My local (Federal) MP, John Alexander, left a comment here on the subject of Australia’s treatment of refugees after my last post. I really have to take him to task on a few points:
1. So asylum seekers may pass through other countries on their way here? I think these other countries are already carrying a very heavy load – Pakistan has close to TWO MILLION refugees in camps there, Malaysia has about 100,000, Iran has nearly a million. It may be an inappropriate choice of words, but the numbers seeking refuge in Australia are a drop in the ocean (6-8000 a year by air and sea). We are a much richer nation than Pakistan and it’s rather insulting, and slightly patronising, to suggest that these countries should be carrying this burden by themselves.
2. Under the Howard Government, apparently, our country was no longer seen as a “soft target”. Has it even been a soft target? It’s one of the few countries in the world that puts asylum seekers in prison, which is effectively what mandatory detention is. And in the last few weeks a very interesting survey has shown that asylum seekers coming here are not actually aware of the rules when they get here. So however strict the detention is, or whether there is no incarceration, would make no difference to the numbers. Refugees in Indonesia and Malaysia aren’t avid watchers of Lateline or tune into the ABC News on a regular basis. The Liberal Party’s constant carping about sending the “right message” to asylum seekers is utter rubbish. They don’t have access to the message. I remember Howard refusing to allow children in detention (yes, we lock up children here) to receive English lessons as it would send the “wrong message”. So offering English lessons to children would encourage people to come here??!!! And refusing would deter them?? (And there’s an interesting blog here talking about the numbers who come here and how that correlates to the number of people seeking refuge worldwide).
3. If anything, these are the people Australia needs. They’re determined, generally hard-working people seeking a better and safer life. Does anyone not remember the outcry from Australians about the Vietnamese coming here (by boat) in the 70’s. Look around now and see the entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, teachers, musicians all around this country that this influx of refugees has given us. This would be a poorer nation without them.
4. And they’re NOT usually terrorists (though John Alexander didn’t suggest they were but that is often the undercurrent in this conversation). Al Qaeda does NOT send its operatives on leaky boats across the world. It gives them passports, visas and airline tickets.
5. And finally, our detention centres are so dreadful that when Mary Robinson, then head of the UNHCR, asked permission to visit one of them, it was refused. I think that speaks volumes.