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Sorry, Prime Minister. But this isn't "moral blackmail", it's a mental health issue.

Tony Abbott says the government will not give in to “moral blackmail”.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has told Today that he won’t give into “moral blackmail”, after up to a dozen asylum seeker mothers on Christmas Island reportedly attempted suicide.

And here’s why: by calling these acts of human desperation “moral blackmail”, Tony Abbott has once again painted asylum seekers as the bad guys. As people who follow a different moral code. As people who are different to you and I. As ‘queue-jumpers’. As law breakers. As ‘illegals’.

Last night, Fairfax media reported that almost a dozen mothers in detention on Christmas Island have tried to commit suicide, after deciding that their babies – many of whom were born in detention – would have a better chance of being resettled in Australia if their parents were no longer living.

President of the Christmas Island Shire Council, Gordon Thompson told Fairfax, “Their thinking is that if the babies have been born in Australia, they cannot be sent anywhere else, including Manus Island or Nauru… It’s a shocking conclusion to come to, but that’s the state of helplessness in the centre at the moment.”

The mothers were told this week that they would be sent to Nauru and Manus Island detention facilities to await further processing, and became inconsolable.

Jacob Varghese, a lawyer at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers — who is representing 72 asylum seeker babies — told Fairfax, “We have heard from our clients there that in the last day several women have attempted suicide or harmed themselves. They are in a state of utter despair. They are concerned about the health of their children.”

This morning, Prime Minister Tony Abbott acknowledged that while the reports of detainees’  suicide attempts were “harrowing”, his Government would not give into this kind of “moral blackmail”.

The 41 Tamil asylum seekers handed back to the Sri Lankan navy last week. They’re people just like us.

“No Australian Government should be subjected to the spectacle of people saying ‘unless you accept us, I am going to commit self-harm’,” the Prime Minister said.

”I don’t believe any thinking Australian would want us to capitulate to moral blackmail. ‘This is not going to be a Government which has our policy driven by people who are attempting to hold us over a moral barrel – we won’t be driven by that.”

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Australia’s Government and the conservative media have already accused asylum seekers of so much.

They’ve called asylum seekers ‘illegals’, even thought it’s not illegal to seek asylum.

They’ve dismissed ‘boat people’ as economic migrants looking for a better life, despite the fact that 90 per cent of asylum seekers who arrive by boat are found to be refugees.

They’ve accused them of being ‘country shoppers’ and sailing past other stops just to get to ‘our’ country, despite the fact that Malaysia, India and Indonesia haven’t signed onto the UN Convention that would recognise them as refugees.

And now Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said that asylum seekers are blackmailing the Government.

There’s a reason our Prime Minister has chosen to frame this story in the least empathetic light, and that’s because that is the angle that backs up his policies. Because if asylum seekers are morally bankrupt individuals, who would go so far as to threaten suicide before they have been declared ‘genuine refugees’… then they are the ‘bad guys’. And it doesn’t matter how much long we keep these human beings in detention, or how we treat them while they’re there.

90 per cent of asylum seekers who arrive by boat are found to be refugees.

It’s easy to paint asylum seekers as the bad guys, and let that justify Australia’s current harsh policies.

It’s a lot harder to think of asylum seekers as what they really are: as human beings. To think of them as people just like us, who are capable of the same emotions as us. Despair, joy grief, loss, and hope.

People just like us, who would do anything for their family and their children. People just like us, who can be driven to a breaking point.

People just like us, who can break.

The situation has continued to develop throughout the day, with journalists tweeting updates. Further details as they emerge.

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