With all the hyperbole about the medevac law, it is easy to lose sight of its purpose.
Refugees have been transferred off Nauru and Manus Island for emergency medical treatment since offshore detention restarted on these islands in 2013. The Department of Home Affairs reported to Senate estimates that 898 refugees and asylum seekers had been sent to Australia for medical treatment prior to the passage of the medevac law earlier this year. Of those, 282 were returned to Manus and Nauru after receiving treatment, and the rest remained in Australia in detention.
These transfers occurred in response to pleas from doctors and health professionals on an ad hoc basis. And it was up to the Home Affairs Department and Minister Peter Dutton whether to comply with such a request. Medical emergencies could include life-threatening brain or heart conditions, complex abortions, or emergency psychiatric care for children at risk for suicide – all of which are beyond the capacity of the health systems on Nauru and Manus to treat.
Although some refugees were granted emergency medical evacuation, many others were not. In response, legal cases were brought against the government for breaching its responsibility to care for the refugees.
This required the federal court to convene at short notice to hear cases. It also required the expenditure of huge amounts of taxpayer money to call expert medical witnesses and file thousands of pages of supporting documentation.
Because of the delays in treatment, these legal battles were enormously risky for those in need of medical care.
Through these early cases, the court established that it was a breach of the government’s duty not to provide refugees with emergency medical treatment. And yet, the Home Affairs Department continued to fight applications for transfers for emergency medical treatment, only to be overturned by the courts, time and time again.
The medevac law was passed due to concerns the department was rejecting transfer applications for political rather than medical reasons. The point was to provide an expedient, objective process to determine whether transfers were required.
And despite the Coalition government’s opposition to the bill, the process for determining which refugees are moved off Nauru and Manus for treatment remains highly deferential to the minister and Department of Home Affairs.
There are two stages to this process.
First, two doctors must assess the person and make a recommendation for transfer. The federal court recently ruled it was possible to make this medical assessment based on documentation alone, as opposed to an in-person or teleconference assessment. This was a necessary adjustment to the law, given that the Nauru government has banned teleconferences for residents.
The minister is required to approve or refuse the recommendation for transfer within 72 hours. There are three grounds for refusal:
If the minister rejects the transfer on medical grounds, the second stage of the process kicks in, with an independent health advice panel (IHAP) assessing the doctors’ recommendation. It is important to note that this panel is comprised of government medical officers and other health professionals appointed by the minister.
To date, there have been 31 medical transfers under the law. In addition, nine recommendations were refused by the government. The panel of health experts upheld seven of the minister’s refusals, and overturned two.
Dutton has made a number of claims about the impact of the medevac law that he argues justify its repeal. All defy reason and logic.
First, the minister has claimed “activist doctors” were using the law to bring people to Australia when they do not require emergency medical care.
This is frankly highly offensive to the medical profession in Australia, and contradicts the clear intention of the law to take politics out of transfer decisions. Even if doctors making the initial recommendation are too left-leaning for Dutton, the expert panel is stacked with medical practitioners of his choosing.
Second, the minister has argued that the capacity to be transferred to Australia for emergency medical treatment will lead to a resumption of the people-smuggling trade.
This is patently absurd. It is true that people smugglers can make up all sorts of stories about Australia relaxing its policies and it being easier to get to Australia. But the facts are crystal clear: the Coalition government maintains a policy of boat turn-backs and indefinite offshore detention for anyone thinking of making the journey.
Medical transfers to Australia are for a temporary period. Once people have been treated, they are returned to detention on Nauru or Manus. It is true that many asylum seekers have remained in Australia for extended periods for ongoing treatment, but these refugees remain within the immigration detention system. They are escorted to medical appointments and remain under guard while receiving treatment. They are given no hope of putting down roots in Australia.
The deterrent to people smugglers remains overwhelming. And, unsurprisingly, we have not seen a restarting of boat arrivals following the passage of the medevac law. Dutton’s own department has signalled this is unlikely in a briefing:
[Potential illegal immigrants] will probably remain sceptical of smuggler marketing and await proof that such a pathway is viable, or that an actual change of policy has occurred, before committing to ventures.
The only possible messaging that people smugglers might use to persuade people to get on a boat is the Coalition government’s own dire warnings of reopening the floodgates and political stunts like the brief resurrection of the Christmas Island detention centre at the staggering cost to taxpayers of over A$180 million.
