Go Back to Where You Came From 2012–revisited–Part 3

It may be that Jonathan Green was too pessimistic – see my previous entry. To judge from last night’s QandA Angry Anderson really did have something of a Damascus Road experience as a result of being in GBTWYCF. One Tweeter commented that all he needed now was a world tour of climate change — maybe starting right now with a flight over Greenland.

VIDEO CLIP OF ANGRY ANDERSON INTERRVIEW PLAYED: “ I don’t accept the boat people at all. Don’t tell me about what a hard time you had. The first thing you’ve shown me is no sense of respect. End of story. Don’t bother. Because as soon as you get here, we’re chucking you on a cattle train or a plane or a ship and you’re going home.”

TONY JONES: Now, with respect, that probably does pretty much reflect the Government’s position except for the cattle train bit. But, you know, you’ve changed your position. Why? Why did you say that then and this now?

ANGRY ANDERSON: Because experience is – well, education is enlightenment and the one thing that – the one simple dynamic that I didn’t understand, which, you know, you can’t blame the press for everything – most things – but the one thing that wasn’t explained to me, as a citizen of this country, is the simple dynamics of the situation and the Hazara people are persecuted. There Islamic people or Muslims persecuted by other, you know, extremists, thugs hired and paid by the Taliban and other extremist groups, in their own country. They actually are declared non-people in their own country. Now, that simple thing, when you actually go there and you start to just to understand just a little about the way, the cultural structure of the country is, which we don’t here…

Also last night I think only a total blockhead would have doubted the sincerity of Tony Burke’s concern over people in his electorate whose relatives have, it would appear, drowned in pursuit of their Australian Dream, somewhere between Indonesia and Christmas Island. I accept totally that as far as he is concerned his support of what the government is doing is not driven by electoral considerations purely or by fear of “The Other”.

TONY BURKE: There’s an extra dimension and I don’t accept your comment earlier, Tony, about the way the Government’s argued this. I just don’t accept that. I do not believe for a minute that it’s been a queue jumpers’ argument from the government. It has been, for a very real part and it was a cabinet debate, it was a Caucus debate, it was a debate in the Parliament, about how do you stop the drownings? Now, my electorate, my local area where I live, is where a very large number of people who, if they’re successful in getting refugee status, settle as, you know, the people I share my local shopping centre with. Last week, I think it was Thursday, I would have had a dozen people in my office, all of them with the date they received phone calls from relatives who they haven’t heard from for six weeks and they had those phone calls when their relatives were already on a boat of a bit over 60 people. Now, the government has no record of what happened to this boat. We don’t know. The humanity of those people and the relatives were there in my office and were still clinging to hope, but their story is part of the humanity of this debate too and, you know, if we say we’ve got to stop the boats because we’re fearful of people, I’m not in that debate. But if we’re trying to stop people putting their lives at risk on the high seas and we’re trying to stop the faces of the relatives who I had in my office last week, that is a genuine and decent public policy debate to have and to try to get on the right side of.

That does not mean such fear, or xenophobia, is not part of the noise on the asylum seeker issue, and it remains to the disgrace of the Howard Government in the years around 2001-3 that such fears suited them very well, especially in the post September 2001 context, and they did very little to counter such fears but rather accepted the votes gratefully. Nor does concern for the welfare of asylum seekers seem to have motivated them at that time. Demonisation of asylum seekers, of which “children overboard” is (we now know) an absurd but powerful instance, was the dominant note and our traditional fears of invaders were marshalled to the Howard cause. Hence the counteractive burden of the admirable Rural Australians for Refugees that came into being at that time. What follows is from their site and  is framed by the way the government and the tabloid media were presenting the issues in the early 2000s. Much that is said is still as relevant today:

