In 1948, Woody Guthrie wrote a song about America deporting Mexican labourers entitled: “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)”. Two of its verses are as follows:
“Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye, Rosalita,
Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria;
You won’t have your names when you ride the big airplane,
All they will call you will be “deportees”
The sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon,
A fireball of lightning, and shook all our hills,
Who are all these friends, all scattered like dry leaves?
The radio says, “They are just deportees”
In February 2017 Felix Contreras wrote an article on the Alt.Latino web site about the ongoing efforts by the US to deport Central American migrants his title was: “’All they will call you’: A Writer Gives Woody Guthrie’s ‘Deportees’ Their Names Back.”
“But deportation itself is nothing new. It also made headlines Jan. 28, 1948, when a plane with 28 Mexican agricultural labourers crashed in California, killing them and the four crew members….The workers were being repatriated to Mexico after participating in the bracero program, an agreement between Mexico and the U.S. to help fill a labour shortage during the early days of World War II. What they got for their efforts were a negotiated wage of 30 cents an hour, an abusive registration process that included strip searches and, for these 28 Mexicans and their families, a death marked by anonymity when their names were lost in the accident.” https://www.npr.org/sections/altlatino/2017/02/23/516609698/all-they-will-call-you-a-writer-gives-woody-guthries-deportees-their-names-back
In the run-up to the Second World War a ship loaded with Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany was turned away from several North American and European countries. Wikipedia notes:
“MS St. Louiswas a German ocean linerknown for carrying more than 900 Jewish refugees from Germany in 1939. Originally intending to debark in Cuba, they were denied permission to land. The captain, Gustav Schröder, went to the United States and Canada, trying to find a nation to take them in, but both refused. He finally returned the ship to Europe, where various European countries, including Belgium, the Netherlands, the UK, and France, accepted some refugees. Many were later caught in Naziroundups of Jews in occupied countries, and historians have estimated that approximately a quarter of them died in death campsduring World War II.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MS_St._Louis
On Christmas Day December 2018, Al Jazeera ran a story entitled “‘Your skin colour was a crime’: African migrants in Algeria.” written by Gaicomo Zandonini which detailed Algerian paramilitary rounding up sub-Saharan migrants and asylum seekers raping women and finally leaving them stranded in the desert 30 kilometres from the Niger border post.
“In 2018 over 3,000 people were left in the desert by armed groups in Mali.
Data collected by Amnesty International shows a sharp increase in collective expulsions from Algeria to Niger: from 1,340 people in 2014, 9,300 in 2017 to 26,000 in 2018 – 40 percent of whom were abandoned in the Sahara and forced to walk for hours to reach Assamaka, Niger’s first border post.”
Italy has come to an agreement with the Libyan Navy to tow back asylum seekers from Italian waters and many countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea have been operating on a nudge, nudge, wink, wink arrangement to ignore migrants and asylum seekers at risk of drowning in their waters in 2018.
We all know the plight of the Rohingya in Bangladesh refugee camps, such as Cox’s Bazar, after escaping the murderous Myanmar military. The ABC has over the years covered various Thai military figures exploiting Rohingya refugees to a point of exhaustion as poorly paid workers on fishing boats and on farms. Many were buried at sea and others in unmarked graves.
Australia does not have clean hands in this area. From Gerry Hand’s temporary protection visas, through John Howard’s conniving “We will decide who comes to this country and the manner in which they come” speech, down through the years of sabotaging refugee vessels about to leave Indonesia, past Rudd and Gillard’s crocodile tears about drownings at sea, to Morrison’s and Dutton’s refusing to discuss “on water matters” and boat turn backs at sea.
We have reached a point when the Coalition Government rather than face a Parliament determined to put the mental and physical health of asylum seeker and refugees ahead of a bloody-minded-uncaring-minister closed down the House of Representatives and ran away to hide during the Christmas break.
It is not as if there have not been alternative ideas available. There have been outstanding Australian and other world leaders advocating different, more humanitarian courses we might take as a nation. There was Doc Herbert Vere Evatt, the 1948 President of the General Assembly of the United Nations, even the conservative Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies over-saw the orderly mass post-war migration of refugees from Europe. The Labor leader Gough Whitlam, and Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser all showed a greater humanity than any government leader since the early 1990s. There was Angela Merkel in Germany who pushed Europe towards decency. If Australians had a desire to look closer to home there was always the example of New Zealand’s Helen Clark.
The people of the electorate Wentworth voted in Karen Phelps who had stood on a joint platform of decent treatment for refugees in our off-shore camps and confronting climate change. The voters of Victoria recently rejected the racist law and order and anti-Muslim messages of the Coalition. There is now an opportunity to turn our immigration policies towards addressing, in cooperation with other nations, the fact that there are 65 million displaced people in the world, most of whom live in neighbouring countries far less well off than we are. These uprooted people need our assistance and that if we don’t do something about reducing carbon pollution there will be millions more displaced by rising sea levels.
Copyright © 2020 John Tomlinson