Posts Tagged ‘boat people’

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There’s a lot of total nonsense talked about asylum seekers in Australia. Most of it whipped up equally by the deeply conservative Liberal Party and their weak-kneed Labor opposition.

Here’s a few things those who want to roll out the welcome mat to the world’s most desperate people need to know when cornered into an argument in the pub.

Fact 1: It’s not a crime to come to Australia by boat without a visa and ask for protection

But the Guardian found seven out of 10 people believe it is.

The truth is that it is not a crime to arrive here by boat without a valid visa and ask for protection. In the experience of  The Refugee Council of Australia and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees – in almost 100 years working with people affected by migration – those who do so often feel it is their only chance of finding a place where they’ll be safe from persecution.

asylum

Nor is it illegal to flee persecution, to cross borders without documents or passports in order to seek asylum – people have been doing it for centuries. Everyone has the right to seek asylum from persecution, which is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Human rights are basic freedoms and protections that everyone’s entitled to.

Fact 2: There’s no “official queue” for people coming to Australia seeking a safe place to live

But six out of 10 people think there is.

The United Nations process of resettling refugees in other safe countries doesn’t operate like a queue. It’s not a matter of lining up, waiting for your number to come up like at the supermarket deli counter.

The resettlement system operates as a discretionary process, based on changing criteria. It’s more like a lottery than it is like a queue.

If this mythical global queue did actually exist, based on the number of refugees there are in the world, people joining the end might wait up to 170 years to get to the front. Which would be a bit pointless, really, wouldn’t it?

In many parts of the world – East Africa being a classic example – the asylum seeker process is total chaos, disrupted by lack of Government control, famine, terrorism and war.

Fact 3: We’re not being “flooded by people”. Only 1% of the world’s refugees is likely to be given safe haven in any given year

The Guardian’s survey found six in 10 people don’t know that.

Only a small group of countries offer resettlement through the UN system. Need consistently far exceeds supply and in any given year about 1% of the world’s refugees is likely to be granted safe haven in another country – in fact the UN says fewer than 1% of refugees will ever get a resettlement place.

Fact 4: There are almost 18 million refugees and asylum seekers in the world

According to the most recent statistics there are 16.7 million refugees and 1.2 million asylum seekers worldwide, most of whom are currently living in developing countries such as Pakistan and Iran who are among the least able to deal with the influx. Pakistan and Iran house at least 1 million refugees from the Afghan conflict alone.

The Guardian found close to one-third of Australians reckon there’s 80 million, more than four times as many as there actually are. And almost another quarter of people think there are 9 million, half the actual figure. How it is possible to have an intelligent debate in the face of such ignorance is another matter.

Of course, if some of these myths were dispelled we would have a more compassionate, understanding, welcoming and stronger Australia.

The advocacy groups know from decades of experience working with vulnerable migrants that the vast majority of asylum seekers and refugees flee to escape persecution, torture and death – dangers inflicted on them because of their race, religion, nationality, social group or political opinions.

Some have seen their closest relatives and friends murdered, and their homes and villages burnt to the ground. They’ve suffered torture and their bodies, like their minds, are covered in scars that will never disappear. They are survivors. They come from all walks of life, rich and poor. They flee, simply, because they want to live.

This year for Refugee Week (14 to 20 June) some of the myths and misconceptions that ultimately serve no one are being challenged. Not that we expect Tony Abbott and Bill Shorten to respond any time soon.

But the next time you find yourself in the midst of this debate if you don’t recall anything else at least remember these four basic truths.

Thanks to the Guardian, The Refugee Council of Australia and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for the statistics and data referred to here.

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They look dangerous. Let’s send them somewhere acceptably primitive and tropical so no more come.

In a rush to the darkest hole in the murky depths of the political gene pool, Australian Labor have now decreed that any refugee attempting to arrive by boat who are intercepted before reaching the shores of our vast, under-populated and incredibly wealthy country will never be allowed to settle here, but will, instead, be shipped off permanently to Papua New Guinea.

PNG is one of the poorest countries in the world.

Their residency there will be paid for by huge Australian aid grants – theoretically, that is: the PNG infrastructure is woefully inadequate for their existing population, and it is hard to see how they could possibly cope with an influx of thousands of Iranians, Afghanis and Sri Lankans – but the Australian electorate are not even permitted to know what the scale of this financial support might be, as opposed to the cost (or likely benefit, as shown by research paper after research paper), of settling any refugees in Australia.

This is a disgracefully mean-spirited and petty move from our Prime Minister, who so often parades his “Christian” virtue – what a hypocrite. What a nasty little power hungry goblin of a man he really is, to be sure. He has the moral compass of a gang leader trying to take over a rival’s turf – in this case, the ever-strident ratbaggery of Tony Abbott and his radical right cronies.

It is a timely moment for everyone interested in the quality of our governance to remember Martin Luther King’s famous remark:

“Everything Hitler did was legal.”

The “PNG solution” is legal.

It is also wickedly, shamefully and embarrassingly wrong: it is morally unsupportable.

And that it could be considered an aid to the slim prospects of Kevin Rudd being re-elected is a swingeing indictment of the priorities of the Australian electorate, and of the endless campaign of misinformation that has been waged by the Liberal-National Coalition both in and out of office.

A plague on both your houses.

That we are obliged, by law, to exhaust our ballot choices until we inevitably vote for one or the other of you is no longer tenable.

It is time – long overdue – that “None of the above/No further” was an available option on our Alternative Vote ballot papers. A reform that would see many seats left vacant after an election, I am sure. Just the wake up call the hacks in the Australian Government and Opposition – and the commentariat that lets them get away with such appalling policies – deserves and needs.

And while we’re about it, let’s nail two other pieces of public policy bullshit.

Bullshit #1

Would you risk this, would you risk your family, if you weren't utterly desperate?

Would you risk this, would you risk your family, if you weren’t utterly desperate?

This isn’t about stopping asylum seekers from drowning at sea.

If that was our motivation, we would simply send a few chartered cruise ships to Indonesia, scoop up all the refugees, and bring them to Australia safely.

This is because, despite Australia’s legal obligations, we don’t want these people here.

Despite our honourable tradition of welcoming refugees – and of them becoming leading citizens at all levels of our society – we have now officially decided to turn our backs on some of the poorest, weakest, most persecuted people on the planet.

Because remember, these are not “illegal immigrants”. They are not “economic migrants”. Because if they are found to be, then they are repatriated. These are displaced people, refugees.

Bullshit #2

Why do these people have to try and make their way to Australia?

Because Indonesia and Malaysia are not signatories to the UN Convention on Human Rights. They won’t give these people a “safe haven”. They lock them up. They marginalise them. They persecute them. They won’t let them work, raise a family, make their own way.

So they HAVE to keep going. So tell me, someone, why does Australia support the Governments of these countries with economic aid? Why do we not leverage this aid to insist that they take up their responsibilities too?

No, I am not arguing that Australia should not take up a larger share of the burden – we have the resources, and Lord knows we need the people. But the hypocrisy of the Indonesian and Malaysian leadership is nearly as breathtakingly sickening as that of the Milky Bar Kid and his acolytes in Canberra.

It is time for ordinary people in Australia to become righteously angry about this matter. Sadly, I suspect that apart from a laudable and vocal minority, they will focus their attention on the cricket.