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Australians rally as part of the #LetThemStay campaign in support of refugee families threatened with offshore detention, Melbourne, Australia, Feb. 8, 2016 (photo by flickr user Takver, CC BY-NC 2.0).

How New Migration Patterns Are Transforming Australia’s Multiculturalism

Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017

In its 2017 World Report, Human Rights Watch slammed Australia’s offshore detention of asylum-seekers on Manus Island and Nauru as draconian and abusive. The report criticized not only the treatment of asylum-seekers, but also the government’s measures—overturned by the High Court in October—to gag service-providers working at offshore camps, who can face criminal charges and other penalties if they go public with information about detention conditions. The Human Rights Watch report comes on the heels of the alleged bashing of two Iranian asylum-seekers on Manus by Papua New Guinea police on New Year’s Eve, as well as the 2016 publication in the Guardian of “The Nauru Files.” The files, which were composed of leaked incident reports from guards, case workers and teachers employed at the remote island detention center, document extensive and systemic incidents of abuse, sexual and physical assault and self-harm.

Up until the recent proliferation of bad press about its policies toward asylum-seekers, Australia, an immigrant nation par excellence, had looked like a relatively secure bastion of liberal multiculturalism, particularly at a time when Western Europe and the United States are plagued by rising populism and perceived crises over social cohesion. In contrast to the harrowing tales of suffering on Nauru and Manus, “everyday multiculturalism,” referring to mundane encounters with ethnic and cultural diversity, is a daily fact of life for most Australians, particularly those living in the nation’s highly diverse metropolises. Data from the 2011 Australian census shows that almost a quarter of Australia’s population was born overseas, and a further 43 percent have at least one foreign-born parent. Eighteen percent of Australians speak a language other than English at home, with Mandarin, Italian and Arabic as the top three. While the majority of foreign-born Australians hail from the United Kingdom and New Zealand, migration from India and China has increased rapidly over the past 10 years, strengthening Australia’s links with emerging regional powers. In that time, the number of Australian residents born in China has more than doubled, while the number born in India has almost tripled. ...

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