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The Eruption of the Refugee Crisis and the Global Push for Vaccine Passports

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 17/04/2021 - 6:08am in

SAINT VINCENT, GRENADINE ISLANDS — The controversy erupted on Twitter even as the 32,000-foot-high plume of smoke from Saint Vincent’s La Soufrière volcano was still rising in the sky. The firestorm on American social media platforms over reports that only those vaccinated against COVID-19 would be allowed to evacuate the eastern Caribbean island sheds light on the architects of the biosecurity state who have descended on Saint Vincent & the Grenadines (SVG) to explore the limits of mandatory public health protocols in the midst of a natural disaster now projected to “last months.”

Global organizations, NGOs, and members of the scientific community are coordinating emergency response efforts in Saint Vincent. Power outages, no clean water, and continued volcanic eruptions have rendered parts of the island virtually uninhabitable, plunging Vincentians who have managed to escape into a condition of quasi-statelessness where notions of human rights and civil liberties become malleable.

“Refugees are in a position of complete vulnerability,” says Dr. Diego Garcia Ricci, from the Ibero-American University in Mexico City, speaking to MintPress. The constitutional law professor and data privacy expert addressed some of the issues surrounding the plight of refugees as biometric data like retinal scans, fingerprinting and even gender, become a pillar of identity documentation and incipient travel requirements in the wake of the pandemic. “While biometrics can be useful for identification purposes, mistakes do happen,” Garcia Ricci warns.

Most at risk from these mistakes, abuse and racial profiling arising out of biometric digital identity systems are those whose need for the ‘state’ is made indispensable by virtue of being rendered stateless. Free agents with no agency are prime targets for global entities like the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), which claims to speak for close to 80 million forcibly displaced people.

Vincentians who are unable or refuse to leave the island are likely to be reclassified as “internally displaced persons” or IDPs, another kind of refugee as defined by the UNHCR. Such classifications are part of a vast structure of laws and guidelines enshrined in the archives of supranational state entities like the European Commission and the United Nations, based on the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, which establishes international rules governing the treatment and rights of refugees, whose numbers have nearly doubled since 2012, ballooning from 45.2 million “displaced” to 79.5 million as of the last count.

UNHCR Refugee Data

Source | UNHCR

Economic sanctions, the war on terror, and other policies imposed by the very interests represented in New York and Brussels are causing a human tsunami emanating from places like Venezuela and Yemen, to name just two of the most salient examples. A natural disaster has conferred instant refugee status on the citizens of Saint Vincent, who join their number as the incipient biosecurity apparatus secures its grip on border control technology and as health-based digital identity systems can be glimpsed on the horizon.


A roadmap

In the spring of 2018, the European Commission (EC) revealed its intention to create a “vaccination card/passport” in a proposal titled “Strengthened Cooperation Against Vaccine-Preventable Diseases,” which touches on many of the topics making the rounds today, such as ways to address vaccine hesitancy and “the safety and potential side effects of different vaccines.”

A year later, the EC unveiled a “roadmap” that projected the “common EU vaccination card” to be fully implemented by 2021. As a result, the EU is right on schedule to become the first region of the world to adopt a full-fledged medical credentialing border policy for its 27 member states.

With the EU’s 27 member states launched on this trajectory, leading health credentialing developers like The Commons Project, Pathcheck and IBM’s Digital Health Pass have formed their own policy recommendation club, with the bioinformatics and life sciences industries finding a nexus under one roof created by the ID2020 Digital Identity Alliance called the Good Health Pass Collaborative (GHPC)

GHPC seeks to influence policy decisions around the technology’s implementation in border control situations specifically. While many of its members offer credentialing apps for uses outside of these scenarios, GHPC makes clear that its mission is exclusively to establish the correct border policy frameworks that will maximize the return for its “core partners” as they go about developing “an interoperable, trusted framework and ecosystem for the issuance, use, and management of COVID-19 test and vaccination credentials for international travel,” per the GHPC whitepaper.

Garcia Ricci describes the problem. “We don’t really know how they’re going to work,” he states, adding that as mechanisms to control border entry, “the policies regarding their use are still not very clear or defined. Every country is implementing its own policy.”

Dakota Gruener, GHPC executive director and executive officer for private sector engagement of Bill Gates’s GAVI (officially “Gavi – The Vaccine Alliance”), is tasked with making sure such policies bend to the will of the broader biosecurity state in order to overcome the risk of “fragmentation” and keep their options open while the smart infrastructure required to scale up is put in place.

Gruener even doesn’t rule out using paper in the meantime, insisting that “to be valuable to users, credentials need to be accepted at check-in, upon arrival by border control agencies, and more,” adding that eventually a “common governance framework” would solve the problems presented by the surfeit of vaccine credential apps and cards in development.


The Queen’s Subject

The eruption of La Soufrière (Sulphur) has provided a unique opportunity to push the envelope in matters of mandatory public health policy, which Saint Vincent Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves had taken the initiative to begin implementing in March, ordering mandatory vaccinations for the island’s minibus operators and calling for teachers to get the jab in a radio interview the day before the volcanic disaster hit.

Mandatory vaccination protocols have now been extended for anyone wishing to leave the island, breaking with standard procedures that place the onus of status verification on the port of entry. Gonsalves issued the directive at a press conference the day before the eruption, calling for mandatory vaccinations for those living near the volcano. In February, Gonsalves signed emergency legislation authorizing the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine along with Pfizer’s, Johnson & Johnson’s, Moderna’s and three others.

The first shipment of vaccines arrived just two days before the volcanic eruption, courtesy of COVAX – a global consortium distributing vaccines throughout global south countries comprised of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI); Bill & Melinda Gates-funded GAVI; UNICEF; the World Health Organization (WHO); and its credit vehicle, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), which operates a revolving fund comprised of more than 200 donor partners to purchase vaccines for COVAX.

WHO personell stationed on St. Vincent and the Grenadines pose next to one the first COVAX shipments to arrive on the islands. Photo | WHO

Some 24,000 doses of the highly problematic AstraZeneca vaccine arrived in the Caribbean nation as part of a larger vaccine distribution operation in the region by COVAX, which commenced delivery of 728,000 doses to five countries in the region in March. The so-called “Oxford” vaccine has been discontinued in many countries due to serious blood clotting issues, which in some cases have led to death.

By virtue of their newfound refugee status, Vincentians are left with little protection against the emergency measures currently enforced by their prime minister, who is a subject of the Crown serving under the Queen’s representative, Governor-General Susan Dougan.


