More Questions and More Answers

30 May 2011

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.



  1. A previous commenter suggested that we need a “strong policy to deter people from making this dangerous trip”, referring to asylum seekers that arrive by boat.

    I think that makes a pretty big assumption – that these people feel like they have any choice!

    I remember hearing the story of a man who put his three children into a hollowed out log with an outboard motor because he thought it was their only hope for survival.

    Can you imagine what other horrors they would have faced by staying home – if this was their best hope?

    AS a mother, I can’t imagine the desperation these people face, but I can imagine doing everything I can to give my child a chance.

    We have to stop looking at this as an economic problem, and start treating it for what it is, a humanitarian problem.

    There is no “us” and “them”. There are only people, and we have an obligation to be kind. Not a legal obligation, but a moral one.

  2. nicely put Lara

  3. Keep up the good work, Sally. The same old arguments keep getting pulled out, but the figures of previous boat “invasions” (apart from the British in 1788) show that when the country of origin returns to a relatively peaceful state, the boats stop ……. anyone remember the Vietnamese boats during the “American War” as it is referred to in Vietnam. Where are they now?

    The Vietnamese community is a vital, hardworking group of people that has enriched our Australian culture in so many ways. And so will the current influx of refugees, if they are ever released from detention and manage to recover from the terrible wrongs that have been inflicted on them by our governments – past and present.

  4. Oops, just read the rest of your post, Sally! Sorry I recovered the Vietnamese example.

  5. As well as the moral and ethical arguments, can I say that it is a legal argument too. Asylum seekers are entitled under International Law to enter another country without documents and without prior authority. They are entitled to have their claims assessed.

    It is the delay in assessment that is causing some problems. Out of 400 people on Tampa, only 4 were eventually found not to be political refugees. That’s 96% legitimate. If you ask me these people make good migrants: they are brave, resourceful and unlikely to return home any time soon.

    For the life of me I cannot trace this fear of invasion by sea back to anything but the Yellow Peril propaganda around the 1900s.

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