Recently, the UK conservative columnist Katie Hopkins wrote an article in the Sun that asked Britain to ‘Get Australian’ when dealing with ‘cockroaches’, also known as Boat People. Her xenophobic statements received world-wide outrage, including from the Society of Black Lawyers chairman Peter Herbert, who compared Hopkins’ term ‘cockroaches’ as echoing “the use of the word to describe the Tutsi minority and Hutu moderates during the 1994 Rwanda genocide.” (Knott, 2015).
The notorious ‘Boat People’ are a percentage of refugees that have copped flak in the media so aggressively, it has become one of the hot topics of political debate during election periods since 2001. Bob Carr, former Minister for Foreign Affairs in 2013 wrote an opinion piece for the Daily Telegraph stating that ‘Boat People’ accounted for 20% of asylum seeking refugees (Carr, 2013). Unfortunately the true number is less than 2% (Taylor, 2013).
So why are Boat People represented so negatively in both media and politics? Unfortunately boat people have become subject to the concept of ‘othering’. The term ‘boat people’ differentiates these ‘type’ of people from other asylum seekers. As such, the repeated use of the term in the media and by politicians has resulted in the dehumanization of refugees that arrive via boat, whereby their image is comparable to ‘others’ (McDougall & Fletcher, 2002).
Prime Minister Rudd’s decision to send all asylum seekers by boat to Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island detention centre in 2013 has resulted in further forms of dehumanization. If we view images of Nauru, Christmas, or Manus Islands, or even mainland Australian detention centres, they perpetuate the imagery of prisons. And of course, as Youtuber FriendlyJordies put it, “You don’t go to detention unless you’re naughty”. But at least prisoners are given a time with their sentence. Refugees that are detained are often undetermined periods of time to both maintain the security of Australia boarders, whilst also processing the Visa applications.
It’s saddening, however, that despite supposed measures by various governments since Keating, children occupy these detention centres. Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs claims that there are now more children than ever in immigration detention centres (Norman, 2013), even though various allegations of rape and abuse, as well as a rising number of mental illness cases are all occurring in said centres (Laughland, 2013; Doherty & Farrell 2015).
In fact, the UN this year found that various Australian Asylum Seeker policies violate the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Human Rights Law Centre, 2015).
So what can be done to combat the issue of dehumanization of asylum seekers?
Firstly, there is currently a petition by Get Up to raise awareness of children in detention centres.
Furthermore, the media and politicians alike need to refrain from dehumanizing asylum seekers as ‘boat people’. This, however, is difficult considering the controversial political climate, which, with Katie Hopkins as a key example, stretches far beyond our lonely borders.
Carr, B 2013, ‘Why we’ll fight smugglers’, Sunday Telegraph, July 7, viewed 14 May 2015, <http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/opinion/why-well-fight-smugglers/story-fni0cwl5-1226675268230>.
Doherty, B & Farrell, P 2015, ‘Rapes and fears for safety on Nauru uncovered by independent Moss review’, The Guardian, March 20, viewed May 14 2015, <http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/mar/20/rapes-and-fears-for-safety-on-nauru-uncovered-by-independent-moss-review>
Human Rights Law Centre 2015, ‘UN finds Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers violates the Convention Against Torture’, HRLC, 9 March, viewed 14 May 2015, <http://hrlc.org.au/un-finds-australias-treatment-of-asylum-seekers-violates-the-convention-against-torture/>.
Knott, M 2015, ‘Conservative columnist Katie Hopkins reported to police over asylum seeker views’, Sunday Morning Herald, 21 April, viewed 14 May 2015, <http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/conservative-columnist-katie-hopkins-reported-to-police-over-asylum-seeker-views-20150421-1mpjr7.html>.
Laughland, O 2013, ‘Manus Island detainees ‘raped and abused’ with full knowledge of staff’, The Guardian, 24 July, 14 May 2015, <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jul/24/manus-island-rape-detainees>.
McDougall, J & Fletcher, D 2002 ‘Dehumanising the boat people’, Social Alternatives, Vol. 21, No. 4, p. 33 – 36.
Norman, J 2013, ‘http://www.abc.net.au/news/federal-election-2013/policy/asylum-seekers/’ ABC, viewed 14 May 2015, <http://www.abc.net.au/news/federal-election-2013/policy/asylum-seekers/>.
Katie Hopkin’s Article – The Sun, Shoebat 2015, viewed 14 May 2015, <http://shoebat.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/katie-hopkin-article1.jpg>
Manus Island Detention Centre, Stewert, J 2012, viewed 14 May 2015, <http://www.abc.net.au/reslib/201210/r1018312_11528599.jpg>
Taylor, S 2013, ‘FactCheck: are boat people now 20% of our immigration program?’,The Conversation, 22 July, viewed 14 May 2015 <http://theconversation.com/factcheck-are-boat-people-now-20-of-our-immigration-program-16006>.