Fish in a barrel

The nexus between Big Pharma, Big Tech, and the national security state is revealed in the health-credentialing industry, where major players from each sector and their partners tackle the different tasks required to build the biosecurity state. Vaccinating even half of the 80 million forcibly displaced people protected under the UNHCR’s official charter, collecting their biometric data, and creating digital identity cards or apps to store and retrieve that data would be a significant step in that direction

The UNHCR has assumed the role of a diplomatic outreach operation on behalf of COVAX to persuade countries to include refugees in their national inoculation strategies. Serbia, Nepal and Rwanda are among the countries that have vaccinated asylum seekers and refugees as a result of UNHCR’s campaigns, which touts refugee vaccination against COVID-19 as “key” to ending the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Northrop Grumman is building the largest biometric and biographical database of foreigners and citizens in the U.S., called the Biometric Identification Transnational Migration Alert Program, or BITMAP, as reported by MintPress in March. Operated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in 14 countries, including the three Central American countries whose drug war refugees are currently flooding the border, BITMAP is only one of several biometric capture operations targeting refugees.

“The extraction of any type of biometric data represents an intrusion into your privacy,” explains Garcia Ricci, adding that, though such intrusions are not necessarily prohibited, they must not be “arbitrary or illegal. In other words, there must be a legal basis for the collection of such data and that the legal basis itself be in pursuit of a legitimate purpose.”

It’s unclear if the purposes of the GHPC’s core partners, like Mastercard, fit this juridical framework. The credit card behemoth has been working with the UNHCR and tech companies, who are also part of GHPC, to test their novel biometric ID cards on refugee populations such as the Rohingya. Described as ID2020’s most ambitious project yet, GHPC is focused on “delivering a global, interoperable health pass system can only happen if we come together in a way that meets the needs of everyone involved,” asserts Ajay Bhalla, president of Cyber & Intelligence at Mastercard.

Ann Cavoukian, executive director of the Global Privacy & Security by Design Centre, poses as the organization’s watchdog but seems to have capitulated early to the idea of health passports, which she claims to personally oppose. However, “having acknowledged that they will be used,” as she told Biometric Update, Cavoukian concedes that “biometric technology seems likely to be a necessary component of Good Health Passes to bind the credential to the individual.”

‘Binding’ people to credentials can prove problematic. Garcia Ricci uncovers the principle of proportionality in the question of biometric data collection, citing fingerprints, which “are a biometric marker that has been used to identify people and can be said to exhibit an adequate level of proportionality,” in terms of invasiveness.

But what happens, he asks, “when the United States or any other country” crosses the line from ink on the fingers to DNA extraction? “That’s where the questions arise regarding legitimate purposes,” Garcia Ricci contends, “since DNA contains the most intimate information about a human being and can be used to derive many other kinds of information, such as a propensity for certain diseases or genetic defects.

“While biometrics can be useful for identification purposes,” he continues, “mistakes do happen and we must be vigilant to make sure that any errors that might lead to the misidentification of an individual through faulty biometric data are able to be corrected in the system.”

If the Global Privacy & Security by Design Centre is the designated protector of civil liberties and human rights at the dawn of vaccine passports, a closer look at the organization does not inspire much confidence. Sitting on its board of directors is none other than former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, who is also on the advisory board of Carbyne – a cybersecurity “emergency management” company with ties to Israel’s notorious human rights-abusing Unit 8200. Carbyne also has direct business ties with Peter Thiel, who runs his own health data management and pre-crime analytics company called Palantir and has operated a joint research center with Carbyne in Israel since 2013.

Despite her questionable alliances, Cavoukian is confident that her “endorsement” of Global Health Pass and health credentialing, in general, will assuage the fears of privacy and data-integrity advocates. In March, the newly-formed non-profit “urged” the White House to “establish official guidance on the development and deployment of health passes” in a letter signed by its 80 signatories.

Refugees are the “first-to-market,” so to speak, for the digital identification cards with biometric features. But, as so-called vaccine passports and similar health data apps get closer to becoming a reality for regular, already-documented citizens, it should be clear to those willing to look beyond the façade of public health that the implementation of the biosecurity state is only part of a longer-term project intended to reshape the global economy to run on data.


Early warning

Vincentians were given relatively ample warning after scientists at the Seismic Research Center at the University of the West Indies (UWI-SRC) made a 3 a.m. phone call on April 8 to the prime minister’s office alerting officials to a pending volcanic event.

The island had been under an “Orange Level” alert since December 2020. The color-coded volcanic activity monitoring system is managed by the regional Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDMEA), headquartered in Barbados, with data provided by the UWI-SRC in coordination with the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO).

Ash rises into the air as La Soufriere volcano erupts on St. Vincent, seen from Chateaubelair, April 9, 2021. Orvil Samuel | AP

NEMO came into existence in 2002, one year after USAID organized a workshop at the University of the West Indies (UWI) on Volcanic and Seismic Hazards in the Eastern Caribbean, which produced the “Volcanic Hazard Atlas,” designed “to provide an essential blueprint for planners and public officials with responsibility for managing the economic infrastructure of Eastern Caribbean islands.”

The original Early Warning System (EWS) project was funded by Brussels through the office of the General Directorate of Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid of the EU and its European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) financing vehicle. Original program partners in Saint Vincent included the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) and The Red Cross.


The volcanologist

On April 7, the same day COVAX delivered the first batch of vaccines to Saint Vincent, an article appeared in the Hawaii Tribune Herald showcasing a “new” study to predict the impact of future volcanic eruptions. Led by Prof. Bruce F. Houghton from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the researchers posited that the damage caused by volcanic eruptions could be predicted “weeks” in advance through careful analysis of lava-flow geologic “signatures.”

Comparing census data to the median cost of land and household income among three areas located in Hawaii’s lava hazard zones, Houghton marries economic indicators to maps of geological disruptions caused by the Kilauea event of 2018 in order to produce what is, in essence, a financial projection tool masquerading as a scientific paper.

Houghton’s idea to mitigate damage from volcanic eruptions is to curb population growth in lava hazard zones. The Malthusian focus is striking and perhaps tacitly admitted by the author himself when he chose to include the words “social dilemma” as part of the study’s title.

While Houghton’s work shows that seismic traces and lava flows leave enough scorching data of its own behind to allow for a detailed analysis of the social and economic implications of a volcanic event, that information may or may not help to prevent any actual damage from a volcanic eruption. But it will suit just fine the needs of World Bank and IMF reps, who often carry studies like these in their leather briefcases when they pitch the latest debt-financing scheme to a “developing” country, like Saint Vincent.


The bankers

As the Covid crisis raged on in the summer of 2020, SVG Prime Minister Gonsalves was confronted over a Facebook post in which he stated quite clearly that he’d secured financing from the World Bank to build “a 140-bed modern acute referral hospital.” After denying he had ever made such a claim, political opponents tore into the man who has ruled Saint Vincent and the Grenadines for almost half of its independent existence.

“The World Bank advises that the funding they provided is only for the design,” Gonsalves countered his critics, asserting that the global financing organization “provided no funds for the construction of that hospital.” The issue remains in the hands of his finance minister, Camillo Gonsalves — also his son.


SVG Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves arrives for a summit in Brussels aimed at relations with Europe. Francois Walschaerts | AP

It is a recurring game throughout Latin America and the Caribbean when international debt-peddling consortiums like the World Bank approach governments in the region to propose all kinds of infrastructure projects, which they offer to finance and then pay the foreign contractors to build while collecting interest and fees from the target country’s taxpayers in set-ups that allow creatures like Gonsalves to take all the credit.

