A Pox On Both Their Houses11 November 2011
I recently met a man in Sydney who was born in Hungary but in the uprising of 1956, his parents scooped him and his two siblings into their arms and ran across the border. His mother told him her biggest fear was that they’d all be shot in the back.
They went to England – homeless, jobless and penniless. They were found somewhere to live and a local couple “adopted” them, helping them in every way, from job applications to providing clothing and food when necessary. About 10 years later, when my friend was in his early teens, he and his family moved to Australia but the kind couple in England remained life-long friends.
His story struck a strong chord with me because my parents also helped a Hungarian refugee at that time. He lived with my family and my father gave him a job. The call had gone out round the ex-servicemen’s associations and very many English people volunteered to help.
Look at us now. When did we become so heartless, selfish and unsympathetic that serious discussions take place about towing asylum seekers back out to sea? Were the Hungarians in the 50’s helped because people like my father had just witnessed unspeakable horrors and never wanted to see them again? Or was it because Hungarians were “people like us” as opposed to the Iraqis, Afghanis and Sri Lankans who now comprise most of those desperate for a new home in Australia?
And maybe because I come from a military family (my father, mother and sister all served in the armed forces) I give a lot of thought to the navy’s role in this. Why would we even think of asking them (correction: ordering them) to tow a leaky boat (the Opposition’s phrase) full of men, women and children out into dangerous waters. It goes against everything that the code of the sailor dictates and if (or rather, when) one of these boats sinks, the men and women on our Australian ships will have to live with the consequences of what they were forced to do.
I’m heartily sickened by the arguments between politicians over who can be the most harsh in their treatment of these desperate people. The arguments over where offshore they can be “processed”. Will it be Malaysia, Nauru or some other far and away place? What’s wrong with Australia? And when did human beings start to be “processed” (Answer: in the second world war, in the European concentration camps)? Meat is processed, not humans.
I don’t think that the Australian people are any less caring than the British were in the 1950’s (my Sydney Hungarian friend now tries to “pass on” the help he and his family received by doing the same for refugees here) but we’re being drip-fed stories to produce fear in us and the language used is deliberately chosen to ensure that we don’t start to humanise people who are to most of us faceless.
And, as you’ve probably gathered, it makes me sick.