Keeping Promises in OZ

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Depending on where you live in the world or what media you consult in your daily life, you may not often hear about things happening in Australia.  You might hear the occasional story from a friend who travelled there or perhaps its the summertime wild fires that manage to make the oldstream media reports around dinner time.

One ongoing saga over the past decade, that involves so much human suffering and not much international media attention, is the detainment of asylum seekers in Australia.  Long before there was the torture prison at guantanamo, or extraordinairy rendition made the news, the Australian government was carrying out a policy of imprisoning anyone seeking refuge from war, political oppression, or any such cause that would force someone to flee their country.  These people, of all ages (that is: including children) were kept in prisons located on small pacific islands, which is how the program came to be named “The Pacific Solution.”

Started in the 1990’s under a labor government and then carried out in a big way by the Liberal government that allied itself so closely with the Bush administration, these imprisonments led to hunger strikes and demonstrations, as well as condemnation by international human rights organizations.  Yet still one would have been hard pressed to find much space dedicated to the issue in many of the world’s most popular news outlets. Even more rare was hearing any criticism or pressure from world leaders for the Australian government to change its policy.

And so it has taken many years and much suffering, as well as the election of a new prime minister, but finally this policy is changing.  Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s government has announced that they will stop imprisoning asylum seekers and end the Pacific Solution.  A look at the details reveals that children will no longer be detained, and in some “more extreme cases” people might be detained but their cases will be reviewed every three months. It may be too early to celebrate, but this announcement already seems encouraging…  full credit not to the Australian government for finally doing something to end the suffering, but to all those who sacrificed their own well being in an effort to make this change come true.