Minister wants boat people called illegals
BIANCA HALL October 20, 2013
Wants asylum seekers referred to as “illegal” arrivals: Immigration Minister Scott Morrison. Photo: Ben Rushton.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has instructed departmental and detention centre staff to publicly refer to asylum seekers as ‘‘illegal’’ arrivals and as ‘‘detainees’’, rather than as clients.
The directive has been criticised as a ‘‘profound’’ shift by a leading asylum seeker agency, which says the new terminology is designed to dehumanise people.
In an email to detention centre staff, obtained by Fairfax Media, a department official writes: ‘‘The department has received correspondence from the minister clarifying his expectations about the department’s use of terminology. Accordingly we as [sic] that our service providers also adhere to the below instructions.’’
These include calling all people who arrive in Australia by boat ‘‘illegal maritime arrivals’’, a marked change from the more moderate language used under the previous government.
When it came to office in 2007, Labor dropped the Howard government’s description of asylum seekers who arrived by boat as ‘‘illegal maritime arrivals’’, calling them ‘‘irregular maritime arrivals’’. It said this was done in recognition of the fact it is not illegal under Australian domestic law or international law to claim asylum. The new directive reverses this.
The email to detention centre and Serco staff also instructs them to describe asylum seekers being held in detention centres in Australia as ‘‘detainees’’ rather than as ‘‘clients’’, as they had been called under Labor.
People being held on Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island are to be called ‘‘transferees’’, not ‘‘clients’’.
A spokesman for Mr Morrison said he would not comment on internal government communication.
The chief executive of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre Kon Karapanagiotidis said the language change was ‘‘profound’’ because it shaped the public debate over asylum seekers who arrived by boat.
‘‘He’s [the minister] deliberately trying to dehumanise asylum seekers by making them less than human,’’ Mr Karapanagiotidis said.
‘‘They’re ‘detainees’, not people, and that suggests criminality. And calling people ‘transferees’ suggests they have no rights; they’re a package, a parcel, in transit.’’
The Coalition has previously argued that it bases its use of the word ‘‘illegal’’ on the UN Refugee Convention, which states that ‘‘States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees’’.
The Press Council of Australia recommends that the media not use the terms ‘‘illegal immigrants’’ or ‘‘illegals’’, saying they would could ‘‘reasonably be interpreted as implying criminality or other serious misbehaviour’’.
Opposition immigration spokesman Richard Marles said Labor believed Australia should do all it could to stop asylum seekers getting on boats for Australia, both to ‘‘maintain an orderly process’’ and to stop people dying at sea.
But, he said Australia should treat every human being with respect, and ‘‘terms like illegal are not helpful’’.
‘‘What language we use matters, and it’s really important we don’t demonise those seeking to come to Australia.
‘‘Terms like ‘illegal’ aren’t helpful. It’s really important that Australia treats every human being with respect.’’
Opposition leader Bill Shorten said last week that Labor in opposition would try to tackle ‘‘the demonisation of refugees’’.
‘‘I probably wasn’t happy that our language about refugees was calling people illegal,’’ he said.
‘‘I do believe that we’re an immigration nation. Other than Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, we’re all boat people or plane people. We are the nation of the second chance and we have been since European settlement.’’
On Friday, Mr Morrison said there had been a ‘‘significant decline’’ in the number of asylum seekers arriving by boat in Australia over month since the election, but said the government was ‘‘making no presumptions’’ about the number that may arrive in future.