Jack Strocchi points me to this interesting piece by Michael Duffy, comparing the case of Chinese diplomat and would-be defector Chen Yonglin with the horrific treatment meted out by a series of immigration ministers to Peter Qasim, to whom could be added equally outrageous cases like those of Al-Kateb and Al Khafaji sentenced to indefinite detention because no country will take them, not to mention the many innocent children locked behind barbed wire.
Duffy, says correctly that Chen is a queue-jumper and that the government’s position is inconsistent with the tough stand it took on refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan. He says
This tide of toughness has lifted the ship of conservative government to ever new levels of success. Refugees have been locked up to deter others overseas, and the voters have given their thanks. The careers of people like Costello and Abbott have blossomed and rightly so, because they are strong men prepared to stand behind the beliefs they hold so passionately.
So he says, Chen and his family should be locked up with all the others.
I agree with Duffy that the inconsistencies are glaring, but not on how to resolve them. We should give Chen asylum and end mandatory detention immediately.
Of course, there’s a big problem here for refugee policy. As Duffy says, Chen brought his exposure to political persecution on himself by denouncing the Chinese government. But, of course this is commonly the case with refugees. Except during (sadly too common) outbreaks of genocidal madness like the Holocaust and Stalin’s purges, the subjects of dictatorships are usually safe enough if they keep quiet. That’s why we used to use the category of territorial asylum, which, as I understand it, said that anyone who could get out of, say, the Soviet Union, automatically counted as a refugee.
But if we allowed anyone from China who denounced the government to seek asylum here, there could well be quite a lot of applicants. I don’t have an immediate answer to this other than to say that it’s a reminder that we shouldn’t get too cosy with the current Chinese government. They may like capitalism now, but its still a communist dictatorship they’re running.
A final point: Duffy coins the neologism “neocoms”, and offers the following explanation (which I missed in the original version of this post)
What a sudden about-face, what a strange and unexpected burst of compassion from tough politicians and commentators who have supported mandatory detention for so long. It needs a name, and I suggest we call it the new compassion, and those who express it the neo-coms.
To any who recognise themselves in this description, I can only say, “Welcome back to humanity”.
fn1. That is, if you accept the bogus claim that there exists a queue, and that potential refugees are in a position to take their place at the back of it
fn2. As far as it can be discerned among a fog of evasions
Update In comments, Andrew Bartlett suggested that Duffy was writing ironically. That was my first reading also, and seems to have been the impression of others. But the text is clear enough, and Duffy has consistently supported a hard line on asylum-seekers. As I’ve discovered before now, irony is a dangerous weapon. Still if Duffy has turned against mandatory detention in general, I’ll be happy to congratulate him.