28 March 2011

Asylum seekers and refugees - Australia's future? or our destroyers?

I am really exasperated by the vitriol expressed towards refugees sailing in tiny boats towards Australia and the so-called people smugglers who bring them here on those boats. Australia is a migrant nation... that is what we do.. we offer a new chance at life to people caught up in wars, poverty and oppression overseas. Of course I can differentiate between refugees with visas and those without, but every single person in Australia has come from somewhere else. Or if not us, then our parents or grandparents. We know what desperation is.

In Israel, Singapore or Malta, if they accepted one more refugee, the poor newcomers might have to sleep in tents. There is no more space to put new arrivals! But Australia is a huge continent. Of course we want to accept newcomers in an orderly fashion and we want to assure ourselves that the refugees are truly escaping death and oppression, so security checks are indeed essential. But rejecting people because Australia doesn't have the space or the wealth to absorb new families is absurd. And immoral.

refugees arrive in a small boat

Eamine the language in just a single newpaper article, WAtoday: Huge wave of refugees predicted (headline 28th/3/2011). "Indonesian police intelligence suggests between 7000 and 10,000 more people are waiting in Malaysia to make the journey once their passage is organised by people smugglers. There is a large network of people smugglers servicing the 1 million Indonesian illegal workers who regularly go back and forth between the two countries by boat. These same networks also help arrange passage to Australia. On Saturday, Malaysian authorities arrested 36 Afghans and six Pakistanis being smuggled to Australia via Indonesia".

Note the nasty language - "huge wave", "people smugglers", "large network", "illegal workers", "Indonesians, Afghans and Pakistanis". I wonder if newspapers would use this language about Dutch, British or Swiss citizens.  Worse than racist, the language has rather nasty theories/myths embedded just below the surface:
Myth 1 - Refugees arriving by boats are queue jumpers stopping legitimate asylum seekers from gaining entry.
Myth 2 - Refugees are terrorists or potential terrorists.
Myth 3 - The number of 'boat people' and refugees in general is huge and growing.
Myth 4 - Boat owners who carry asylum seekers to Australia are evil, satanic and greedy.

Two presentations in Melbourne on this very topic will be essential.

People Smugglers: Friend or Foe?
Exhibition Opening Sunday 10th April, 3 – 5pm
Liberty Victoria and Amnesty International present a new exhibition that looks at the issue of people smuggling through the eyes of refugees. In a series of interviews, people from all over the world discuss how they came to Australia and the role people smugglers played in their journey. This exhibition explores the moral complexities of the people smuggling trade. At the same time, it looks at the positive impact refugees have had on Australian society from the Second World War to the present day.

Date: Sunday 10 April – Sunday 8 May 2011
Time: Opening from 3 – 5pm
For more information please visit Liberty Victoria online.
Please RSVP to the opening by Wednesday 6 April: marketing@jewishmuseum.com.au

Finding Refuge: Coming to Australia as an Asylum Seeker
In association with their exhibition People Smugglers: Friend or Foe, Liberty Victoria presents this open discussion, which will explore the difficult issue of people smuggling. Several refugees will tell their stories and give their perspective on whether they see smugglers as good, bad or indifferent. There should be a lively debate to follow the panel discussion.

Date: Thursday 28 April 2011
Venue: The Jewish Museum of Australia
Time: 7.30pm

To be pro-active, sign a partition to help our fellow humans.
We Need to Talk About Human Rights Petition | GoPetition


Hermes said...

Well said Helen, we have a minority of racists here too. Its a big world and personally I like a mix of cultures.

Joseph said...

My parents were refugees from persecution and were lucky to get visas into Australia. They were huge contributers to their new country via running a business in Sydney and educating their children to be professionals.

Hels said...

Hermes and Joseph
everyone wrings their hands over the slaughter of civilian adults and children in Libya, Yemen, Syria, Pakistan etc, saying what can we do? Send a $100 cheque to Red Cross?

