability to return. The lasting antidote is a voluntary socialist re-federation of the former Yugoslavia — worked out by the workers of the region.

The best assistance working people here can give to the peoples of the Balkans is to build a permanent “safe haven” for the victims of capitalist savagery — a socialist Australia, part of a global socialist federation.

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