Q&A: Operation Sovereign Borders co-author Jim Molan defends facilities on Nauru, Manus Island
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In a Q&A special on asylum seekers, co-author of Operation Sovereign Borders Jim Molan described Australia’s border policy as a “success”, defending facilities on Manus Island and Nauru as being “far ahead” of other refugee camps around the world.
The retired general joined the panel with lawyer and asylum seeker advocate Shen Narayanasamy, refugee and entrepreneur Huy Truong, Jesuit priest and law professor Frank Brennan and Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law director Jane McAdam.
In response to a question on the success of the current Operation Sovereign Borders policy, Mr Molan said he was “absolutely astonished” at the description of Manus Island and Nauru as places of “enormous levels of suffering” where asylum seekers were “essentially kept as hostages”.
“I haven’t been to Nauru. I have been to Manus and I have been to refugee camps all over the world … I have seen enough information to convince me that if you go to Nauru you will find the most extraordinary medical facilities that most Australian towns would give their right arm for,” he said.
“We are so far ahead of refugee camps throughout the world compared to Manus Island that it is not funny.
“It is a policy success; 1,200 people died when we tried to do [asylum seeker policy under Labor] in a different way.”
Ms Narayanasamy disagreed, using the example of a Syrian man named Ali who she said was detained on Manus Island.
“Right now we have Ali. He is a Syrian citizen. He has brothers in Sydney … he can see in Syria that war is about to start,” she said.
“He applies through the formal safe pathways for family reunion to Australia.
“Do you know what the waiting list in our immigration program is at the moment for that family reunion? It’s 30 years. So he can’t get in through that way.
“He is blocked … so what does he do when bombs rain on his house? He gets on a boat and puts his life into the hands of a people smuggler and he comes here and runs into Operation Sovereign Borders.
“That man is now spending the last three years on Manus Island. Is that a policy failure or success?”
Australia’s border control policies, which have seen asylum seekers — including children — detained on Christmas Island, Manus Island and Nauru have been heavily criticised by human rights groups and non-government organisations, including the recent UN Human Rights Council’s periodic review.
At the UN Leaders Summit on Refugees and Migrants last month, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said his Government was working on resettlement options for refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru.
‘It was a sense of hope’
Mr Truong, himself having come to Australia through a refugee centre, said there was more to measuring the quality of such camps than looking at facilities.
“The quality of the camp is not necessarily measured by medical facilities and what have you, but the sense of hope and direction that comes out of it,” he said.
“You can be in a five-star luxury hotel, but if you feel like you are locked in and not going anywhere and you have no idea when you will leave … I think the despair and depression that would be associated with that would far outweigh living in a camp.
“I can recall living in Jakarta where there was no real infrastructure that I can sort of really recall. We would go out hunting toads and frogs at night-time to cook a meal. It was a sense of hope.
“We knew in weeks and months we would be processed and we knew where we were going. That was worth more than anything relative to the physical comforts that a camp might produce.”
But Mr Molan said Operation Sovereign Borders was “the new normal”, and that Australia was “leading the world”.
“There are 14,000 people waiting for weakness on our part … for the people smugglers to cross them into Australia. That is the first point, we need Operation Sovereign Borders and that is the new normal,” he said.
“The second point is that no one should ever think that Australia is not doing its bit in relation to this … we are the third largest taker of permanent settlers in the world.
“We are leading the world. No Australian should feel embarrassed about what we’re doing for refugees in the world.”