Saint Vincent’s emergency warning system (EWS) was one of these types of projects brought to the shores of the “exotic” Caribbean island nation by large foreign agencies like the UNDP and the EC. The “Sulphur’s” first volcanic eruption since the year SVG ceased to be a Royal colony in 1979 provided a rare chance to put recent changes made to the EWS to the test.

New York, Brussels and NGOs proffered their advice on population crisis management and other SDG-based recommendations to upgrade the system after an 18-month-long reappraisal, carried out by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and partners, in line with its Strategic Plan 2018-2021 to “help countries achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

The resulting reports identified failures and suggested corrective action, as well as multiple changes and additions to the system itself. Some of the details are laid out in “Roadmap to Strengthening Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems for Saint Vincent & the Grenadines,” published in 2018. The report focuses heavily on gender-differentiated risk analysis and the creation of databases for this purpose.

Disaster simulations are also encouraged in the report and, despite a paltry budget allocation of $40,000 dollars, implementation of NEWS got going with workshops organized by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) and the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO), to assure the incorporation of “gender considerations” into all aspects of the EWS, according to NEMO Director Michelle Forbes.

The question of where all this gender and any other such biometric data collected during the project is going and who will have access to those databases is not addressed directly in any of the materials examined by MintPress. Most countries have laws that govern who can access private data but, as Garcia Ricci explained:

Even within national data privacy laws, certain kinds of cooperation between countries is typically embedded in the legislation itself. This is what’s known as data transfer and obliges nation states to share the data with other countries in cases where it is deemed necessary.”

SVG’s current data privacy laws were fashioned by many of the same global organizations cited in the preceding paragraphs, organizing workshops and seminars that would eventually lead to the Harmonization of ICT Policies, Legislation and Regulatory Procedures in the Caribbean HIPCAR, governed by the Caribbean Community CARICOM and enforced through the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court.

UNDRR Caribbean Advisor Maria Kontro clarifies the use for all this data by framing it in her terms: “Every dollar invested in risk reduction and prevention can save anywhere up to 15 dollars in post-disaster recovery,” Kontro said during a consultation and training session for Gender and Vulnerable In Early Warning Systems in SVG back in 2019.


Black Caribs

Vincentians come from a long line of people forced to resettle, move and escape. Nearly seven-tenths of the island’s population are directly descended from West African slaves. Before their arrival, the native Ciboney, Arawak and Caribs spent generations fighting a protracted war against the Western European invaders and found common ground with self-liberated Africans.

Centuries later, Vincentians must call on the strength of their forcibly displaced and enslaved ancestors to endure another colonial assault on their freedom as they suddenly find themselves in a de facto testing ground for mandatory vaccination procedures, health status documentation, and pandemic evacuation protocols.

A UN spokesman has declared that the eruptive crisis will “last more than six months” and looks for it to extend to Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda. Most Vincentians are choosing to stick close to home and forgo the even more uncertain scenario of evacuation, that requires an injection that just might kill them anyway.

Either way, Vincentians are in the eye of the biosecurity storm that is traversing the world in search of easy data to plug into its burgeoning human capital market toys. Chances of escape from the encroaching health surveillance and data mining operations currently unfolding around the world are getting slimmer.

But — just like the Dutch slave ship that sank off the coast of Saint Vincent in 1635, freeing hundreds of Africans who swam ashore and made new families with the native Carib people — the fate of this new form of digital servitude is foreshadowed by the resilience of the Saint Vincentians.

“They said they want to stay at home,” Gonsalves told the BBC. “I have been around several of the camps and that’s the message.”

Feature photo | A healthcare worker helps an evacuee with his luggage as British, Canadian and U.S. tourists flee St. Vincent, April 16, 2021. Orvil Samuel | AP

Raul Diego is a MintPress News Staff Writer, independent photojournalist, researcher, writer and documentary filmmaker.

The post The Eruption of the Refugee Crisis and the Global Push for Vaccine Passports appeared first on MintPress News.

Sleaz Lucid since 2018. Pho James is long gone but Thủy Hương is...

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 14/04/2021 - 8:33am in

Sleaz Lucid since 2018. Pho James is long gone but Thủy Hương is first class. Out the back in the Inner West’s “Little Saigon”. Many Vietnamese refugees settled in the area post-1975. Marrickville.

UK Asylum Policy: No Sanctuary from Capitalism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 10/04/2021 - 1:38am in

image/jpeg iconborders.jpg

Asylum has long been a thorny issue for the British ruling class. As a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention the UK is obliged to grant asylum when, in the opinion of the Home Office, an asylum seeker has demonstrated that they have a well founded fear of persecution on the grounds of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group. Yet asylum seekers are continuously vilified in the popular press as criminals and scroungers overwhelming the benefits system, the vitriol often being fuelled by the cynical statements of government ministers.

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Refugee activist found not guilty on incitement charge

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 29/03/2021 - 3:12pm in


refugees, refugees

Refugee Action Collective Victoria member Chris Breen has been found not guilty on the charge of incitement.

The charge was brought in relation to a Facebook event for a COVID-safe car convoy protesting the detention of Medevac refugees at the Mantra Hotel in the Melbourne suburb of Preston on 10 April 2020.

The charge was dismissed on the grounds that the police could not prove that the Facebook posts they relied upon had been made by Breen and not another member of the Refugee Action Collective (RAC), or had been made during the relevant time period.

Almost 30 refugee supporters still have fines of $1652 each outstanding, totalling $50,000. Challenges to the fines will be heard in court in coming months.

Breen said: “The charge of incitement was an attempt by police to criminalise protest and should never have been brought. The Andrews Labor government should instruct police not to pursue such political charges and to drop the fines against refugee supporters.

“The real crime has been the prolonged indefinite detention of refugees. There should be charges laid against Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton for what has been done to them by the Coalition Government.

“After eight years of needless detention, the majority of the refugees who were in the Mantra Hotel are now free, but 11 remain cruelly held in the Park Hotel in Carlton. Over 80 Medevac refugees are still held around Australia. Some 1200 refugees who were sent offshore in 2013, including Medevac refugees, are now effectively resettled in Australia, but without any support, including no access to JobSeeker. That must change and they must be given permanent visas,” said Breen.

“This outcome is an important victory for the right to protest. That right was also demonstrated in practice yesterday when around 2000 refugee supporters rallied in Melbourne on Palm Sunday calling to free all refugees from detention, give them permanent visas, and end offshore processing.

“There has never been a COVID-19 case transmitted from a rally anywhere in Australia. However, there are now 13 refugees with COVID-19 in Port Moresby, who have been left in Australian-funded hotels without support. It is the Coalition government that has been negligent, disregarding the threat of COVID-19, not refugee rights protesters.

