Britain, be warned: with ‘stop the boats’ with policies you brutalise migrants – and damage yourselves | Ben Doherty

This hostile approach to asylum helped the Australian right win elections, but it created divisions that still scar us as a nation

• Ben Doherty is a reporter for Guardian Australia

The order came directly from the minister for defence and the instruction was explicit. “No personalising or humanising images” were to be taken of those who had come to Australia by boat, seeking asylum. “Don’t humanise the refugees” was the command to government officials recording the new arrivals to Australian soil in 2001.

The imperative was neither safety, nor concern for the welfare or privacy of those seeking asylum; it was political. Those who came by boat seeking sanctuary, the government insisted, were “potential terrorists”, “illegals”, “threats to national security”: the types of people it claimed – falsely – would throw their children overboard. Images that might humanise the desperate men, women and children who had arrived on those leaky boats would belie the government’s assertions.

Ben Doherty is a reporter for Guardian Australia, and a former foreign correspondent covering south-east Asia

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