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Spartacist Canada No. 178

Fall 2013

Australia's War on Tamil Refugees

Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants!

The following article is reprinted from Australasian Spartacist (No. 220, Winter 2013), newspaper of the Spartacist League of Australia. Since the article was published, Kevin Rudd has replaced Julia Gillard as prime minister and leader of the right-wing social-democratic Australian Labor Party (ALP). Rudd has announced even more sweeping attacks on asylum seekers, signing agreements with the governments of Papua New Guinea and the remote Pacific island of Nauru under which refugees who arrive in Australia will be sent to these countries for detention.

For years now, the ALP and Liberal-National Coalition have been fanning the flames of anti-immigrant racist hysteria as each strives to outdo the other’s brutal attacks on vulnerable refugees. As the next election looms, both major parties are vying for the racist redneck vote. While the federal minority Labor government enforces its punitive “no advantage” asylum-seeker policy, Tony Abbott’s Opposition projects using drones to patrol Australia’s borders. They engender racist xenophobia in order to deflect working-class anger as thousands are laid off and the bourgeoisie pushes an austerity drive designed to make workers pay for the impact of the world capitalist economic crisis.

The situation for refugees is dire. Under the Labor government’s wretched mandatory detention policy, thousands of asylum seekers, including children, are incarcerated in detention centres around the country. Among them are more than 50 people, mostly Tamils, who languish in indefinite detention. Despite government assessment as genuine refugees, they have been denied protection visas due to adverse security checks by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO). As a result, they are caught in a deadly Guantánamo-style limbo, neither deported nor released. Some have been incarcerated for four years and at least one has committed suicide.

Last December, the government established an “independent” review of these cases. This also saw ASIO recently provide refugees, for the first time, with reasons for their adverse assessments. Reportedly some of these are so brief and vague they are near impossible to challenge. In April, 27 refugees in a Melbourne detention centre carried out a defiant ten-day hunger strike to protest their horrendous situation. The hunger strikers declared, “We are not in detention. We are in a cemetery.” We say: Free the refugees! Close the hell-hole detention camps! No deportations! The trade unions must be mobilised in defence of refugee rights, and against the government’s racist immigration laws. Full citizenship rights for all who have made it here!

Asylum for Tamil Refugees Now!

In June, a Tamil family of five was released from detention after their case was reviewed. At the same time, ASIO claims in three other cases have been upheld, leaving these refugees to rot in detention limbo. This includes Ranjini, a 33-year-old Tamil woman locked up for more than a year with her children. Like most of those in indefinite detention, Ranjini fled the terror and persecution of the murderous Sinhala-chauvinist Sri Lankan regime. Most detainees are accused of support to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE or Tamil Tigers), which has been banned as a “terrorist” organisation by governments in numerous countries. We oppose racist “war on terror” state repression and stand for the right of asylum for all victims of right-wing terror!

The imperialist-backed Sri Lankan regime has waged a decades-long bloody war against the large Tamil minority. In its final murderous offensive in 2009, government forces destroyed the remnants of the Tamil mini-state in the North and East of the island, slaughtering tens of thousands of Tamil civilians. Hundreds of thousands more were interned in horrific prison camps and interrogation centres. We uphold the right to self-determination for the oppressed Tamil people and stood for the military defence of the LTTE against the army assault. At the same time we give no political support to these bourgeois nationalists. Carrying out the logic of nationalism, the LTTE has staged attacks on Sinhalese villagers and driven Muslims from the historic Tamil city of Jaffna, while employing murderous violence against other Tamil nationalist groups.

Four years after the crushing defeat of LTTE forces, many Tamils still remain confined in camps and the military is an ongoing, large and menacing presence in Tamil regions. The Rajapaksa government continues to use the Prevention of Terrorism Act to repress Tamil civil rights and the population in general. Disappearances, abductions, arrests, torture and rape by the police and military are widely reported along with deaths in custody and extrajudicial killings. A recent Amnesty International report detailed pervasive government-sanctioned repression against journalists, political opponents and human-rights activists. As Sinhala racism escalates, there have also been increasing attacks by Buddhist fundamentalist groups on the small Muslim community.

