The uproar over the handling of USA refugee immigrants has turned the spotlight back on Australia’s draconian policies of warehousing incomers, often fleeing repression, on offshore islands. When described to Trump in 2017 by PM Malcolm Turnbull, he remarked “You are worse than I am.”
Brigid Delaney writing in the Guardian describes these internment camps as ‘so grim and dangerous that they are often worse than the conditions people were fleeing from – as hot as hell, with all sorts of tropical diseases and only basic medical care. Places where there’s nothing to do and nowhere to go. Places with random outbreaks of violence, that end in murder (RIP Reza Barati). Places where it’s easy to get away with rape. Places where pregnant women can’t access abortions. Places that are almost guaranteed to send their inhabitants mad.’
It started as a hurried political response to the arrival of one boat in 2001 and has consolidated over a decade and a half into a permanent policy, with the support of both Australia’s major political parties. Dozens of countries, the United Nations, and rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have documented and condemned the illegal detention.
More than three-quarters of those forcibly sent by Australia to one such centre Nauru whose asylum claims have been assessed have been found to have a “well-founded fear of persecution” and are legally owed protection.
Foreign journalists – save for a handful of selected reporters – are forbidden entry to the island. Dr Peter Young, formerly the chief psychiatrist responsible for the care of asylum seekers in detention on Manus and Nauru, described the camps as “inherently toxic” and said the immigration department deliberately harmed vulnerable detainees in a process akin to torture. The traumatologist and psychologist Paul Stevenson said that in 40 years working with the victims of terrorist attacks and natural disasters, the conditions in Nauru and Manus camps were the worst “atrocity” he had ever seen.
All of which is the context for one astrological thought. The policy was established in 2001 on a Saturn opposition Pluto (in Gemini/Sagittarius) which has the same feel as the approaching Saturn Pluto conjunction which will dominate 2019. At the moment Eastern European countries are hardening their attitudes to refugees, with Orban in Hungary enacting a decree that helping migrants will be a criminal offence against EU diktats so it isn’t just Trump.
Saturn is rigidly disciplined, status-driven and authoritarian and has no reason to mellow when combined with Pluto’s need for control. A world view based solely on power sees only the victorious or the oppressed. There can be no quarter given when compromise is seen as a sign of weakness, a lowering of defences as potentially life-threatening. There is no room for compassion or sentimentality. Freedom of choice is not a Saturn–Pluto concept, so beliefs that do not fall in line with the established order come under pressure whether religious, political or ethnic.
The last Saturn Pluto conjunction in Libra in 1982 oversaw the Falklands War; Israel invaded the Lebanon and were instrumental in the Sabra/Chatila refugee-camp massacres of Palestinians; and Solidarity, the Polish workers’ organization, demonstrated against martial law, only to have the Soviet authorities tighten their repression.
In 1946–48, with Saturn–Pluto in Leo, the messy partition of India and Pakistan led to massacres and killings; the Cold War started, bringing down an Iron Curtain between Russia and Western Europe, symbolic of Saturn–Pluto’s determination to build defensive barriers. Japanese and German war-crime tribunals were ongoing, bringing to public awareness the extent of the atrocities of the Second World War.
The previous conjunction in 1914 kicked off WW1. One conjunction earlier in 1882, Saturn–Pluto in Taurus saw the outrages in rural Ireland when 10,500 families were brutally evicted. Tsar Alexander III was at the same time exerting an iron rule in Russia, forcing Orthodox beliefs on the population, and persecuting dissidents. Saturn–Pluto was in Pisces in 1819, when freedom of the press was abolished in Germany and universities placed under State supervision in an attempt to check revolutionary and liberal movements. The Peterloo Massacre in England at the same time saw the militia attacking a crowd for listening to speeches on parliamentary reform and the repeal of the Corn Laws.
It’ll be a grim time to be a refugee fleeing oppression.