10 February 2014


I recently attended a ceremony and exhibition at the UN to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day (Jan 27th) which told the remarkable story of ‘The Girls of Room 28’ – a group of Jewish girls held in Theresienstadt concentration camp, one of whom was present at the ceremony.

The experience led me to again reflect and try to understand how we humans can be capable of perpetrating so much cruelty towards one another. The holocaust is not an isolated event – Cambodia, Rwanda, Sri Lanka and now Syria, to name but a few, are further examples of ongoing acts of horrifying barbarity that have taken place since then.

And yet an extermination camp such as Auschwitz did not suddenly appear. Rather it was the culmination of many small intermediate steps that began with the singling out and demonizing of a minority group, continued with the unchecked proliferation of hate speech, that was even encouraged by those in power, acts of discrimination, the denial of human rights and accompanied progressively by an increasing level of violence.

In Germany it is claimed most ordinary people did not know of the worst excesses of the Nazis. Maybe so, but all would have been aware of the initial steps that were to eventually lead to the ‘final solution’, but most failed to act. Eventually it was too late.

Without equating the Jewish holocaust to Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers – although prior to its occurence Germans would never have believed that their civilised nation would be capable of perpetrating the horrors that later took place - there are nevertheless some disturbing parallels with what is happening now with what happened in Nazi Germany.

A group of people are being denied their fundamental human right to enter another country to seek asylum. Worse, they are constantly and wrongfully being described as ‘illegals’, ‘terrorists’, ‘queue jumpers’ etc, are held in remote locations in inhumane conditions with no indication of when they might be freed.

It is difficult to know the exact conditions under which people are being held due to the secrecy of the Australian government, the insistence on confidentiality clauses in employment contracts for those employed in places such as Manus Island and Nauru, and the effective banning of the media from visiting. Visa fees for journalists wishing to visit Nauru were recently increased from $200 to $8000 which leads to the question ‘What is being hidden?’

It was the Irish Statesman Edmund Burke who said "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing". Perhaps it is time for more good men and women in Australia to raise their voices against the evil being perpetrated in their name.

More information, including suggestions for writing a letter and the contact details of your member of parliament can be found at the A Just Australia website.

Good comment, Brian. Human nature seems to be very slow to learn from the mistakes of the past, and we appear to be moving strongly into that same mentality again. This is happening in Australia, but in many other parts of the world too, especially Europe.
Brian, I had similar thoughts in the early stages of watching the movie "The Book Thief" - vilification, misuse of language. You may have noticed that the Australian PM Mr Abbott has started using the language of war. "It's as war!" (with "people smugglers"). A 3 star Admiral stands beside the Immigration Minister when he addresses the press. Often his answer is 'I do not comment on operational (or "on-water") matters.' The PM encourages Black and white thinking: "There's a right way to come and a wrong way to come!" The Minister for Immigration and Border Security (note the changed title) Mr Morrison has instructed SERCO who operate the Detention Centres, and also his Department, that they are to use the term "illegal" where possible. So IMA no longer means "Irregular" Maritime Arrivals but "Illegal"Maritime Arrivals. In 1975 (9 Dec Resolution 3349 - XXX) the UN General Assembly indicated that the preferred term was :"irregular". Mr Morrison has told SERCO that they are no longer to refer to "clients" but to "Detainees". They were to maintain a more professional distance from Detainees, and not to be friendly with them. Morrison has also used the term :"transferees" in reference to Asylum Seekers being taken to PNG or Nauru. (Depersonalising them). Sean McManus
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