On Saturday, Australians will flock to the polls in droves, casting our mandatory votes to decide who will be our next Prime Minister. A while back, Kevin ’07 was voted in, then Julia threw him out, then got she properly voted in, then Kevin threw her out. It’s hard to keep up. It’s seriously like a bad soap opera.
Both of the major parties are using “boat people” as a platform to gain votes by competing for the title of who will have the harsher stop the boats policy. What exactly are “boat people?” Those who arrive “illegally” by boat, usually rickety, old, I-can’t believe-it-actually-made-it-here type boats.
I say “illegal” because, guess what? They are not illegal at all. Since Australia signed the UN Refugee Convention, genuine asylum seekers have the right to enter our nation of plenty however they can, with, or without documents.
Boat arrivals only count for a small portion of immigration in Australia, and of that small portion, there is only a very tiny percentage of actual illegals – those who are not genuine asylum seekers. In comparison, over 50% of those claiming asylum who have arrived on valid visas are found not to be genuine refugees. I’m not going to bore you with too many numbers though, I want to talk about the refugees. Not the numbers, statistics and cold hard facts, but people and circumstances.
Aussies seem to have this preconception that refugees who come by boat are queue jumpers who deserve to be turned straight back around or locked up in detention centres.
No one stops to think about where they came from or why. We don’t often hear the stories of desperation, but that’s what the issue is all about – real people, with a really desperate need to flee from where their home countries. Real people so desperate for safety that they sell all of their possessions in order to pay a people smuggler a ridiculous sum of money to be transported in a rickety old boat to a nation where they won’t be shot at, raped, terrorised, tortured, or persecuted.
I’ve met a few refugees in the last few years. A 21 year old girl from Iraq told me how her 6 year old brother was shot in her mother’s arms. They don’t know which side the bullet came from, but it didn’t matter, the innocent little 6 year old boy died. The terrified family fled to Australia so they wouldn’t lose any more of their children. Can you imagine watching your SIX YEAR OLD child die of a gunshot whilst you held him in your arms? Wouldn’t you want to do everything in your power to protect the rest of your children from that same fate? Isn’t it your duty to protect your children?
Another friend told me about her experience as a “boat person.” She said that she had no idea the boat would be old and rickety, or that she’d be wading out to it in the middle of the night under the cover of darkness. The people smugglers sell it to you as a comfortable, cruise like experience, at least they did back when she came here. Once she arrived (and after seeing the boat she was to travel in, she thought she’d die on the way), she was held in a detention centre for two years before being assessed as a genuine asylum seeker.
Whenever I read comments on articles in favour of refugees being admitted to Australia, there are always way too many comments saying things like “they’ll turn this into a muslim country.” I’ve met refugees from Africa, Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and not one of them is a muslim. I don’t know why people seem to think all refugees are muslims. Even if they are though, so what? Who are we to say someone who is fleeing for their life can’t come in to this country because they are a muslim? We have many different religions here, accepting refugees isn’t going to change that. Besides, apart from the few extremists, Islam is a peaceful religion. There are crazy extremist Christians too, just look at the Hillsboro Baptist church (the ones who picket funerals with signs and yell stuff like “God hates fags.” Terrible.) There is a reason they fled their home country, they are not about to turn this country into one just like like it.
One of the refugees I know told me that there are actually a lot of Christians in Iraqi villages, most people just don’t realise that because you don’t generally walk around asking people in a muslim country what religion they are.
Other comments I see frequently describe refugees as dole bludgers. From what I’ve seen, this can’t be further from the truth. Refugees have seen heartache, death, and devastation. They know Australia is a second chance, and they embrace that chance with both hands. They use the opportunity to study to be doctors, nurses, lawyers, open their own businesses, or get a job. And they are grateful. Often they work while studying. They don’t just sit at home, squandering their second chance. They are an important part of our society.
Asylum seekers, those by boat especially, are incredibly desperate to get out of their situation in their home country, fleeing for their lives, and that of their children. How can we turn them away? How can we send them back to die or be persecuted? How can we send them to Papua New Guinea, where over 50% of females are raped, the crime rate is high, poverty is high, and refugee support is low?
I’m not saying all asylum seekers should jump on boats, that is an incredibly dangerous journey to take, but where is the compassion for those who do come in that way, often because they can’t get here any other way?
What if Australia was invaded and suddenly became a war torn country, with terror, persecution and death amongst civilians common? Would you not take your kids and flee to different country as fast as you possibly could? Then what if you got there, after a harrowing, death-defying journey, only to be told that despite signing the UN Refugee Convention, they’ve decided they don’t actually want any refugees and you have to turn around and go right back to where you came from?
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Copyright 2013 Sheri Thomson