“The refugees in PNG with COVID-19 and others who remain at risk of catching it are still under Australian care. They should be brought here to safety for permanent resettlement now.”

Breen continued: “There has never been a legitimate reason for offshore processing. But particularly when no refugees have come to Australia under the humanitarian program (which has a current quota of 13,750) since March 2020, it demonstrates how easily the 260 refugees in limbo offshore in PNG and Nauru could be brought here. It is only dirty politics that leaves them offshore and that must end.

“The Refugee Action Collective would like to thank Fitzroy Legal Service, solicitor Odette Shenfield and barristers Gordon Chisholm and Julian Murphy for their work in the case. We would like to thank in particular Medevac refugee Mostafa Azimitabar (Moz from Manus), who gave evidence in court.”

The post Refugee activist found not guilty on incitement charge appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Medevac refugees stuck in detention Catch-22—free them all

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 25/03/2021 - 10:46am in


refugees, refugees

When 50 Medevac refugees were released from detention in early March, Border Force issued a statement that they had been released on “final departure bridging visas” to finalise their medical care. Most of them, however, had never even begun to receive medical care.

Border Force went on to restate its tired mantra that detainees should “continue on their resettlement pathway to the United States, return to Nauru or PNG, or return to their home country”. Yet many are rejected from the US and as refugees, they cannot return to their home countries.

But in yet another bizarre Catch-22 style twist, the government has no intention of returning anyone to Nauru or PNG either. Unless detainees actually take legal action to force the issue, the government is not returning anyone to either Nauru or PNG, even if they ask for it. 

In fact the government is vigorously resisting the request by one Iranian released refugee to be returned to PNG because—wait for it—he has been released from detention!

Refugees transferred for medical treatment as long ago as 2014 have been requesting to go back to Nauru to escape the misery of Australian detention centres, but have never been sent. Recent court cases have exposed the fact that the detention of the Medevac refugees has been unlawful at least for some of the time, either because they have not been receiving treatment or they have requested to be returned.

To avoid the legal finding that it has been unlawfully detaining refugees, the government will return refugees if they take them to court—rather than have the courts order their release.

On 15 March, a Tamil couple brought to Australia for medical treatment more than a year ago was returned to Nauru. Like others brought from Nauru after the Medevac laws were repealed, they were led to believe that they would be released from detention. But they weren’t, and their health and well-being, like that of others being held in the Darwin hotel, was deteriorating.

They were returned only because they had taken the government to court, where their lack of treatment and their requests to return to Nauru were revealed. But choosing to return to Nauru is not a “choice” that has any meaning when the alternative is indefinite detention in Australia.

After holding another refugee in the Kangaroo Point hotel for over a year, and ignoring his requests to be returned to PNG, similar legal action has resulted in the government now saying that it will “attempt” to return him.

Even as the hotel-detention of Medevac refugees is ending, the government is waging a bitter battle to keep the legal facade of offshore detention intact. While some refugees are being freed, the government is strenuously defending its legal right to hold others in detention. 

The result is that the 80 or so Medevac refugees (and around 20 others transferred from Nauru) remaining in detention, are left wondering if they will ever be released. The releases are arbitrary; there is no possible explanation for the fact that refugees with wives, children and family members in the community are being kept in detention, while others are freed. Among those left behind, the incidents of attempted suicide and self-harm are increasing.

What is clear is that the court action is not going to free the refugees; it will be the on-going protests that can provide the momentum to free all those still being detained.

Released into another cage

The discrimination against refugees doesn’t end after their release from detention. Those being freed are getting a scant three week’s accommodation and $100 a week. While that can be pushed to six weeks, after that they are expected to support themselves. With no permanent visas, no Centrelink, no English classes, no right to study (for them or their children), no right to family reunion, the government is creating a permanent poverty-stricken underclass of refugees, vulnerable to exploitation.

No refugees have even been brought to Australia under the normal humanitarian program since March 2020. In practical terms, all the Medevac refugees and all the other boat arrivals on temporary protection visas are permanently in Australia, but they are being denied permanency and the full support provided under the humanitarian program.

The deliberate and blatant discrimination has to stop. The Palm Sunday “Justice for Refugees’ rallies are marching—to end offshore detention, close all the camps, free the Medevac refugees and for permanent visas.

By Ian Rintoul

Join the Palm Sunday rally in your city on 28 March, find details here

The post Medevac refugees stuck in detention Catch-22—free them all appeared first on Solidarity Online.

For asylum seekers, Canada’s immigration policies can seem capricious and even cruel

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 20/03/2021 - 1:05am in


Feature, refugees

Thousands of U.S. residents who were undocumented or on non-permanent visas fled to Canada during the Trump years.

Rodney* (not his real name) works as a machine operator at Canada Bread’s assembly line. To get to work each day he travels an hour by public transportation from his home in Montreal’s Côte-des-Neiges neighborhood to a production plant on the other side of town. He alternates day and night shifts, bagging bread products for the city’s major supermarkets; barring a three-week mandatory furlough, he’s worked through the pandemic without a break. Rodney is both an essential frontline worker and an asylum seeker.

The 36-year-old former police officer left his hometown of Kingston, Jamaica in February of 2015 when he learned that someone had put out a hit on him and his family due to his work in a special anti-corruption unit. Someone shot his younger sister, who lives with their elderly parents.

She survived, but Rodney knew he had to leave the country in order to protect his family. He fled to Florida, and then moved to New York City, where an aunt lived. But refugee claimants faced an uncertain future in the United States; he wanted something better and more permanent. So, in March of 2018, he crossed the border to Canada.

“My aunt lives in Queens, so I took a Greyhound bus to upstate New York and then a taxi to Roxham Road,” he told me.

Roxham Road: the trickle that became a tsunami

Before 2017, Roxham Road was just a quiet street in the small town of Plattsburgh, N.Y., which is right on the Canadian border. In February of that year the Trump administration began implementing its cruel immigration policies and people who had been in the U.S. for years, either as undocumented immigrants or on non-permanent visas, began to flee—many of them to Canada. It was then that the Roxham Road border crossing gained international attention.

This is the spot where many asylum seekers have crossed from the U.S. to Canada on foot, because a loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement, signed by both countries, exempts asylum claimants who cross at unofficial entry points from being turned back. People who enter Canada from the U.S. at an official port of entry are ineligible to make a refugee claim and will be returned to the U.S.; the bilateral agreement presupposes the U.S. is a safe country for asylum seekers. In 2017, the Canadian Council for Refugees joined in a legal challenge against the Canadian government, asserting that the U.S. was no longer a safe haven for asylum seekers. Canada’s Federal Court agreed, ruling that the agreement breaches constitutional guarantees of life, liberty and security.

Prior to February 2017, says the Refugee Board of Canada, the number of asylum seekers coming from the States was in the hundreds. By September 2020, it skyrocketed to 58,625. As of this writing, roughly 16,000 claims have been accepted, 13,000 rejected, and slightly more than 27,000 cases are still pending. Research conducted by the Migration Policy Institute suggests around 40 percent of people who crossed that border left the U.S. “for reasons directly tied to U.S. immigration policies.”

