Throughout this week SBS’s Go Back To Where You Came From sparked a number of discussions in my workplace. One key topic of discussion was on the life of refugees compared to those living in extreme poverty. Just because you are poor doesn’t make you a refugee, and just because you are a refugee shouldn’t confine you to a life of poverty.
Unfortunately, however, the problems of poverty and displaced peoples are often connected. The west has also been trying to solve both problems for decades now with little success. The reality is no matter how hard we try, it is human nature to start wars, which naturally displace people. Also with wars, famine, floods, and a growing global population there is always going to be hunger.
The two extremes of the refugee debate in Australia are “Stop the boats. Close the borders.” and “Let everyone who wants to come in, we have enough room.” Of course neither extreme is workable so we end up with a compromise position somewhere in the middle.
At the moment the current Australian Government policy is to make it as hard as possible for refugees to enter Australia through the use of mandatory detention and the threat of deporting people to Malaysia. We are like the big bully picking on the weakest most vulnerable kid in the playground. We act tough when in reality we just have a warped sense of entitlement.
Too often we forget that being a refugee gives you a ticket to the most unlucky lottery in the world. Some people are fortunate they win the lottery easily and make it to the west relatively quickly. Others face years of going from country to country running from the constant threat of death. By the time someone gets in a rusty, old, overcrowded boat they are at a state of desperation.
Upon arriving in Australian territory asylum seekers are thrown into prison – after all these people have gone through to make it alive this far you think they would have a little more luck in the lucky country. Quite simply the approach taken by the Australian authorities is inhumane, unjust and unnecessary.
In an opinion piece on theage.com.au Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser outlines a 10 steps to solve the refugee crises in a much better way. He writes:
Australia should not seek to avoid its obligations by shifting asylum seekers to another country. There are many questions and problems relating to the so-called agreement with Malaysia. The whole idea of swapping asylum seekers including children in this way, as if they are commodities, is odious. It is trading in people. It is neither an appropriate nor a just solution.
Mandatory immigration detention centres should be abolished. Detention for the purpose of health, identity and security checks alone should be permissible.
We should be especially concerned about children in detention. The previous government made a commitment to get children out of detention, yet in February there were more than 1000 children in detention
The punitive approach taken to asylum seekers who come to Australia by boat – who are detained often for years – and to those who have come by air – who are living in the community but are denied any form of government support – should be replaced by a humane and compassionate policy where support is given to those in distress.
A strong, multicultural Australia that draws strength from its diversity, that debates real issues of importance to ourselves and to common humanity, has contributed so much in the past. It must do so again.
The pettiness and meanness of the current debates about asylum seekers and indeed on other issues that are dealt with on a totally partisan basis must be put aside.
We should also ask ourselves what we as Australians need to do so that politicians will learn to appeal to the best of our natures and cease playing politics with the lives of vulnerable people.
You can read the full article here: http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/how-australia-can-solve-its-asylum-seeker-problem-20110624-1gjlt.html
Fraser’s ideas make sense and are completely workable. One can only hope that somehow the politicians in Canberra hear him, and the voices of everyone else who are saying that there is a better way.