I have been following the plight of the Manus Island and Nauru Detainees. The belligerence of the rightwing Australian coalition government is shameful. Ministers appear to be defending a right to hold refugees seeking asylum by boat in unfathomable conditions, with exposure to abuse and exploitation. Evidence continues to unfold of neglect in the provision of basic welfare and consent of these individual human beings. It is, and has been, a callous exercise in ego and detachment. It won’t serve as a deterrent for those fleeing perilous places of conflict and scarcity, with little or no access to international news. Instead, it will deter anyone finding trust in this government ever again.
Discriminating against those who are so desperate to escape conflict or persecution, to leave family, home and all that is familiar, to pay criminals for passage by overcrowded, dangerous boats, is a debasing of their intrinsic worth, their potential as flourishing individuals and as fair contributors to society and the biosphere. Inflicting further trauma upon them is a crime against humanity and utterly reprehensible.
I offer xenotrauma as a word to describe this specific new and heinous form of human anguish inflicted by those prejudiced against foreigners, xenophobes who despise and fear desperate people fleeing desperate situations. Symptoms are similar to that usually framed as “PTSD”. Exhausted refugees are forced into inadequate detention centres or dangerous living quarters, further deprived of food, water and medical attention, support from family, friends and legal representation. They are detained for unspecified lengths of time and symptoms become chronic and extremely difficult to treat.
Xenotrauma is entirely avoidable and is a natural injustice. Denial of care and support amplifies distress, and chronic conditions may affect and scar for life. Repercussions will be ongoing through generations.
Science and technology plagues us with big data fed into a reductionist utilitarian approach in solving ethical dilemmas at the expense of individual wellbeing. Data is spun by a biased media and used as a tool for spreading fear and resentment. Sentience of the individual is lost in a swell of political nationalism, racism and prejudicial ideologies fearing ‘faceless’ and ‘nameless’ data. Human life is complex ~ a rational and emotional matrix of biology, experience and relationships ~ and I assert Ethics of Care, (case by case), is a far better approach to solving such quandaries.
Examine the latest predicted sea level and tidal changes and imagine just how many sentient individuals living in low income coastal communities and densely populated cities will be displaced by rising water levels. Two billion people on the move over the next few decades will create vast logistical, psychological and complex social problems. A surge of anti-fluministic chaos and torment will be unleashed upon our already threatened non-human kin, their processes and interconnections. Pernicious and devastating tension and conflict over resources and territory lays in wait. But to deal with two billion individuals simply as a human tsunami to be repelled is a recipe for disaster. Each person will have a unique story and will need to be treated with respect and care. Forward planning is now an absolute requisite, yet so little is being done. COP23 Fiji/Bonn begins today and continues through to November 17th. Already, the Prime Minister of Fiji has flagged the growing need to care now and in future for those most vulnerable to climate change. I applaud him.
If a nation and its geography are unable to meet the fundamental needs of its people, many citizens will choose to move internationally, either legally or illegally. Instead of impenetrable, defensive borders erected and defended by xenophobes, causing acute and chronic trauma and resentment, we need to manage a stable and consistent flow of migration, and compassionate resettlement of refugees between all nations that is truly sustainable for all life and the biosphere. We must avoid xenotrauma. The vast majority of Earth Crisis refugees will be innocent of creating and emitting greenhouse gases, one of the main causes of Earth Crisis.
Leaders feigning ignorance or denial will not be tolerated. We know this is coming. Approaches of receiving nations and places of refugia must be underpinned by empathy, compassion and altruism in order to ward off ripples of discontent and conflict on all sides and into the future. Collaborative thought and time needs to be given to this problem in preparedness, and we all need to start the process now.