The Trump administration implemented policies that made thousands of desperate people feel they faced the kind of harm Amnesty International qualified as “catastrophic.” Illegal family separations; massive pushbacks of asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border; cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment of detainees; and indefinite detention in deliberately cruel conditions, often bordering on torture, of people who were treated like criminals only because they sought a better life.

But while Canada’s immigration system looks better than its southern neighbor’s, it is still deeply flawed. For asylum seekers, the policies can seem capricious and even cruel. Rodney feels that the treatment he received at the hands of Canadian officials has been unjust.

“When I crossed, they arrested me, searched me, looked at my documentation, and put me in a room where I waited,” he said. Hours passed until a bus transported him to a holding area, where he waited until 1 a.m. to be interviewed.

The Canadian Border Services agent who interviewed him, he said, adopted a confrontational tone and made him feel that she was not assessing his request fairly.

Rodney told the agent about documentation that included sworn affidavits from his family and newspaper articles about his undercover work with the police, but the agent didn’t seem to believe him. “She kept inferring that my sister being shot was an accident and not a deliberate attempt on her life,” he said.

Non-recorded interviews pose a problem

That interview is now being used to undermine Rodney’s claim for asylum.

In the crucial Basis of Claim (BOC) document, upon which the Refugee Board decides whether or not to grant the applicant asylum, the agent wrote that Rodney had been instructed to destroy evidence during the course of his work as a police officer. Rodney denies having told the agent anything of the kind. But because the interview was not recorded, he is locked in a “he said/she said” situation.

He did not even learn what the agent had written on the form until his hearing in September of 2020. “When the judge started asking me why I hadn’t disclosed this so-called information, I explained that I couldn’t omit something that I had never said.” He added that the judge also asked why the newspaper articles didn’t report his name, “when it should have been obvious that it had been omitted to protect me and my family.”

Rodney does not understand why he was not allowed to see the original document at the time the agent took his statement. “It’s a statement that is essentially attributed to me, so why didn’t I get the opportunity to see what’s disclosed? I never saw it, I never signed it, and yet the contradiction between the Canada Border Services agent’s statement and my testimonial at the hearing is why my asylum request was basically denied, according to the judge.”

Jacqueline Callin, a spokesperson for the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA), confirmed that it was not the agency’s practice to record refugee claimants’ statements at ports of entry. But she did maintain that, while she could not comment on Rodney’s case specifically, CBSA rules stipulated that refugee claimants and their representatives should, in general, receive copies of the statement in advance of the hearing.

But Rodney insists the CBSA never gave him a copy of his file. “I was only given certified copies of my birth certificate and my passport from the same CBSA officer who interviewed me at the port of entry,” he said. His original birth certificate and passport are still with the border agency.

Long-standing issues persist

Rodney’s lawyer, Perla Abou-Jaoude, said that the CBSA often ignores routine requests for access to applicants’ files. This “puts the applicant at a disadvantage,” she said “and could be rectified so easily”— if the government agency would simply make a routine practice of providing a copy of the applicant’s file simultaneously to their lawyer and the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB). Recording the interviews, she said, would also be an effective way of ensuring transparency and accountability.

Janet Dench, the executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR), a national non-profit umbrella organization, said that the absence of recorded interviews was a “long-standing issue” and one that the council has been trying to rectify for a long time.

“You call a simple help line these days and you’re immediately informed that you’re being recorded,” she said. “Yet we’re not recording these important interviews when people’s lives are on the line, when [doing so] would allow the government to monitor the conduct of their agents? I don’t understand why they’re so resistant to it.”

Responding to complex questions under duress

Dench said the CCR’s position is that the task of asking these important questions and filling out the BOC should not be carried out by CBSA agents. “Asking such complex questions when people are tired, confused, and scared is questionable. We have repeatedly asked the IRB not to put too much weight on these initial testimonials, and for the most part, they don’t, but every case is different. Bottom line, the CBSA should not be conducting these assessments, and if they are, they should be recorded.”

Abou-Jaoude also questioned a practice that has refugee claimants filling out complicated forms when they’re exhausted, frightened, confused, and sometimes unaware of what they’re signing because of language barriers. Mistakes during the initial declaration can potentially affect their credibility and chances. Rodney and his lawyer have filed an appeal and he’s now waiting to hear back. The process could take up to a year.

Working as a frontline worker in a foreign country

In the meantime, Rodney works. He has no family in Canada, and he tells me that he leads a rather solitary life. When I tell him that it sounds lonely, there’s a long pause on the other end of the line. His older sister, who was severely handicapped, passed away this past October. Rodney was not able to attend her funeral or be with his family in mourning. He worries about his parents who have health problems, and he sends what money he can afford back home. “I don’t make much, but I make sacrifices so I can help them.”

When I ask him if he likes what he does, I can “hear” the shrug through the telephone. “I’m indifferent,” he said. “I work hard, and I always try to be professional. But I’m working to survive, so I can help my family.”

When the pandemic hit Rodney was working the night shift at Canada Bread. Workers have been equipped with surgical masks and face shields, so he feels safe at the plant. And his company has provided him with a letter explaining his presence outside during Quebec’s 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew.

“The very first night the curfew was implemented I was stopped,” he said. “I was waiting for the bus early in the morning and a police car going in the opposite direction immediately made a U-turn and came straight at me. I showed them the letter.”

I ask him what his first impression of Montreal was. “It’s a lot more French than I expected before coming here,” he said, laughing. “I’m slowly learning the language and I wish I could take classes and improve it, but work exhausts me. I often finish my shift at 1 a.m. and at that hour the bus doesn’t pass by too often, so I routinely wait an additional 45 minutes just to board it. Then, another hour to get home,” he trails off.

With the hearing coming up, Rodney wants to share what happened to him. He wants people to understand that the system needs improving.

Canadian border agents under investigation

He’s not the only one who thinks so. In 2019, the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians launched a review into the actions of the CBSA, following multiple reports of flaws within the agency, as well as multiple harassment allegations. CBC News reported that the agency had investigated 1,200 allegations against its own staff over a two-and-a-half-year period.

“CBSA agents have a lot of discretionary power, but there’s no outside oversight of staff conduct, which can occasionally be problematic,” said Abou-Jaoude.  Dench confirmed that the CCR was very aware of the lack of accountability and transparency.

Considering the power and scope border policing agents have, combined with allegations of serious misconduct that include unnecessary force, conflict of interest, and sexual harassment, one would think the government would welcome recorded interview sessions, since they would protect both the applicants and the agency’s reputation.

“So much is at stake here— for me and my family,” Rodney says. “I have no recourse now. There’s a contradiction between [the CBSA agent’s] statement and my story and naturally the judge will take her word as being neutral and accurate. But what she wrote was inaccurate and there’s no way for me to prove it.”