There are numerous reports of Tamils being deported back to Sri Lanka only to be arrested, some before they even get out of the airport. This hasn’t deterred the Gillard government from deporting more than 1,000 Sri Lankans since August last year. Echoing Sri Lankan government lies, the Australian government deems them “economic migrants.” Catherine Renshaw, a Sydney University PhD candidate, noted: “There is an easily discernible quid pro quo operating here. Australia refrains from seriously criticising the government of Sri Lanka for abuses of power, human rights violations and the failure to fully investigate war crimes committed during the years of conflict. For its part, Sri Lanka’s government does everything in its power to stop Sri Lankans setting sail for Australia” (, 3 May).

The Labor government backed the Sri Lankan regime in its war against the Tamils and continues to back the Rajapaksa regime today. This includes providing Colombo with resources and training to beef up its navy’s crackdown on Tamils attempting to flee the island. The Sri Lankan government claims to have intercepted almost 3,000 people over the last nine months. When one refugee boat carrying 66 Sri Lankan men, women and children reached the Western Australian port of Geraldton in early April, there was a predictable uproar from Liberal politicians, with the WA [Western Australia] premier railing about the “unacceptable breach of Australia’s border security.” Given Australia’s notorious treatment of asylum seekers it’s no surprise that, as the boat sailed into the harbour, the occupants held up a sign: “We want to go to New Zealand. Please help us.”

Instead the vicious ALP government slapped them in detention and subjected them to a secretive and informal “enhanced screening” process which fast-tracked more than half of the group for deportation. Thirty-eight were flown back to Sri Lanka less than ten days after they arrived. Ramming home the government’s support to the Sri Lankan regime, the foreign minister, Bob Carr, baldly asserted, “Since 2010 there has been no evidence of returnees being discriminated against or arrested, let alone tortured.” He opined, “I think it’s wrong to say Tamils live in fear and are fleeing their country” (, 25 April). Meanwhile ASIO doubtless consults with the brutal Sinhala-chauvinist Sri Lankan state apparatus when carrying out its “security” checks.

In the last nine months, over 17,000 refugees, among them many Sri Lankans and Afghans, have arrived by boat. This is a tiny fraction of those seeking refuge around the world. The Labor government continues to whitewash the ongoing horrendous brutality inflicted by imperialism, including Australian imperialism, and the neocolonial regimes they support. In Afghanistan under the banner of the “war on terror,” the bloody imperialist occupation has seen tens of thousands of Afghans maimed and slaughtered. Capitalist rulers around the world have seized on criminal terrorist actions such as the World Trade Center attack or Bali bombings as a pretext to increase state repression at home, demonising Muslims and other minorities, as they pursue criminalising political dissent, restricting civil liberties and regimenting the population.

Legislation in 2010 aimed against “people smugglers” further strengthened repressive “war on terror” laws, including expanding the powers of ASIO and other spy agencies. Recent reports by leftists of increased harassment by ASIO spooks underscores what we wrote in “For a Class-Struggle Fight Against Racist Capitalism!” (ASp No. 209, Winter 2010):

“ASIO and ASIS secret police agencies are a threat to ethnic minorities and all workers, unionists and leftists. These agencies exist to subvert, at home and abroad, through provocation and violence, the organisations of the workers and oppressed, and ultimately serve the bourgeois rulers’ efforts to prevent workers revolution. Along with the military, cops, courts and prisons, they are an integral component of the repressive capitalist state apparatus.”

Labor’s War on Refugees

In May, federal parliament passed legislation to excise the Australian mainland from the migration zone, ensuring that all “irregular maritime arrivals” will be subject to the Gillard government’s “no advantage” asylum seeker scheme no matter where they land. Under this policy they can be hauled off for regional processing to Howard-era [former Liberal-National Coalition prime minister John Howard] detention centres that have been resurrected on the remote Pacific islands of Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s malaria-infested Manus Island. After waiting interminably to be granted refugee status, if successful they are likely to continue to languish in the camps as they wait for resettlement, with no guarantee that this will be in Australia. Under this “Pacific Solution Mark II,” some 700 asylum seekers are already incarcerated on Nauru and Manus Island. The camps are subject to strictly limited media access. Refugees have been housed in tents holding up to 14 people in 40 degree heat and intense humidity. Misery, despair and discontent have led to protests, including hunger strikes, self-harming and suicide attempts among detainees.

