03 November 2011

For those who've come across the seas

The title of my post is a line from Australia's national anthem, Advance Australia Fair, which claims "For those who've come across the seas/ We've boundless plains to share".

I was going to post a book review today, or maybe blog about reading in general, but am so distressed by the recent deaths of yet more asylum seekers, and disgusted by the political bickering that is the only response from the government and the opposition, I'm going to write about that instead.

I know it's part of a politician's job to slag their opponents off and rubbish all their ideas, regardless of their actual merit. And I know that many intelligent, well-educated people can completely lack historical perspective - or maybe just become unable to use it when they're too absorbed in their own pains and gains. But how superficial are these politicians that their response to the recent drowning of at least six asylum seekers trying to reach Australia is to try to score points by blaming and finding fault with each other's policies and strategies? Especially given that the policies of each are basically the same - ignore the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and reject asylum seekers, prevent them reaching Australia if at all possible, and if they get here, mandatory detention for all, usually in privatised prisons in remote areas, or off-shore, for indefinite periods.

Neither the government nor the opposition denies that community detention would be cheaper than sending asylum seekers to detention centres. They are well aware that indefinite detention has a seriously detrimental effect on detainees, often causing major depression and self-harming, sometimes suicide. The majority of asylum seekers are eventually recognised as legitimate refugees.

Twenty-eight people drowned within sight of Christmas Island late last year. Six women and children died this week during their desperate voyage to find shelter from persecution. Prime Minister Gillard is quoted as saying the tragedy “tears at your heart", following that by saying that the way to prevent such tragedies is to deter asylum seekers. I imagine some of these people seeking protection from torture, wrongful imprisonment and the state-endorsed murder that is "ethnic cleansing" already know they're not welcome in Australia, but they must hope that we will be less cruel, less dangerous, than the situation they're fleeing. So if we can't stop them entrusting their lives to people smugglers with leaky boats, what should we do?

How about helping them get here? Close the detention centres, use the money saved to fund planes or sea-worthy boats to bring asylum seekers here. Keep them in community detention, run the usual checks to determine if their claims are valid, gain valuable new residents who will contribute to our nation, save hundreds of men, women and children from needless psychological damage, save lives...

This has all been said before. I don't expect my blog post to change the minds of the millions of Australians who believe the fear-mongering stories put out by so-called "current affairs" programs. I'm saying this so at least I'm not contributing my silence to the barriers that we, people privileged to live in safety and comfort, set up against those who are fleeing for their lives.

If you're not already angry about this tragic farce that politicians and bureaucrats have created for refugees, here's an open letter by author Tom Keneally to "Shooty", a Sri Lankan refugee who committed suicide in Villawood detention centre last week.

If you're angry to the point of despair, please take heart from the work done by the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and the dozens of other organisations that offer support and advocacy to asylum seekers, refugees and detainees in Australia.

May we all live in peace.

Asylum, noun. The protection granted by a nation to someone who has left their native country as a political refugee.
Shelter or protection from danger.

Photo: A candlelight vigil at Villawood detention centre in memory of Shooty

1 comment:

Heather Jean said...

I hadn't heard about these drownings. I actually don't know what the answer is. I know here they had to do more to stop people transporting asylum seekers/illegal immigrants in unsafe methods of transport, but that was mainly unventilated lorries. It did seem to work, but with the boats I don't know if it's the same thing, because I don't know if there are people charging the asylum seekers to get on their dodgy boats etc.

I don't think any country would ever supply the transport, it's just not going to happen, as once the people got on the Australian boat or plane or whatever, they could be deemed as accepted. However the government could maybe support charities and organisations who help those who feel they need to leave. And who work in the countries to try and prevent it all in the first place.

I work with a lot of refugees and asylum seekers, and have heard horrors beyond belief of the torture they have been through, and often they've seen their family members tortured and murdered. However, here's the thing I've learnt over the years. It's not our fault. I feel full of rage at what happens in a lot of cultures and countries. I can't get over the fact that we are supposed to be living in the 21st century but so many places are mediaeval. I don't know how to solve the world's problems, and I don't agree that we should police the world, because clearly it's not working. The solutions have to lie in those places though, not in people having to leave and live elsewhere. It's all really backward in my opinion.