Today is World Refugee day: a day to be humbled by some of the stories of refugees; a day to recognize the resilience of people who are forcibly displaced; a day to be thankful to not be living in a country where government instability and war is a part of everyday life.
But it is also a day to be angry and distressed about the way in which Australia treats refugees.
Last year, legislation was put into place which excises the entire Australian mainland from the migration zone. This means that asylum seekers who arrive by boat on Australian shores are now sent offshore for processing. They will not be able to live in the community while they wait for a determination.
I see this policy as a completely wasted opportunity for Australia to benefit from the positive contributions made by refugees as they integrate into our society. According to the Refugee Council of Australia, “the 740 000 refugees and humanitarian migrants settled by Australia since Federation have had a profound impact in enhancing the nation’s social, cultural and economic life” (source).
Refugees are normal people, from terrifying circumstances. They have the potential to bring in new skills, create employment and fill empty employment niches in Australia, to name a few. Instead, they are treated like criminals, simply for wanting a better life for themselves and their families.
In 2012, Prime Minister Tony Abbott gave a speech in which he compared people-smugglers to drug smugglers, stating “I would, of course, politely explain to the Indonesian government that we take as dim a view of Indonesian boats disgorging illegal arrivals in Australia as they take of Australians importing drugs into Bali” (source).
But this statement is incorrect, as it is not illegal to seek asylum in Australia, even if arriving by boat.
Australians are known for their laid-back attitude towards life, friendly disposition and compassionate nature. We are not, nor do we want to be, a nation known for cruelty towards those desperate for our help. We are privileged enough to live in a country that has abundant resources. In fact, “For those who’ve come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share” is a line in our Anthem. Perhaps Mr Abbot needs to sit the Citizenship Test.
(Image source: UNICEF)