Simple initial comment: there is no easy answer …
After having had a ‘vigorous’ discussion with some friends over the weekend, and spending a big chunk of yesterday with a good friend, Jackie Benney, visiting some families in Villawood Detention Centre, I am even more motivated to put a spotlight on the reality of what is going on under our noses.
On Saturday I was faced by stark reality, even people who I know posses caring loving hearts have been swayed by the media platitudes that have been spouted for so long (an old cliché: ‘throw enough mud & it will stick’). Friends who I respect and love for many years were in a discussion on the asylum seeker issues, and unfortunately I almost wasn’t surprised that they came out with the overused scare lines of: “send ’em back” & “queue jumpers” – and no amount of verbal persuasion could alter their stance.
I believe many, and this includes my friends, have become disassociated with the human side of what is happening. We have our own lives, and it is OK to share a bit, but they don’t want to face what is happening, or go out of their way to find out any further than what is being reported in the popular press.
How do we break this cycle of dis-information feeding attitudes, which gets reflected back into more inflammatory stories?
This is not a rhetorical question, and requires serious thought to combat the rubbish spouted so we can restore some human dignity.
I believe the first step is to identify what we can and can’t realistically influence, then bit-by-bit take positive steps to initiate some actual changes.
The waters of this debate gets muddied because the rhetoric and hype of one section gets overlaid onto another, and so any realistic progress gets waylaid. I see three levels (yes, this may be an over-simplification, but it is of service for me):
– the ‘home country’ situation
– people’s attempts to get here (or elsewhere)
– what happens when someone arrives.
Home Country: we have no way of directly influencing the wars/persecutions/human cleansing campaigns in other countries which these families and individuals are running from, so this level we have zero influence. Even NGOs (which we can donate to eg TEAR Australia, Compassion, World Vision, etc), who are trying to assist as much as possible, can’t even get in to many regions. But we do have the ability to help an individual in trouble, whether we have the will or not is another question.
Method of Arrival: Focussing on how people arrive on our shores is actually a complete red herring which many have been suckered into. It doesn’t matter how someone arrives (and seeking asylum is NOT illegal – another myth perpetrated by some sections of the media), the point is how we treat them when they do. The majority of refugees into Australia arrive by air, not the headline grabbing boats. The government can purport to put in place policies that slow down the rate of arrival but in truth there will always be someone in this broken world seeking help, that will never go away.
On Arrival: I totally agree with the concept of it being desirable for everyone to undergo security and health checks before coming, but the reality is that it is just a pipe dream. The checks happen here, which is complicated by desperate people not having paperwork, or have forged or false documents to fly in – but I have not had it explained to me how it takes 5 years and 3 years for the families we met yesterday (not isolated cases) to have this done when the average US applicant is detained for 17 days (UN figures) …. and they are sooo much more paranoid about security than we are. This is simply dehumanising, and we are being party to it. Of course, adding to that degradation of the individuals is the about to be implemented policy of offshore detention – nothing like applying the ‘out-of-site-out-of-mind’ principle to a whole new level. No longer it is good enough to put them behind high walls for long periods of time – lets just ship ’em off so we can forget about them!
Here we have a direct opportunity to impact on people in distress. You can actually meet them, show you care, give them some social time, show them they are not alone and that we Australians are a compassionate nation.
And just one other media myth – that they are sitting around bludging off you and the government. Only reason they are sitting around is that they are locked up for too long!. Do you honestly think a person who is strong enough to risk their life on an uncertain and perilous journey to seek a better life is just going to sit around? Not likely, unless their spirit is broken by the ‘new’ country. Asylum Seekers Resource Centre speaks of the high rate of attempted employment and retraining of refugee families – they want to work and make a valuable contribution to our society. It is the lazy Aussies who are the stereotypical dole bludgers, not the new arrivals.
A parable of Christ said: “…When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.” (Matt 25:38-40)
How are you going to respond?