Reality Check on the Refugee Debates

25 10 2009

Xenophobia and Nationalist sabre rattling take up most of the debate about refugees.  All to often these people, who for whatever reason have decided to uproot and leave their homes for greener pastures, are portrayed as sub-human, without the appropriate paperwork, they have no soul.  Every Australian should be aware at the outrage and shock horror our most patriotic citizens have felt at the recent arrivals of boat people, the positions our politicians are taking, the cries against this horrible crime made by mostly Conservative, wealthy members of the community and the shear amount of rhetoric being used to score a few political points.

About a week ago I was with some friends and a few others.  People were talking and the subject of refugees came up.  I couldn’t believe my ears as I listened to these others talk of refugees as if they were sub-human.  The conversation had quickly become polarised between two positions; a Conservative and a Liberal.  The Conservative started smiling while announcing to the rest of the group that these refugees should all just be turned back in their boats.  I asked why, and he happily explained that the more we let in, the more our lives would become, ‘shit’.  I wanted to explore this thought further, but I could already guess the answer, ‘we only have so many resources and so much space, not to mention that these refugees will all, immediately, start taking Centrelink cheques’.  In other words, ‘my million dollar house in an exclusive suburb will be at risk if we allow too many to enter and they’ll live on welfare’ — which was surprising coming from an Italian whose own ethnicity faced the same discriminatory responses when they began arriving in this country.  I didn’t even know where to begin to tackle this absurdity that is just one step away from ‘they’re destroying our nation’s identity!’  It more or less relied on at least two basic assumptions; refugees are here to mooch and they have nothing to offer society. Never mind that the forces which make a person uproot and risk life and limb to relocate themselves and their families somewhere else means that they want to work because they want to live.  They are leaving their homes because it was so bad that they can no longer live as they wish.  Refugees, at least the ones I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, have never wanted to live off welfare, precisely because they want to live.  And again, all this makes me wonder about whether or not the same criticisms would be levelled against a large number of white refugees.  Would they be welcomed with open arms, or would they be round up and sent back home?

Then there was the Liberal, who otherwise lived in a fantasy world.  Granted, she took a position defending the refugees against the Conservative, but it was the manner in which she did so; she argued that the Australian economy was big enough to allow anyone in.  In short, she made such a weak argument against the Conservative that she was shot down in seconds and made it impossible for the Anarchist in the room to point out not only the intrinsic racism in the arguments of the Conservative but also the particularly arrogant assumption underlying all calls for increased, ‘hard-line’ border security that the world will get up and move to Australia if we just open the borders.  After all, people can’t resist coming to Australia even when there’s no reason to ‘begin again’ in their own country — and it should be well known that the energy and time needed to begin life over again, from nothing, is huge.  It’s a huge commitment but that only becomes absolutely necessary when your world collapses around you and prevents you from providing that better world for your partner and your children or your Self.

And so I woke up this morning, ate my cereal, started making myself coffee and turned on the TV. The glow bathed the living room and the familiar breakfast TV voices echoed in my ears. The presenters are interviewing a 60 Minutes reporter on a piece that will be aired tonight regarding refugees and they all seem to be talking, in depth about the business operations of those that bring the ‘boat people’ to our shores.

The Reporter was smiling and talking while the presenters asked him questions.  In short, he pointed out that the ‘boat people’ are ‘genuine’ refugees and he talked about those that bring the refugees to Australian shores.  He explained that these were mostly fishermen who found they could make a better profit by taking people to Australia instead of fishing.  It was pointed out that these people do not expect or even want to get to Australia; it is too dangerous.  They hope to be picked up by the Australian border guards so the people they are transporting will be taken to Christmas Island, they will be given a decent meal, kept warm and then given a plane ride home.  Are these people the evil monster’s that Kevin Rudd called them back a few months ago?  Are they profiting of human misery?  Sure, if you look at it from the perspective of, ‘Poor refugees, but they should wait in line while their world collapses around them instead of being goaded into doing something stupid be evil monsters’.  But this perspective doesn’t quite sit well with reality.  People want to get out and they want to get out now.  For whatever reason, they are willing to take the risk of coming by boat to Australia because they need to leave.  The ‘evil monster’ they turn to is a fisherman, just trying to make a living meanwhile the people, those poor refugees, are able to avoid much of the bureaucracy that may endanger their lives.  What these refugees are doing is something courageous and what the people who take them are doing is something heroic.

Then there is the fact that most people miss.  While crying ‘poor exploited boat person refugee who should have waited in line’ they ignore the fact that most of Australia’s refugees arrive by plane.  I would even go so far as to hazard the assertion that all those who treat ‘boat people’ as subhuman (evidenced in the very titled afforded them), should really think twice about their position on the basis that it may, one day, come back to haunt them.  After all, what happens if the lifestyle enjoyed in most of Australia suddenly goes to hell and many Australians look to escape?  Will they want to wait in line?  Will the rest of the world accept them or turn them back?

Borders and Border Protection are just codewords for xenophobia and do nothing but increase human suffering.  The more people call out for ‘regulation’ and ‘tougher laws’ to ‘combat’ the arrival of ‘boat people’, we will be helping to increase human suffering and misery.

EDIT:  Less than five minutes after posting this, I found the following:

Greens leader Bob Brown has told Channel Nine that if the Government wants to pursue a so-called “Indonesian solution” to deal with asylum seekers, it must seek assurances from the Indonesian government.

“I hope that Prime Minister Rudd will be calling on his Indonesian counterpart in Thailand to sign the international refugee conventions which guide basic ground rules for fast processing of asylum seekers,” he said.

Mr Brown says the Federal Government should be trying to improve detention conditions for asylum seekers in Indonesia.

“We’ve looked at the Australian-funded holding place in Indonesia, it’s got no power, it’s got none of the amenities we would expect for a decent jail, let alone a decent holding place,” he said.

“Some people are being held there for many years – five to 10 years – and that’s not acceptable.”

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has also defended the move, amid claims of extremely harsh conditions and beatings in Indonesian asylum seeker camps.

“We have carried out all of our obligations and continue to carry out all of our obligations,” Senator Conroy told Network Ten.

He says Australia has contributed almost $8 million this year towards improving conditions for asylum seekers being held in Indonesia.

So we’re taking people who have escaped one hell and thrown them into another.  Three cheers for Nationalism!








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