Dutton’s third claim is that some refugees are refusing resettlement offers in the US because of the medevac law.
Again, it defies logic for refugees to refuse the US option – it is the only hope of resettlement currently on offer. One wonders whether the minister is using this claim as a cover for the fact that transfers to the US have come to a grinding halt under President Donald Trump.
For over six years, successive Australian governments have maintained an unwavering narrow focus on stopping refugee boats with no concern for the victims of this policy – the innocent people on Manus and Nauru.
These people are under Australia’s care. It is Australia that pays the governments of Nauru and PNG to house offshore detention centres to create the disincentive for others to travel by boat to Australia. It is Australia that pays the security companies to keep them detained. And so it is Australia that is responsible for the dramatic decline in their mental and physical health.
It is the narrowest of concessions to offer emergency medical treatment in Australia to people we have so mistreated.
As an immigrant to New Zealand, I am saddened and outraged by the events in Christchurch. The apparent innocence of New Zealand has been stripped away by acts of cowardice and evil.
Police remain on high alert and authorities are still responding to events following the shootings at two mosques in Christchurch that took the lives of 50 people and seriously injured many more. Three people have been arrested, and one, an Australian living in New Zealand sporadically, has appeared in court on murder charges.
My research focuses on how members of a majority perceive a growing immigrant population, and what we can all do to keep fear and hatred in check.
The alleged gunman (whom the Conversation has chosen not to name) is a self-identified white supremacist. Before the attacks he posted an 87-page manifesto online. In his manifesto and social media accounts, he refers to the rise of Islam, and to towns and cities being shamed and ruined by migrants.
He posts photos of ammunition, retweets alt-right references and praises other white supremacists. The manifesto includes references to “white genocide,” which is likely a reference to a conspiracy theory embraced by the alt-right and white supremacists that “non-white” migration dilutes white nations.
The gunman’s motivations seem to echo those of other white supremacists who have committed similar atrocities: the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter, the Charlottesville attacker, the Charleston church shooter, and attackers in Sweden, Quebec and Norway.
In each of these cases, the attackers voiced hatred toward minorities or immigrants and expressed a belief that their way of life, the “white” way, was being destroyed by these groups who were infiltrating their societies.
Over the past decade, my team has conducted research in India, France, Finland, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States, analysing how members of the dominant group perceive minorities and immigrant groups. The research has shown that many dominant group members, often white Christians in the countries studied, express fear of immigrants in their nations. In particular, respondents have voiced fear of immigrants changing their cultural, political, and economic way of life.
Normally such fears are benign and lead only to misunderstanding or lack of interaction. But as we have seen too often, they can lead to prejudice, hatred and much worse.
Recently, such fears have become more visceral with the proliferation of social media platforms. With the use of social media, individuals can easily find others who share their feelings, and therefore not feel alone. The ability to find a community that shares one’s feelings provides a sense of security and validates ones fears and feelings of hate.
In our increasingly connected world, it’s essential we take steps to combat these fears to reduce the chances of such atrocities happening in the future. First, how families talk about minorities and immigrants is critical. In work that we conducted in Finland, we found prejudicial opinions of Finns toward Russian immigrants are largely shaped during adolescence. It’s incumbent upon parents to be role models for their children and adolescents and to promote tolerance and mutual respect early.
Second, in an increasingly computer-mediated world, it is our shared responsibility to challenge racist and hateful cyber messages. If you see a YouTube clip that you deem abusive or offensive, report it.
Third, the more contact we have with each other and learn about one another, the less likely we are to fear one another. This may sound trite, but the more we know about other groups, the more likely we are to pass that information onto one another and improve overall social cohesion. In turn, we are better able to identify and challenge those bent on dividing society. It is our collective responsibility as diverse societies to recognise our diversity and to face the psychology of hate that would attack our home and us.
This is part of a major series called Advancing Australia, in which leading academics examine the key issues facing Australia in the lead-up to the 2019 federal election and beyond. Read the other pieces in the series here.
No-one wants to feel insecure. The foundational element of the social contract between people and government is security. National security, then, must reasonably be one of the central concerns of both government and opposition.
Scott Morrison understood this well when he used an address to the National Press Club in February 2019 to launch his government’s program on national security.