How about admitting refugees into this (and other rich) countries? Do thorough security checks first but give them health care, food and decent shelter, while they are waiting for all the checks to be done. And keep families together!

Those refugees won't cost Australia - they will benefit us.

Unknown said...

Hello Hels! Interesting topic. My parents were refugees from the civil war in Cyprus, arriving in 1972 and 1973 respectively. They both worked for many years in a factory and now are indepedently employed. My sister and I are both health professionals.

I have often encountered racism, even from my partner's family whom are Australian. Much of it stems from a lack of awareness of the plight of the people escaping conlict, and the harsh realities of the going through the process of being granted a visa.

It is infinitely easier to make hateful statements when you do not have an inkling of the pain and suffering endured by people who have been forced to leave their homeland.

Having travelled to almost every continent, I can safely say that Melbourne is amazing because of its multiculturalism. Our range of restaurants alone is nothing like I've ever encountered anywhere else! You can maybe get the same type of diversity in a place like New York, but we have the wide open spaces and gardens and less stifling population numbers.

Hence, I'm never surprised when Melbourne frequently gets cited as among the world's 'most liveable' cities.

There is one aspect that often gets tied into this argument that is cause for concern, and that is the awarding of an increasing number of university places to (non citizen) overseas students, at the expense of local students - to the extent that government subsidised places are no longer available in some courses(even in the Health Sciences!)

A great part of many families success (migrant or otherwise) was due to access to education - something which is becoming increasingly difficult the way course funding models are progressing. But that is a topic for another day perhaps!


the foto fanatic said...

I lived in a housing commission area as a teenager, and in those post-war years there were many immigrants. Over time we had Dutch, Italian and English next-door neighbours. I had Russian, Yugoslavian and Latvian schoolmates. I hate to think where Australia would be now without them.

The single most disturbing thing in our politics at the moment is not a carbon tax or global warming, it's the despicable way we (both parties are guilty!) treat refugees.

Hels said...


Thank you. It strikes me as incredible when newspapers and radio commentators assume that asylum speakers are simply after a cushy life in Australia. That they have no real passion for their home lands.

The pain and suffering endured by people who have been forced to leave their homeland is immense, and lasts forever probably. But fear of persecution must have outweighed their passion for the homeland, in order to sail on a leaky boat from Indonesia.

I am probably older than you and was lucky enough to live in Australia when university was free. Those wonderful days may never come back again.

Hels said...

foto fanatic

agreed. The single most disturbing thing in our politicians of both parties IS the way they treat refugees and their saviours (aka people smugglers).

We have enough shameful examples in history where persecuted people did manage to escape their own homelands on small boats, only to be returned to their homelands by some colonial power or another. At home again, they faced certain starvation, persecution or death.

When I was in primary school in the early 1950s, the children who could speak English sat next to the children who could not, and translated from Italian, Greek or Yiddish. Within a year, the refugee children were studying as well as Australian-born children, or better.


what people should do is offer a place in THEIR homes instead of erecting tent cities. im sure you have some space.someone like hels looks like she has a bit of space and joseph could help too as he has a business . all of the people here are basically rascists because you talk big but want the indigenous working class to solve the problem because they are the people who have to bare thw brunt, so give a space in your home not just to refugees but any old down and out you meet, but you wont will you because most of you are just mouth and trousers


anyone who says he hates rascists is a rascist . think about it

Hels said...

Fixed bayonet

thanks for the response.
I agree. Families should take refugees in. But no government, of either persuasion, will allow refugees into the community. Those revolting camps are getting bigger, not smaller :(

gee said...

theres a myriad of morons saying i hate rascism , its an affirmation that really says im a good person look at me, nothing more trhan that. you dont need a refugee you only need a down and out, the refugees of society, thats if you really really wanna take some poor bastard in. you dont need to wait for refugees and what you wrote back to me is really an excuse. nevertheless i like your blog.

