The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Australia created fake horoscopes to deter Sri Lankans from seeking asylum there

Nibok refugee settlement on Nauru Island, pictured on Sept. 4, 2018. (Jason Oxenham/AP)

Horoscopes can be harsh — but the ones that the Australian government wrote to deter Sri Lankan migrants and asylums seekers are really, really dark.

A Cancer? “Family problems will occur,” the Australian government predicted. “Luck is not in the cards for you. Do not try to travel illegally to Australia by boat, as you will be stopped and returned. You will lose everything your family owes to debt, and face family problems.”

A Sagittarius? “You will be in debt forever,” read the result. “If you illegally travel to Australia by boat you will be returned. Everything you risked to get there will be in vain and you will end up owing everyone.”

The fake horoscope chart, first obtained and reported on by BuzzFeed News through a freedom of information request, paints a painfully foreboding future of shame, legal troubles, people smugglers stealing money, and even the loss of wives’ Jewelry (the latter afflicting Geminis).

But perhaps even wilder, and darker, is that while Australia’s Home Office itself devised these English-language brochures predicting doom and gloom at sea, at least a dozen people have died in custody since 2013 at Australia’s offshore detention centers for migrants and asylum seekers.

Children in Australia’s offshore migrant center are so distraught, some have attempted suicide

It’s unclear exactly when these fake horoscopes were produced, at what cost, and where and how they were distributed. Australia’s Department of Home Affairs did not respond to BuzzFeed’s request for clarification; The Washington Post has reached out for comment, as well.

Astrology is popular in Sri Lanka, as it is in many cultures around the world.

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The Australian horoscope includes a few fact-based bullet points, which appear to refer to figures from the last few years.

“It’s been almost four years since any Sri Lankan person reached Australia on an illegal boat voyage,” one said.

“Anyone who tries to travel to Australia the wrong way, directly or via a third party, will be stopped and returned to Sri Lanka,” read another.

The pamphlet ended with a reminder that this is “a message by the Australian government” and directed readers to a government website with similarly harsh messaging against illegal immigration.

“Taurus: You will be ashamed of your actions.”

Australia has invested considerable resources in Facebook advertisements, brochures and even graphic novels aimed at deterring migrants and asylum seekers from illegally trying to reach its shores. In one case, as the Guardian reported in 2017, between February and June of that year the Australian government paid a Singapore-based company, Statt Consulting, at least $15 million to target Afghanistan and Pakistan with advertisements dissuading would-be asylum seekers from making the journey.

At the same time, Australia has imposed harsh anti-migrant measures and maintained dire conditions at the country’s detention centers for those who did make it by boat.

Since 2013, Australia has detained about 4,000 migrants and asylum seekers in offshore processing centers on two islands: Nauru, a desolate and tiny South Pacific state, and Manus Island, which belongs to Papua New Guinea. The Manus detention center was formally closed in 2017.

Conditions have been reported as depressing, even deadly. In one of the dozen cases of deaths in Australian custody since 2013, Hamid Khazaei, an Iranian asylum seeker, died in 2014 after contracting a food infection that was improperly treated and left him brain dead. The Australian coroner’s report into his death faulted the clinic on Manus Island for not providing better care.

Children held in these detention centers reported suicide attempts and symptoms of “resignation syndrome,” in which afflicted people become so distraught and withdrawn that they stop communicating with the outside world.

‘People just lost hope’: After Australia’s election, asylum seekers attempted suicide

Under pressure from refugee advocates, Australia has since relocated many asylum seekers, including all children, to the United States, although hundreds of adults remain.

In December, the Australian government blocked a program to transfer sick detainees to Australian hospitals for better care.

In May, Australians reelected Prime Minister Scott Morrison, an advocate of harsh anti-immigrant policies who, in a previous post as immigration minister, devised the country’s current offshore detention model. He keeps a silver boat on his desk, gifted to him by a constituent.

“I stopped these,” reads the boat’s inscription.

Read more:

After losing key vote on offshore migrant camps, Australian government plays its Trump card

The winner of Australia’s biggest literary prize is an asylum seeker confined by the government on a remote island

After Easter Sunday terrorist attacks, fears dominate Sri Lanka’s election

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