This comes at a time when national security has been defined all too narrowly in Australian political discourse. The prime minister’s linking of multiple domains of security alongside concerns about violent extremism and terrorism should be welcomed. This moves national security beyond the current narrow focus of government to a more holistic framing, in line with global practice and as used by leading institutions such as the ANU’s National Security College.
It’s an important refocusing. And it’s timely when women are dying every week in domestic violence attacks, and cybercrime and cyber espionage loom as increasing threats to nation, society and business. It is not only reasonable but necessary to weigh up spending on countering terrorism and violent extremism alongside other pressing matters of national security.
But, after a promising start, the prime minister’s vision statement quickly deteriorated into point scoring designed to wedge the opposition on medical evacuations from Manus Island and Nauru.
Morrison’s bold assertion that Operation Sovereign Borders represents Australia’s greatest national security achievement overlooks all that’s been achieved in responding to the insidious and resilient threat of terrorism.
It also offers no accounting of the real price of the indefinite detention of asylum seekers arriving by boat.
In a summer of unprecedented heat, bushfires in rainforests in Tasmania and catastrophic floods in Queensland, the PM’s vision statement talked only of “natural disasters”. He avoided all reference to climate change until pressed by a final questioner.
Even then, this unprecedented threat to national security was treated dismissively, with glib lines about “smashing goals” and meeting the Paris targets “in a canter”.
Morrison’s address served as a reminder of why Australians are so sceptical of politicians talking about national security. Little wonder, then, that the important work of counter-terrorism and countering violent extremism is saddled with so much baggage. A lack of trust, and a sense of being scapegoated on the part of migrant and Muslim communities in particular, threatens to unravel the good work done by community groups and police alike.
But it is not simply the politics of fear that drives scepticism about responses to terrorism. The reality of more than 17 years of the misnamed “global war on terror” provides good grounds for being critical about how resources are used and threats are framed.
In an important report last November, the Watson Institute at Brown University calculated that the financial cost to the US federal government alone of the so-called war on terror exceeded US$5.9 trillion.
Far worse, it estimated that around half-a-million lives had been lost in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan as a direct result of the fight against al-Qaeda and Islamic State. Half of them were civilians. And the conflict had driven at least 21 million people from their homes. But to what end?
Another report last November by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies at Georgetown University found that, despite the tremendous price paid in dollars and lives, there were almost three times as many Salafi jihadi terrorists in 2018 as there were at the time of the September 11 attacks in 2001. The number of Salafi jihadi terror groups around the world had almost doubled.
Studies such as this make it clear that victory in the “war on terror” is no more likely than it is in “the war on drugs”.
A large element in all of this is the reality, now almost universally acknowledged, that the coalition invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a colossal mistake. Engagement in Iraq came at the cost of military operations in Afghanistan. The latter mission was altogether more rational in the wake of the September 11 attacks, especially in combination with nation-building efforts.
Despite investments equivalent to the post-second world war Marshall Plan in Europe, continuous operations in Afghanistan since 2001 have failed to achieve what the Marshall Plan was able to do. Incredibly, in Afghanistan, there has been no strategic plan guiding this longest of all modern wars.
This is why many would insist that talk of terrorism and counter-terrorism at home and military engagement abroad is a mistake and a waste of resources: that it all contributes little to national security. The truth is much more complex. Certainly, one lesson of the past two decades is that military engagement should only be used sparingly and to a clear political end.
Expecting a decisive victory in Afghanistan is unrealistic. But withdrawing international forces now would render hopes of achieving a lasting peace through negotiation with the Taliban lost in capitulation to powerful militias by removing checks and balances.
And although many mistakes have also been made in counter-terrorism closer to home, it would be wrong to deny that much has been achieved.
Today, lone-actor attacks are a pressing concern because terrorists have been stopped from carrying out more ambitious plans. Al-Qaeda was never able to repeat the large-scale attacks of 2001 in New York and Washington, 2004 in Madrid and 2005 in London. The return of larger attacks in 2015 and 2016 came only because of the strength of IS in Syria and Iraq.
Police and government agencies today face a workload that is an order of magnitude larger than it was before the rise of IS. But through effective intelligence work they have managed to contain the threat of large-scale terror attacks outside of conflict zones.
In Australia, the efforts of many to counter violent extremism are seldom recognised or properly understood. But the level of security that has been achieved in the face of the resilient threat of terrorism is a substantial achievement.