Hels said...

thanks maria
a blogger never knows, when they write their posts, how people will respond. Apart from differences in political systems, religious and philosophical values and the role of women, we face linguistic differences as well. So I am grateful for responses.

gee said...

if you think multi culturalism is good think on this
a bbc educational programme did the solitary stuff on the melting pot and used brick lane as an example
they amazingly said that every restuarant uses a main supplier so wherever you eat in brick lane its the same food.
can you get more cynical and therefore more rascist than that.
the real damage to a country has been done by neo libbers and arch capitalists who never take the time or even care about the real socialist dilemmas of the multicultural society. in london its really and absolutely unfair as its always the working class who pay the bill

Hels said...

maria said...

your reader should be more subtle in his thinking , maybe read the preface by marx to engels condition of the english working classes, the issue is not if your reader is a rascist (accusing others normally means that)but why people object to the so called melting pot.

Hels said...
maria, I disagree. Almost everyone in the New World was working class originally. If they hadn't been struggling, they wouldn't have left Europe and travelled thousands of ks for a new life.

My own family was Russian, my husband was Czech and the neighbours on both sides were from Poland. My sons married women from Egyptian and Syrian parents. Thank goodness for Australia!

Anonymous said...

If my family was imprisoned for their political activity or ethnically cleansed because of their religion, I would jump on any small boat or cross any border at night.

Hels said...

naturally. Every parent in the universe would go to any length, to save their children's lives - legally or illegally.

gee said...

to all neo libbs the answer is simple put a down and out in your own home if you are really freaked out bout homeless people .....but you won't because basically the would be neo lib is full of bullshit

Hels said...

thanks for the comments but I think you are still wrong.

New World countries had only small indigenous populations of their own - thus they are totally dependent on immigrants, refugees and, in Australia's case, involuntary newcomers. These people desperately want a new life and become, eventually, our best citizens.

Anonymous said...

Its very important to justify and investigate asylum seekers whether they have relation with terrorism or not. Although I found racism in Australia so nobody can neglect its existence.Huge number of nations are here so racism would stay with us and its normal and we can't say it will disappear on coming days.
I want to say that there should be basic entry requirements for Asylum
seekers for instance: health check etc, basic education,no criminal record etc.From my personal experience I want to say that they must have to have those requirements.Because we know there is entry requirement to come here.If they don't have their numbers will day by day increase at alarming rate and get worse and worse.So its important to think everything.

Hels said...


exactly as I said to Hermes and Joseph! We need to do thorough security checks first but give them health care, food and decent shelter, while they are waiting for all the checks to be done. And keep families together!

Burn the isolated prison camps, destroy the barbed wire, sack the prison guards, make the boats safe, put the children in school and supervise the families in community facilities until the checks are completed. If any of the asylum seekers turn out to be security risks, put them on the next plane home.

And set a maximum time in limbo for each refugee family eg 12 months. That should be long enough for the security people to do their checks.

gee said...

will you have one in your home or do you expect the working poorer classes to pay the financial and moral bill?

gee said...

down under wasn't built on working classes but those of the Demi-monde, criminals and people too brutal or brutalised to be part of ordinary society. Dont make the mistake of thinking differently.

Hels said...

thank you for your comments, but I am afraid you will have to find a sympathetic ear elsewhere.

Migrants and refugees made this nation great, including my own husband and my son's parents in law.

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Deborah said...

Dear friends,

I don’t usually circulate petitions (we all get enough email!) But I do believe strongly that as the children of refugees, we have a particular moral imperative to act on the asylum seeker issue. It’s really important this issue is not just confined to the usual protesting types – so if you agree please sign the enclosed petition.


Hels said...


I have added the petition to the post. Many thanks for allowing me and others to express our view more publicly.

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Hels said...

Agtools Seo

thank you. Do you discuss the same issues in India?

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