Know the Facts

The Facts
  • Australia receives very few asylum seekers compared to other countries. The number of unauthorised arrivals has never been much more than 4000 in any one year. Sweden, with about half Their population, receives a similar number. Iran and Pakistan, two of the world’s poorest countries, each host over a million Afghan refugees.
  • No other country has non-reviewable mandatory detention of asylum seekers. In Australia they are placed indefinitely in detention camps with limited access to services; in most other Western countries they live in the community while their applications are being processed. For example, in Sweden they are allowed out of detention as soon as they have gone through identification and criminal screening.
  • Australia’s annual quota of refugees is only 12,000. And most years they don’t even manage to fill that. This is minuscule compared with the numbers other countries take.
  • they treat children like criminals. Children are not exempt from mandatory detention in Australia. Some have been imprisoned for years. In Sweden the maximum time a child is kept in custody is six days.
  • 60% of refugees are victims of torture or severe trauma. But in Australia they are treated like criminals rather than ordinary people fleeing persecution.
  • Anyone can be a refugee. Boat people are ordinary men and women, many of them urban professionals, who are fleeing their countries because of war or persecution.
  • Most asylum seekers from Afghanistan and Iraq are legitimate. 93% of Afghans and 97% of Iraqis are found to be genuine refugees.
  • Boat people are not illegal. Under the UN Refugee Convention, which has applied for fifty years, Australia has an obligation to take in asylum seekers and assess their claims. They are in a totally different category from immigrants. The real ‘illegals’ are the 14,000 Britons or Americans caught each year for overstaying their visas.
  • There is no queue to jump. Australia has no embassy in Iraq or Afghanistan for people to apply to for a visa. In overseas refugee camps there is frequently no resettlement process available. Where one exists it is often ad hoc, agonisingly slow and corrupt.
  • Number of Refugees and Asylum Seekers Worldwide in 2000. 14,500,000 people (World Refugee Survey 2001, U.S. Committee for Refugees)
  • In the three year period from July 1999 to June 2002 some 9,160 unauthorised boat arrivals, mainly from Afghanistan and Iraq, applied for Protection visas within Australia’s migration zone. of these over 90% were found to be genuine refugees (source Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) 2002 -2003 Annual Report)
  • Number of Children and Adults in Australian Detention Centres as at 11 Feb 2004. At least 174 children in detention and approximately 977 Adults A further 277 asylum seekers are detained on Nauru. (These figures are based on DIMIA statistics as at Februaru 11, 2004 and the Senate Estimates report, February 2004).
  • Numbers of People Estimated as Illegally Overstaying Visa’s as Compared to Unauthorised Arrivals. (These figures are based on DIMIA statistics as at30 June 2003)
    • Illegal Overstayers: 59,800 (as of July 2003, 20% of all overstayers came from either the UK or the US)
    • Unauthorised Arrivals: 1,277 people arrived on seven boats for the year ending June 2002 (ie., approx 2% of Illegal Overstayers !!!)
  • Many of the ‘boatpeople’ from Afghanistan and Iraq have fled the very regimes Their Government has condemned and been prepared to go to war over.Asylum seekers see Australia as a safe and democratic country in which they hope to have a far better future.

But I get annoyed by the purists and hardheads on the other side just as much. Just how this mob are doing more than indulging their inner city fantasies of uplifting the world’s poor and oppressed I do not know. I am sure they make great posters and art works and put on fantastic performances, but I fail to see exactly how that impinges on either the fact of 43+ million refugees/displaced people in the world or what realistically Australia can do about it. As long as it makes them feel good, I suppose.

Yes, I rather despise anarchists.

So I am not impressed with the self-righteous rant that appeared this morning on New Matilda. This is in my view representative of a position that is about as useful to the asylum seeker issue as the views of Michael Smith or pre-enlightened Angry Anderson. God spare us from all puritans or self-appointed guardians of the moral high ground or revolutionaries whose revolutions have ALWAYS failed in the past and will fail yet again whenever someone is mad enough to try them again…

If that makes me a reactionary old grump, so be it.

However, if you really do want some sensible thoughts on the issues raised in GBTWYCF visit Countering the spin with facts on the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre blog.

And here is a copy of the ASRC publication Myths/Facts/Solutions (PDF), an up-to-date and expanded variant on what RAR was offering eight years ago.