Much good has come out of all these efforts, not least the cooperation of the Australian Federal Police with counterparts around the world, particularly Indonesia in the wake of the Bali bombings of October 2002.
Similarly, Australian government-backed initiatives in working with civil society groups to counter violent extremism have achieved a great deal in terms of responding to threats and building understanding across communities.
The conflation of national security with strong borders, and a fetish with arrivals by sea, leads to disproportionate and wasteful spending. It plays into the demonising of those fleeing persecution and seeking asylum.
The simplistic, dehumanising focus on “keeping bad people out” not only justifies cruelty, but contributes to unhealthy lack of transparency in the work of agencies and contractors.
Everyone deserves to live in a society as secure as can reasonably be achieved. National security is too important to be used as a mere political instrument. The cynical politics of fear threatens both to undo the good work being done by so many for so long and to turn Australian society against itself.
The link below is to an article that considers the fear that worries new atheism.
Following the horrific massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, gun sales have soared across the US as enthusiasts fear the introduction of new gun laws. The link below is to an article that looks at the situation.
Southern Sudanese Christians Fear Forced Repatriation
The following article reports on the continuing persecution of Christians in Sudan. This article reports on Sudanese attempts to force out people originating from South Sudan.
The articles linked to above are by Compass Direct News and relate to persecution of Christians around the world. Please keep in mind that the definition of ‘Christian’ used by Compass Direct News is inclusive of some that would not be included in a definition of Christian that I would use or would be used by other Reformed Christians. The articles do however present an
indication of persecution being faced by Christians around the world.
Muslim militants of Boko Haram blamed for killings in Borno state.
JOS, Nigeria, June 10 (CDN) — Muslim extremists from the Boko Haram sect on Tuesday (June 7) shot and killed a Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN) pastor and his church secretary in Maiduguri, in northeastern Nigeria’s Borno state.
The Rev. David Usman, 45, and church secretary Hamman Andrew were the latest casualties in an upsurge of Islamic militancy that has engulfed northern Nigeria this year, resulting in the destruction of church buildings and the killing and maiming of Christians.
The Rev. Titus Dama Pona, pastor with the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) in Maiduguri, told Compass that Pastor Usman was shot and killed by the members of the Boko Haram near an area of Maiduguri called the Railway Quarters, where the slain pastor’s church is located.
Pona said Christians in Maiduguri have become full of dread over the violence of Boko Haram, which seeks to impose sharia (Islamic law) on northern Nigeria.
“Christians have become the targets of these Muslim militants – we no longer feel free moving around the city, and most churches no longer carry out worship service for fear of becoming targets of these unprovoked attacks,” Pona said.
Officials at COCIN’s national headquarters in Jos, Plateau state, confirmed the killing of Pastor Usman. The Rev. Logan Gongchi of a COCIN congregation in Kerang, Jos, told Compass that area Christians were shocked at the news.
Gongchi said he attended Gindiri Theological College with Pastor Usman beginning in August 2003, and that both of them were ordained into pastoral ministry on Nov. 27, 2009.
“We knew him to be very gentle, an introvert, who was always silent in the class and only spoke while answering questions from our teachers,” Gongchi said. “He had a simple lifestyle and was easygoing with other students. He was very accommodating and ready at all times to withstand life’s pressures – this is in addition to being very jovial.”
Gongchi described Usman as “a pastor to the core because of his humility. I remember he once told me that he was not used to working with peasant farmers’ working tools, like the hoe. But with time he adapted to the reality of working with these tools on the farm in the school.”
Pastor Usman was excellent at counseling Christians and others while they were at the COCIN theological college, Gongchi said, adding that the pastor greatly encouraged him when he was suffering a long illness from 2005 to 2007.
“His encouraging words kept my faith alive, and the Lord saw me overcoming my ill health,” he said. “So when I heard the news about his murder, I cried.”
The late pastor had once complained about the activities of Boko Haram, saying that unless the Nigerian government faced up to the challenge of its attacks, the extremist group would consume the lives of innocent persons, according to Gongchi.
“Pastor Usman once commented on the activities of the Boko Haram, which he said has undermined the church not only in Maiduguri, but in Borno state,” Gongchi said. “At the time, he urged us to pray for them, as they did not know how the problem will end.”