The post For asylum seekers, Canada’s immigration policies can seem capricious and even cruel appeared first on The Conversationalist.

As more Medevac refugees released, protests continue to demand: Free them all on permanent visas

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 27/02/2021 - 7:00am in


refugees, refugees

As protests gather momentum, up to 70 Medevac refugees, and others transferred from Nauru, are expected to be freed in the first two days of March. This will bring the total number of Medevac refugees released on bridging visas to around 115 of the 192 transferred to Australia under the Medevac law in 2019.

But some refugees and asylum seekers transferred under Medevac will remain in detention centres or hotel prisons for no reason.

There is nothing to distinguish those who have been released from those who continue to be held. They are victims of the government’s bloody-minded political games.

All the Medevac refugees released last year had Federal Circuit Court cases and were released just days prior to their court hearings. The releases from Park Hotel and MITA in January, and the most recent, include people who did not have court cases lodged.

But the government is still pursuing legal tactics to save political face and stymie the release of refugees they intended to release, anyway.

Court challenges

For years the government has insisted that any “transferees” (the name given to asylum seekers and refugees transferred from the offshore prisons), would be returned to Manus and Nauru when their medical treatment was completed.  

But few were ever returned. Indeed, one refugee has been asking to be returned to Nauru since 2014, preferring the limited freedom there to detention in Australia. More than 130 have requested in writing to be returned to Nauru or PNG, yet the government has not returned any of them.

Not only that, the government has transferred several more groups of people from Nauru to Australia for medical treatment since the Medevac law was repealed in December 2019. The latest group of 12 (including the last woman in offshore detention) was brought to Australia on 18 February this year.

It seems clear that the government is unable or unwilling to return anyone to offshore detention, yet, instead of freeing all the Medevac refugees, it is persisting with defending court cases to try to uphold their right to hold them in detention.

On 17 February, the Federal Court considered the case of six transferees including a family from Nauru. One of them is now being freed prior to his final hearing on 3 March.

But according to Noeline Harendran, one of their lawyers, among a bundle of Home Affairs documents received was one that indicated, “the case is dormant due to no immigration pathway onshore, or current regional processing country return policies regarding transitory persons.” The document seems to confirm that the government cannot send anyone back. Yet it is continuing to fight the legal case.

The case hinges on whether people are being held in detention for a lawful purpose. If the “lawful purpose” is for removal but the government does not intend to remove, then detention becomes unlawful. Another associated case raises the fact that although people had been transferred for medical treatment, they had been held in detention without receiving treatment.

One indication of the Catch-22-like games being played by Home Affairs was that one refugee who had lodged a case with the Federal Court was approached the morning of his hearing and told that if he withdrew his request to be returned to PNG, the Minister (Peter Dutton) would consider granting him a bridging visa for his release.

Whatever the outcome of the labyrinthine legal arguments, refugee supporters are not waiting. The government’s bloody-minded refusal to free the remaining Medevac refugees is fuelling growing protest. Wherever there are hotel-prisons, vigils, and sometimes, daily protests, are being held to keep the pressure on the government.

In Melbourne and Brisbane, rallies to “Free the Refugees” are being organised on Friday 5 March outside the Park Hotel and Kangaroo Point Hotel, respectively.

The 5 March will also see vigils to mark the third anniversary of the spiteful re-detention of Tamil family (Priya, Nades, and their two children) who were snatched from their home in Biloela. The family has been held on Christmas Island since August 2019.

Big rallies on Palm Sunday, 28 March, will put the refugee movement back on the streets. The “Justice for Refugees” rallies will demand freedom and permanent visas for all refugees and an end to the poverty inflicted on the asylum seekers and refugees from offshore who have been dumped into the community without support, on bridging visas.

By Ian Rintoul

The post As more Medevac refugees released, protests continue to demand: Free them all on permanent visas appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Book Review: The Coloniality of Asylum: Mobility, Autonomy and Solidarity in the Wake of Europe’s Refugee Crisis by Fiorenza Picozza

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 16/02/2021 - 10:47pm in

In The Coloniality of Asylum: Mobility, Autonomy and Solidarity in the Wake of Europe’s Refugee Crisis, Fiorenza Picozza offers a new ethnographic study of autonomous border struggles in Hamburg, Germany, looking at how ‘the coloniality of asylum’ not only permeates the European border regime, but can also shape the various solidarity initiatives that seek to contest and trangress it. With the aim of contributing to ‘an anticolonial political imagination that can sustain daily struggles against the asylum regime’, this book is a politically committed, empirically and theoretically rich account that raises the question of who exactly is the subject of refugee solidarity in Europe, finds Helen Mackreath

The Coloniality of Asylum: Mobility, Autonomy and Solidarity in the Wake of Europe’s Refugee Crisis. Fiorenza Picozza. Rowman and Littlefield. 2021.

Find this book (affiliate link): amazon-logo

In solidarity with whom?

The slogan ‘Solidarity is not a crime’ has been circulated widely by activists and human rights organisations across Europe in recent years in response to legal prosecutions and municipal decrees against citizens who have provided logistical and humanitarian support to transiting migrants. The public criminalisation of the acts of individuals (predominantly white) and collectives is occurring alongside the continuation of black and brown individuals being packed onto death-trap boats, indefinitely stuck in flammable camps or detention centres; the criminalisation of non-white solidarity along different legal parameters (usually as smugglers); and the obscuring of self-organised migrant struggles within or on the borders of Europe.

‘The ‘‘criminalisation of solidarity’’ partly represented a re-politicisation of humanitarianism,’ Fiorenza Picozza writes in her new book, The Coloniality of Asylum. ‘Yet, by recentering white subjects at the core of [European] border contestations, they also unwittingly invisibilise refugee struggles and reproduced a particular politics of race’ (128). ‘Blackness’, argued Frantz Fanon, is an objectified result of colonial domination – as is ‘whiteness’. So too, Picozza argues, is the figure of the ‘refugee’ produced politically, legally and socially by ‘Europe’, while the construction of ‘refugees’ in turn produces the identity of ‘Europeanness’ in codes that are racial. These codes are ‘rooted in specific postcolonial, postwar and postmodern spatiotemporalities, which render Europeans actors of hospitality and solidarity, in charge of rescuing refugees when the state abandons, or actively oppresses, them’ (xxiii).

In The Coloniality of Asylum, Picozza takes the productive lenses of ‘whiteness’ and ‘coloniality’ to frame an ethnographic account of autonomous border struggles in Hamburg, Germany, in 2015 and 2016, the months immediately following the so-called ‘long summer of migration’. The book not only critiques the European asylum and border regime but also the various initiatives aligned along a continuum of ‘solidarity’ that claim to contest and transgress it. While Picozza defines solidarity as ‘an ethics and politics of care’ (xxvi), she notes its roots in ‘the political left, as well as Christian morality and welfarism’, describing it as ‘a very contested term, appropriated and elaborated in different ways’. She details the struggles of collective groups and individual refugees – friends, fellow activists and acquaintances – and their fragmented trajectories, conveying the tangle of the asylum regime through a web of locations, stories and conflicts. Her aim is to ‘contribute to an anticolonial political imagination that can sustain daily struggles against the asylum regime’, and she calls for alertness to how ‘colonially and racially-coded notions of freedom and fugitivity percolate into [solidarity] interventions’ (xxvi).