With Manus Island and Nauru rapidly reaching capacity, and detention centres on Christmas Island and the Australian mainland already overcrowded, asylum seekers are being dumped in urban communities on “bridging” visas. This has engendered an hysterical “security” outcry from the Opposition, with refugees smeared as potential terrorists. Since last August, those released on such visas are subject to the “no advantage” rule, meaning they are not permitted to work and receive only a pitiful fortnightly support payment of $420 that has to cover all expenses. Threatened with utter destitution, they survive on charity or risk their claims by working illegally. Now whole families also face this grim treatment. About 40 percent of recent refugee arrivals have been family groups, many no doubt driven by the government’s despicable policy to deny boat arrivals access to family reunion visas. Women and children are already imprisoned on Nauru and Manus Island, as well as in onshore detention centres such as the notorious, remote hellhole in Curtin, Western Australia, reopened by Labor in 2010.

Refugees on bridging visas under the new scheme are cruelly denied permanent protection visas for five years, even when the state considers them genuine refugees. Like those refugees behind the barbed wire of detention centres, they may be forced to wait years for their cases to even be heard, under constant threat of deportation to countries where they can face persecution and even death. Those who are rejected and appeal the decision are stripped of government financial support. With cold indifference, Gillard intoned, “It’s not a question of supporting these people; it’s a question of them going back home” (Australian, 9 May).

For a Class-Struggle Fight to Defend Refugees!

The vicious political campaign against desperate refugees, like anti-immigrant racism more broadly, serves to whip up poisonous nationalism, a key means through which the bourgeoisie strives to compact the population behind its class rule. It serves to divide the working class in the face of capitalist attacks and must be fought by the trade unions. Mobilising the workers movement in defence of immigrant rights is crucial to defending the multiracial working class, which needs unity and strength to fight the bosses. Hinting at the type of action that is needed, in 1998 union action prevented the deportation of a Somali man back to certain death after aircraft ground crew refused to refuel the plane and the pilot refused to fly it.

The chief obstacle to such actions is the current trade-union leadership which buys into and promotes Australian nationalism. While the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) has stated its opposition to mandatory detention, off-shore processing, and deportations to Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, its leadership also pushes vile protectionism, demanding “Aussie resources, local jobs,” and helps to foster anti-immigrant hysteria by grotesquely giving support to the Labor government’s “border protection” measures (see “Full Citizenship Rights For All Immigrants!” ASp No. 207, Summer 2009/10).

In order for the trade unions to become weapons of struggle we need a leadership that opposes Laborite nationalism and obeisance to the capitalist state, pushed by the bureaucratic misleaders and their pseudo-socialist supporters. A class-struggle leadership of the unions, linked to a revolutionary workers party, would fight for full citizenship rights for all and organise non-unionised workers, including immigrant workers on 457 visas, bringing them into the unions with full union rights and conditions. This would be part of a fight for jobs for all.

The struggle for the unity and integrity of the working class against chauvinism and racism is a vital task for the proletarian vanguard. In opposition to Laborism we seek to build a multiracial workers party like the Bolshevik Party led by V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky. Such a party would act as a tribune of the people, ready to take up the struggle against every manifestation of capitalist oppression. We do not seek to tinker with the capitalist system by advising the bourgeoisie on an alternative immigration policy. As Marxists, our perspective is to mobilise the multiracial working class in struggle against all the government’s racist immigration laws. The fight for full citizenship rights for everyone who has made it here is part of the struggle to sweep away the brutal rule of capitalism through a series of socialist revolutions around the globe. This is the only road to building classless, egalitarian societies based on abundance where all will be able to live free from tyranny. For a workers republic of Australia, part of a socialist Asia!


Spartacist Canada No. 178

SC 178

Fall 2013


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