I have held off writing about refugees and Australia’s treatment of them for a long time for a variety of reasons. I did not feel I could write dispassionately about the topic and, shamefully, because I had grown tired of the whole debate and how it is discussed here. But I have been moved to dive into this cesspool of moral compromises by the latest macabre theatre that passes for politics in Australia at the moment.
To give some background, Australian political discourse on the treatment of refugees had been pretty consistent between the two major parties right up until John Howard faced the prospect of losing an election and decided to crack down on the refugees arriving in Australia by boat. When some refugees were picked up by the Captain of the MV Tampa, who in accordance with international law took them to the nearest safe port on Christmas Island, the Prime Minister sent the SAS on to the vessel, preventing the captain from offloading the refugees and in fact, took command of the vessel, effected transfer of the refugees to HMAS Manoora who were later offloading in the Pacific Island nation of Nauru.
There is so much wrong with this particular incident as well as the actions of all parties since then that I could be writing a much longer article. We have the Government telling the nation that male refugees were throwing their children into the ocean to force the Navy to rescue them when in fact the photos used to support this lie actually showed refugees being rescued from the water by Navy personnel who were actually ordered not to intercept the refugee vessel until it had literally fallen apart and sunk. I have spoken to numerous Navy personnel who say that this is one of the most shameful misuse of these honourable people in the entire history of the RAN.
But don’t worry, there is plenty more to discuss. There is the Government continually making the claim that these people are “illegals” when in fact there is NOTHING illegal about applying for asylum or seeking refugee status. Both parties have whipped up such a frenzy of fear within the community about “illegal immigrants” that we actually had two Australian citizens in detention for many years but who slipped through the system due to their mental illness. My only advice to those Australians of ‘swarthy’ complexion who are having a bad day is don’t walk too close to an Department of Immigration official or a politician.
I have not even gotten started on the practice of placing children behind razor wire in the middle of the desert or in Malaria ridden camps in third world island nations bordering Australia where they have been exposed to witnessing gang rapes, incidents of self harm and people exhibiting a variety of mental health problems as a result of being locked up while their requests for asylum are being processed.
I finally come to the reason why I have decided to write about this issue. It seems that today, in our race to the bottom in this ongoing saga, after PM Kevin Rudd announced that all people arriving by boat seeking refuge will be moved to Papua New Guinea where if they are found to be genuine refugees, will be permanently resettled in that country, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has dived even lower and announced that even if you are found to be a genuine refugee, you will NEVER be allowed to permanently resettle in this country. Australia is for Australians, you see. So if you are seeking refuge and find it here, don’t get too comfortable as you will never be allowed to become one of US, no matter how hard you work.
Strangely, this shameful attitude towards refugees has never really been applied to those coming here by aircraft and whose skin is paler than those from the Middle East. If you are an young Irish construction worker who flirts from cash in hand job to cash in hand job while occupying an overcrowded bedsit in Bondi beach, actually taking a job from an Australian, well you are relatively safe. Just make sure you don’t get too good a tan, know what I mean?
For those of you who think like our politicians do, I would like to end this post with some questions that I hope you can answer honestly.
If you are walking along a beach and you see someone drowning in the surf, would you run into the water and rescue them?
Would you rescue them if they were a 5 year old child?
Would you rescue them if it was a mother and father desperately holding their child above the waves?
Would you rescue them if they each wore a beret? (Those pesky French)
Would you rescue them if they each had a good tan and had a cultural arm tattoo identifying them as coming from a particular Polynesian culture?
Would you rescue them if they wore clothes identifying them as coming from a particular Middle Eastern or Central Asian culture?
Would you rescue them if they lost all their clothes in the surf?
Would you rescue them is they lost their wallet in the surf?
Would you rescue them if they lost their passport in the surf?
Would you rescue them if they came from a village where the Taliban were kidnapping children to act as suicide bombers and where leaving with all the bribe money they could gather to get somewhere safe was the ONLY option they had and where they were constantly persecuted in the next safe country they came to, forcing them onwards and onwards until they finally wash up in the surf in front of you? Would you still rescue them?
I hope so.
And lastly, would you help that big, burly, English speaking Irish bloke who stands before you with a smile on his face?