Picozza’s own critical intervention stakes the question of who is allowed to be political, and under what terms. It tests the possibilities and limits encountered by horizontal and radical practices of solidarity – confronted by tangled webs of liberal (racialised) exclusions and inclusions and the blurring of boundaries between solidarity and humanitarianism in the face of overwhelming material need and political, legal, economic, racial and social inequalities. These are also questions of how to build material solidarity without falling back onto fixed categorisations of class, gender, race or nationality; and how to disentangle coloniality without tacitly re-privileging the (racialised) liberal individual as the subject of rights.

‘The racial is the single most important ethico-juridical concept in the global present,’ writes Denise Ferreira da Silva (2016). ‘Coloniality figures in all shapes of capital.’ Taking ‘coloniality’ (defined as colonial sedimentations rearticulated in legal and social relations) as a starting point for her line of inquiry, Picozza dissects the ‘production’ of the refugee through European policies and discourses. This figure is produced ‘politically through neoliberal extractivism and warfare in other countries; legally, through a visa regime that gives little possibility for most nationals of African and Asian countries to access the EU beyond submitting an asylum claim; and socially through practices of management and humanitarian assistance’.

Instances of solidarity ‘unwittingly share colonial premises’, Picozza argues, ‘in reproducing processes of socialisation of refugees as refugees‘ (xxiii). This includes the positioning of refugees differently (materially and socially) in relation to capital, time and leisure – in which “‘Europeanness’’ is assumed as a site of privilege, normalcy, mobility, leisure and freedom, and ‘‘refugeeness’’ as a site of oppression, disruption, immobility and unfreedom’ (133). This ‘coloniality of being’, as Picozza terms it, denies refugees the ability to possess the same ‘cosmopolitanism’ as European citizens at a socio-cultural level and ‘risks naturalising refugee oppression as something ontological and not politically produced’ (150).

If solidarity is a recognition of ‘common differences’ (Mohanty, 2003) and an ‘awareness of being governed by the same mechanisms of precaritisation and exploitation’ (Tazzioli, 2018), then the ‘flattening’ of the dense fabric of refugee lives, desires and imaginations in racialised, gendered and classed terms ‘reduces them to objects of the management and support of others’ (xxiv). This denies the possibility of establishing a common ground.

On the other hand, the erasure in discourses about migrants/refugees of the ‘racialised international division of labour, capital and mobility and the postcolonial relationship that tie European citizens to non-European ‘‘refugees’” (8) conditions European spaces as those of ‘innocent hospitality’. This overlooks the material and political conditions of migrant mobility and facilitates, in Picozza’s words, a ‘spectacle of solidarity’, whereby the ‘politics of suffering translates into an already racialised politics of Othering’ (13).

It is within this uneasy space of contradictions that Picozza situates her reflections – taking migrant grassroots solidarity as a site of both struggle and potential. It holds critical possibilities for autonomy yet may obscure the reproduction (in daily interactions, if not in direct political strategy) of tired hierarchies. This is not a deterministic or normative account; Picozza rather attempts to test the limits of various boundaries (imposed by the state, by European activists and by refugees) which emerge in the practice of solidarity.

The asylum regime manifests itself in a ‘hybrid-terrain of different entities’ (88), not just in outsourcing much of the responsibility for refugee welfare and protection to self-organised volunteers, but also in the rhetoric of some of those volunteers which ‘establishes responsibility between them and the state, and reproduces a symbiotic discourse of the ‘‘nation’’ and the ‘‘people’’’ (53). Picozza includes in her ethnographic study a refugee support group, an anti-racist legal consultation project and a no-border alliance, while state offices and refugee camps are witnessed through the gaze of self-organised refugee and non-refugee activists, volunteers, social workers and lawyers. She describes how social workers and lawyers can ‘move in-between navigation, cooption and sabotage’ of state policies, while refugees themselves ‘can, at times, imbricate themselves in state discourses and practices of subordination of refugee newcomers’ (88), creating a situation in which ‘particular individuals simultaneously occupy diverse positions’.

The subjectivity of ‘refugeeness’, the ‘socio-political and existential condition marked by thresholds of becoming and ceasing to be refugees’ (108), is a complex and shifting constellation of power relations and cultural scripts intersecting with individuals’ sense of agency and self. Middle-class and educated individuals find themselves re-categorised as racialised dependents within the European asylum system, trapped in a choice between their own autonomy and the protection offered by a legal asylum status. But the ability to navigate the material reality of everyday life, in which temporariness and precarity become protracted experiences, is ‘unevenly distributed along classed, racialised and gendered lines and intersects with legal status, educational background and social networks’.

This emphasis on the importance of class in shaping the form and strategies of resistance to the ‘coloniality of being’ prompts the question of why anti-capitalist politics are not given greater space for analysis within the book, alongside the proclaimed anti-racist positions of autonomous border initiatives that Picozza includes in her ethnography. Picozza does mention anti-capitalist perspectives in her observation that ‘Eurocentric conceptions of anticapitalism, anti-racism, queer feminism, environmentalism and ethical consumption’ (135) create a dominance of the ‘value system of ‘‘whites’’’ (Fadaee, 2015), which are also ‘structures of socialisation’ (135) towards refugees. But analysing how anti-capitalist initiatives, which give equal weight to shared precarity under capitalism in their strategies of migrant solidarity, differ or overlap with more narrowly anti-racist or no-border perspectives is not expanded upon in great depth. Analysing whether the different positioning that activists ascribe to migrants in relation to capital alters the ways in which they are racialised may be a productive angle – as Paul Gilroy (1990) warned in relation to the UK, anti-racist movements are vulnerable to mirroring the definitions of ‘race’ they oppose if they focus on a moralistic and identity-based perspective which disregards history, politics and material structures.

Europe (specifically Germany) is the book’s focus, taking into consideration how its particular colonial genealogies are reproduced in the ‘right to asylum’, both through its ‘Others’ and its imagined ‘self’. However, it is an obvious but important point, which Picozza also makes, that Europe is not unique in its admittance of refugees nor its production of ‘refugeeness’. This should raise the possibility of conversations with other geographical, political and historical contexts – most immediately, the impact that the externalisation of the EU border regime has had in the regulation and contestation of asylum in different locations (see Fırat Genç (2017) for an analysis of the challenges which faced a migrant solidarity network in Istanbul, for example).

Nevertheless, this is a politically committed, empirically and theoretically rich account, which situates refugees within a ‘differential, racialised and classed distribution of the freedom of movement’. Picozza convincingly argues that this represents the continued ‘coloniality of the law and being’ – provoking the question of who is the subject of refugee solidarity in Europe.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics. The LSE RB blog may receive a small commission if you choose to make a purchase through the above Amazon affiliate link. This is entirely independent of the coverage of the book on LSE Review of Books.