Gongchi advised the Nigerian government to find a lasting solution to Boko Haram’s violence, which has also claimed the lives of moderate Muslim leaders and police.
The Railway Quarters area in Maiduguri housed the seat of Boko Haram until 2009, when Nigerian security agencies and the military demolished its headquarters and captured and killed the sect’s leader, Mohammed Yusuf, and some of his followers.
The killing of Pastor Usman marked the second attack on his church premises by the Muslim militants. The first attack came on July 29, 2009, when Boko Haram militants burned the church building and killed some members of his congregation.
On Monday (June 6), the militants had bombed the St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, along with other areas in Maiduguri, killing three people. In all, 14 people were killed in three explosions at the church and police stations, and authorities have arrested 14 people.
The Boko Haram name is interpreted figuratively as “against Western education,” but some say it can also refer to the forbidding of the Judeo-Christian faith. They say the word “Boko” is a corruption in Hausa language for the English word “Book,” referring to the Islamic scripture’s description of Jews and Christians as “people of the Book,” while “Haram” is a Hausa word derived from Arabic meaning, “forbidding.”
Boko Haram leaders have openly declared that they want to establish an Islamic theocratic state in Nigeria, and they reject democratic institutions, which they associate with Christianity. Their bombings and suspected involvement in April’s post-election violence in Nigeria were aimed at stifling democracy, which they see as a system of government built on the foundation of Christian scripture.
Christians as well as Muslims suffered many casualties after supporters of Muslim presidential candidate Muhammudu Buhari lost the April 16 federal election to Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian. Primarily Muslim rioters claimed vote fraud, although international observers praised the polls as the fairest since 1999.
Nigeria’s population of more than 158.2 million is almost evenly divided between Christians, who make up 51.3 percent of the population and live mainly in the south, and Muslims, who account for 45 percent of the population and live mainly in the north. The percentages may be less, however, as those practicing indigenous religions may be as high as 10 percent of the total population, according to Operation World.
Report From Compass Direct News
Muslim militants shoot young man dead after learning he had begun to follow Christ.
NAIROBI, Kenya, April 20 (CDN) — Two Muslim extremists in Somalia on Monday (April 18) murdered a member of a secret Christian community in Lower Shabele region as part of a campaign to rid the country of Christianity, sources said.
An area source told Compass two al Shabaab militants shot 21-year-old Hassan Adawe Adan in Shalambod town after entering his house at 7:30 p.m.
“Two al Shabaab members dragged him out of his house, and after 10 minutes they fired several shots on him,” said an area source who requested anonymity. “He then died immediately.”
The militants then shouted “Allahu Akbar [God is greater]” before fleeing, he said.
Adan, single and living with his Muslim family, was said to have converted to Christianity several months ago. Area Christians said they suspected someone had informed the Islamic militants of his conversion. One source said that a relative who belonged to al Shabaab had told Adan’s mother that he suspected her son was a Christian.
“This incident is making other converts live in extreme fear, as the militants always keep an open eye to anyone professing the Christian faith,” the source said.
Two months ago there was heavy fighting between the rebel al Shabaab militants and forces of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), in which the TFG managed to recover some areas controlled by the rebels. Al Shabaab insurgents control much of southern and central Somalia.
With estimates of al Shabaab’s size ranging from 3,000 to 7,000, the insurgents seek to impose a strict version of sharia (Islamic law), but the transitional government in Mogadishu fighting to retain control of the country treats Christians little better than the al Shabaab extremists do. While proclaiming himself a moderate, President Sheikh Sharif Sheik Ahmed has embraced a version of sharia that mandates the death penalty for those who leave Islam.
Al Shabaab was among several splinter groups that emerged after Ethiopian forces removed the Islamic Courts Union, a group of sharia courts, from power in Somalia in 2006. Said to have ties with al Qaeda, al Shabaab has been designated a terrorist organization by several western governments.
On Jan. 7, a mother of four was killed for her Christian faith on the outskirts of Mogadishu by al Shabaab militia, according to a relative. The relative, who requested anonymity, said Asha Mberwa, 36, was killed in Warbhigly village when the Islamic extremists cut her throat in front of villagers who came out of their homes as witnesses.
She is survived by her children – ages 12, 8, 6 and 4 – and her husband, who was not home at the time she was apprehended. Her husband and children have fled to an undisclosed location.
Report from Compass Direct News