Image Credit: Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.


Street poster on the side wall of a 24-hr convenience store....

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 24/01/2021 - 10:29am in

Street poster on the side wall of a 24-hr convenience store. Newtown.

Chinese-Australian cartoonist Badiucao walks a fine line to avoid being politically hijacked

Image by Chinese-Australian cartoonist Badiucao alluding to the fact that several companies, including Muji, are believed to purchase cotton harvested by ethnic Uyghur prisoners in Xinjiang. Image used with permission.

Being in the middle of two countries currently engaged in one of their worst rows in years is a difficult space to navigate, even more so if one is an outspoken visual artist. This is precisely the case of Badiucao, a Chinese-Australian cartoonist known for his stand on human rights, freedom of expression and fight against racism who, even while being targeted by Beijing supporters, finds himself increasingly isolated and alienated by all sides in Australia.

Born in mainland China, Badiucao sought political asylum in Australia where he is now a citizen. His art seeks to act as a voice of reason, denounce political instrumentalization and support human rights globally.

A turning point in bilateral relations between Australia and China came in 2020, significantly worsened by a series of economic, political and ideological disputes that still remain unsolved. Until last year, both countries enjoyed an economic honeymoon: in 2014, Canberra and Beijing announced their relationship to be a “comprehensive strategic partnership”. By the time they reached the peak of their economic integration in 2019, China had absorbed over a quarter of Australia's trade, and in that year alone, 1.4 million Chinese tourists had visited Australia.

By 2020, the partnership deteriorated as Australia raised serious concerns about issues of human rights and democracy in the context of the many Chinese-Australian citizens, Hong Kong and pro-Taiwan students that were targeted and sometimes attacked by pro-Beijing supporters in Australia. Beijing rejected the criticism and retaliated by imposing a series of bans on key Australian imports. The situation escalated towards the end of 2020 when China decided to stop purchasing key commodities, such as coal, from Australia — a ban that possibly caused power shortages for millions of Chinese.

In an interview by phone with Global Voices, Badiucao suggested that the diplomatic fall-out should not have come as a total surprise:

I think the problem has been present for a very long time, because it was never mutually beneficial. China sees Australia as a ground for infiltration, from education to politics to media. For such a long time, the Australian government was short-sighted about this relationship, it only saw the economic benefit, but [not] much beyond. 

The COVID-19 pandemic did not help matters. Many of the estimated 260,000 Chinese students who were in Australia in 2019 were prevented from returning, and Canberra accused Beijing of a lack of transparency in its management of the pandemic. The impasse has damaged both sides: society and government bodies have engaged in anti-China or anti-Australia movements, some of them violently racist.

Wine label designed by Badiucao calling for other countries to buy Australian wine after China banned its imports. Image used with permission.

To explain the crisis, Badiucao points to a fundamental difference in values and tolerance for criticism between the countries:

Australia has realized that this toxic relationship has to end and that basic values, such as freedom and democracy, can no longer be overlooked. Canberra wants to make clear [that] the relationship must be mutually beneficial, and that Beijing needs to know the difference in their value systems. However, China is not used to any kind of criticism of its government, and responds in an outrageous manner, particularly under Xi Jinping's strategy of wolf warrior diplomacy. 

The cartoonist believes the crisis is a healthy eye-opener not only for Australia, but for the rest of the world, when determining whether to depend economically on China:

I think that because of the geographic locations of China and Australia, we are the first country in the free world seeing the problems of this relationship. China is not willing to play by the rules like other democratic countries. I hope there could be an alliance against those bully threats China can project on countries like Australia, as in the case of the wine exports.

A narrow space for democracy

While this crisis might indeed be a wake-up call, Badiucao is finding it increasingly difficult to make his voice heard in Australia. While the right and far-right have a strong anti-CCP (Chinese Communist Party) line, that discourse, he explains, often includes elements of xenophobia and racism. Many on the left, meanwhile, are afraid to criticize China in the name of political correctness, lest they be accused of supporting racism.

Within Australia's Chinese communities, the narratives are even more complex and do not favour Badiucao. An estimated 1.2 million Chinese Australians (nearly six percent of the total population), come from very different geographies, as Badiucao decodes:

We often overlook the differences within the community: there are second or third generations; they don’t really know much about what is happening in mainland China, and they might have a sense of nostalgia more related to Jackie Chan movies. There are also recent Hong Kong immigrants who have a different understanding of their identity and political stand. But here is the bottom line: we have to tell the difference between people [and] government. The Chinese government does not represent the Chinese people. Unfortunately, some Chinese-Australians are brainwashed by platforms […] in Australia.

Badiucao thinks the Australian government is not doing enough to communicate this distinction between the Chinese government and being Chinese, and that it needs to invest in the Chinese-Australian community much more efficiently in order to counterbalance Beijing propaganda filtering through WeChat and TikTok. 

Cartoons for human rights

For Badiucao, the best way to spread the message of universal human rights is through his art. Political cartoons require no or little translation and can be immediately understood worldwide. Paradoxically, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a positive effect on his outreach. Offline art events have virtually stopped, but Badiucao has always relied on social media to share his art, which has worked to his advantage.

His cartoon transposing the iconic Beijing 1989 TankMan to the context of Trump's America shows how powerful his integration of global images can be:

Image of the 1989 Tiananmen Square iconic Tank Man transposed to the context of Trump's America, by Badiucao. Image used with permission.

Political satirical art may be global, but Badiucao warns against the manipulation around this form of freedom of expression that occurs in authoritarian countries like China. In November and December 2020, Wuhe Qilin (乌合麒麟 ), a satirical artist based in mainland China, released a series of photoshopped images pointing at an investigation conducted by Australia's own military, which found that the country's soldiers may have committed war crimes in Afghanistan.

Badiucao explains why one should be very careful when comparing the role and function of cartoon art in China and in democracies:

I wouldn't use the term ‘artist’ or ‘political cartoonist': the whole narrative [that] he is an independent artist who cares about human rights in Afghanistan is bogus. Here is a telling detail: the work he posted on November 23 on Weibo has no signature of the user ID and no time stamp, which is mandatory as per Weibo regulations. This could indicate Wuhe Qilin himself provided the original copy to the Chinese authorities. Besides, for a long time, he smeared Fang Fang, the author of the Wuhan Diary, [portraying her] as a villain hired by the CIA. He is not an independent artist, because there is no such thing as independence in China. If you don’t collaborate, you don’t have a shred of space to survive or you end up in prison. 

Baiduacao responded to Wuhe Qilin via a series of images showing a PLA (People's Liberation Army) soldier repeating the same gesture aimed at Uyghur, Tibetan and Hong Kong people, wondering whether China would allow Wuhe Qilin to be critical of his own country's violations of human rights: