Mad pollies: cut, cut and cut again, and hang the consequences…

Let’s hope they have more brains than that, but I am not holding my breath.

From The Illawarra Mercury.

Illawarra’s multicultural services will be forced to take up the slack if multicultural program staff are lost in a Department of Education and Communities restructure.

NSW Teachers Federation regional organiser Nicole Calnan said the multicultural support positions were not included in a draft proposal of the restructure sent to department offices this month.

Under the restructure – part of the NSW government’s plan to save $1.7 billion in education spending – Illawarra schools will be absorbed into a super region and support jobs will be cut.

"There is no provision for ensuring that the current level of multicultural program support for schools will continue," Ms Calnan said.

"Under this realignment, the positions of multicultural/ESL [English as a second language] consultant, community information officer, regional multicultural support officer and ESL/refugee- teacher mentors won’t even exist."

Ms Calnan said the multicultural program staff performed several roles, from providing professional learning and support for ESL teachers to running multicultural and anti-racism programs in schools.

Earlier this week, the Multicultural Communities Council of Illawarra (MCCI) convened a meeting of all CALD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Communities) representatives from the region.

MCCI general manager Terrie Leoleos said the loss of these valuable school roles would adversely affect the region’s already disadvantaged communities.

"The Education Department’s multicultural support program has played an intricate and important role across the state in supporting migrants, refugees and humanitarian entrants and settlements into this country, particularly in regional areas," Ms Leoleos said.

"Cutting positions like these … will be detrimental not only to those communities but it will put a lot of pressure on multicultural services, which are already stretched and will have to take up the shortfall."

The MCCI this week sent a letter to the Education Department asking that they do a comprehensive review and engage multicultural services and communities in the process.

A department spokesman said a revised model of the restructure would be available on Monday, with a final model to be released on December 21.

Having been an ESL teacher in the not too distant past, I know just how much I valued, indeed needed, the services that it appears may be about to become victims of small government ideology/bean counting. They operated on a shoestring even back in the late 90s and early 2000s, but I can’t begin to tell you how good they are! Consider, for example:

Refugee support programs

A refugee is a person who has fled his or her country and cannot return because of a well-founded fear of persecution due to their race, religion, nationality or membership of a particular social group.

In recent years, increasing numbers of young refugees, in particular refugees from Africa and the Middle East, have enrolled in government schools in both metropolitan and country areas of NSW. About 1,600 enrol each year. At any time approximately 12,000 refugee students are enrolled in NSW government schools.

These students come from a number of countries in Africa, including Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Kenya, Congo, Uganda, Nigeria, Eritrea, Ivory Coast and Burundi, as well as countries in Asia and the Middle East, in particular Afghanistan and Iraq.

Many refugee families have lived in protracted refugee situations before coming to Australia. Some students were born and have lived all their lives in refugee camps. All have experienced disrupted schooling. Some may have had very limited schooling and, as a result, have few or no first language literacy skills.

Many of the recently arrived refugees have high resettlement and educational needs and may need high levels of support. However, it is important to avoid over-generalisation as this is not the case with all refugees. Conclusions about a refugee student’s capabilities and needs should be reached through careful assessment over a period of time.

Traumatic experiences that refugee students encounter before they start school in Australia may impact considerably on their learning and behaviour at school. In some cases, post traumatic stress and poor health due to refugee experiences can lead to absences from school, or manifest in poor behaviour in the classroom.

The safety, security and support provided by schools are critical factors in ensuring the adjustment of refugee children and adolescents to life and schooling in Australia. Officers at Multicultural Programs Unit can assist regions in planning and delivering successful refugee support programs.

I am not directly familiar with what is happening in schools down here in the Illawarra, where I now live, but one may get an idea from school sites such as Wollongong High School of the Performing Arts.

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Images from a Wollongong High Powerpoint presentation.

Recent developments in our asylum seeker policy continue to depress me. Some consolation may be found in seeing fellow feeling among the Herald cartoonists lately.

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Slightly hung over this morning…

…which is unusual for me, but I did consume more red wine than I should have at my Iranian neighbour’s place last night. The evening was meant to honour a compatriot of his who has just had a paper accepted by one of the most prestigious science journals in the world.

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Iranian students at Wollongong University, June 2009

My neighbour and his friend are both in cutting edge scientific and engineering endeavours at the very impressive Innovation Campus of the University of Wollongong. My neighbour is of Christian background. His friend, whose family is currently in Tehran but originally from the Kurdish west by the Iraq border – not a good place to have been a few years back, is an atheist. They both see the current multiheaded regime in Iran as having been terribly destructive. Multiheaded? Yes, that there is a religious authority of the Ayatollahs etc as well as the government of Ahmadinejad is just part of what seems a very complex situation.

I probably know more about Iran that the average citizen does, but last night I really felt that I knew very little indeed.

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Iranian peoples/languages

See the information linked to that map. Also: Iranian Australians; History of the Kurdish people; Iran: A Vast Diaspora Abroad and Millions of Refugees at Home (2006).

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

WHEN YOU KNOW THE FACTS YOU WILL OPEN YOUR HEART
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.
PUT YOURSELF IN THEIR SHOES
  • 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.
SOME FACTS
  • 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 !!!)
LET US NOT CONFUSE REFUGEES WITH THE TERRORISTS AND MURDERERS THEY ARE FLEEING
  • 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.

Facts, facts and more facts… Still holding my nose…

The regional dimension in the Asia Pacific

1.11  for a variety of reasons, the number of irregular migrants is significantly understated in statistical analysis. It is estimated that 30-40 per cent of all migration flows in Asia take place through irregular channels, much of it intra-regional.

1.12  The Asia Pacific region currently has more than 3.6 million refugees which is around  24 per cent of the total world refugee population.  Furthermore, there are few signatories to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol (the refugees convention) in the Asia Pacific region. In those states which are parties to the Refugees Convention, asylum systems are often undeveloped. The level of accession in the region to other human rights conventions is also variable. UNHCR assumes primary responsibility for processing asylum seekers in the region in the absence of appropriate national systems. The challenges it faces in doing so are compounded by a lack of resources, security considerations and the parameters in which UNHCR can operate in some countries.

1.13  Refugee determination in the Asia Pacific is complicated by mixed migration flows. There are differences between forced displacement and irregular labour migration to (and within) the region, although these issues can overlap in individual protection claims. Increasingly, the two intersect to create mixed migration flows: economic migrants, refugees and asylum seekers often travel in the same direction, using the same routes and modes of transport and facing the same risks en route.

Australia’s circumstances

1.14  The number of IMAs who have arrived in Australia in the first seven months of 2012 (7,120) has exceeded the number who arrived in total in 2011 (4,733) and 2010 (6,850). The number of IMAs in July 2012 (1,798) constitutes the largest ever monthly number and was the ‘largest ever’ number for the third month in a row. Passenger numbers  per boat arrival have also been increasing.

1.15  onshore asylum figures are made up of both air and maritime arrivals. From 1 July 1998 to 27 July 2012 there were 79,498 applications for a protection visa by persons who arrived in Australia by air and subsequently applied for a protection visa.   This compares with some 33,412 boat arrivals over the same period, most of whom applied for protection.

1.16  Australia received 2.5 per cent of global asylum claims in 2011, including both maritime and air arrivals.

1.17  The largest number of nationalities arriving by boat to Australia in 2011-2012 were, respectively, Afghans, Iranians and Sri Lankans with these three cohorts representing 75 per cent of the total arrivals.  During the last peak in irregular boat arrivals in the years from 1999-2001, Afghans and Iraqis represented the largest cohorts. 

1.18  Australia assesses the claims of those who enter Australian territory seeking protection under the Refugees Convention and other relevant Human Rights Conventions that contain non-refoulement (non-return) obligations and provides protection to those who need it.

1.19  Australia also implements its commitment to refugee protection more broadly through its longstanding humanitarian program that resettles refugees and persons of humanitarian concern from overseas. The humanitarian program which comprises both an onshore and offshore component currently stands at 13,750 places. Since 1996 it has been the policy of successive governments to link the onshore and offshore components of the program. The basis for that approach is that it provides a limit on the overall number of visa grants, which meets budgetary requirements and allows proper planning for the provision of settlement services. For each protection visa granted to an asylum seeker onshore, the offshore SHP component of the program is reduced by one place.

1.20  For the first time in its 35 years of operation,   the 2011-12 Humanitarian Program has resulted in more onshore protection visa grants than the total number of visas granted offshore to refugees and SHP applicants. The increase in onshore grants and consequent reduction in SHP grants (only 714 in the 2011-12 program year) is creating increasing pressures, with over 20,000 SHP applications outstanding and more than 16,000 of these being for immediate family members.  The vast majority of the applications for immediate family members have been proposed by former IMAs now living in Australia. (attachment 4).

Yes, you do realise that none of the above is mine. It is all verbatim from the Expert Panel headed by Angus Houston. One of many critiques is on The Conversation.

Now back to plagiarising:

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There is, then, much of use in the Expert Panel Report and it should be read carefully, critically but also dispassionately.  I have just scratched the surface with these gobbets.

I recommend that you also go to the submissions the Panel received. I have taken the liberty of attaching the UNHCR submission: UNHCR pdf

My considered opinion, too, is that it is a very good idea to resist throwing words like “racist” into consideration of what the Panel Report says – even if as august a person as Malcolm Fraser already has. A dispassionate look at the record shows, for example, that the years since John Howard became Prime Minister actually saw the humanitarian program involve far more black Africans, for example, than had ever been allowed in before 1996. Hardly racism.

Yet out in the electorate there is no doubt that xenophobia motivates much of the passion on the subject of boat people. No doubt at all.  There is of course a certain sense to the fears: after all, when boat people started arriving, albeit involuntarily and with a military escort, in 1788 the country was screwed from that moment on…

Nor do I decry as hypocrisy, as some do, invocation of  the unconscionable numbers of those who have drowned in attempting to reach safe haven. Anything that may genuinely reduce the chance of such deaths is worth thinking about.

My own position? I depart from some of you out there because I really do not accept that whosoever will can come to the country, no holds barred, no questions asked. That is pure crackpottery in my view. I also do feel there is a moral case not in emotive terms like “queue-jumping” – there isn’t a queue to jump – but in the fact that people undoubtedly have been left to rot all that much longer in refugee camps because “For each protection visa granted to an asylum seeker onshore, the offshore SHP component of the program is reduced by one place." And there is in my view no easy way around that.

Hence I was impressed by the case for the Malaysian arrangement – NOT A SOLUTION FOR GOD’S SAKE! – that was put by Clive Kessler earlier this year. See my post Asylum seekers and policy in sinking condition — 2.

I do align myself very much with the three noble Liberals of the Howard era:  Bruce Baird, Judith Troeth and Petro Georgiou. These people were not moral posers – they were just moral, and we need to recover their compass from wherever panic and political ambition has buried it.

Mr Speaker, for much of my life I believed in the inevitability of progress. The reality has been that many of the things that I believed were embedded parts of our polity – multiculturalism, inclusive Australian citizenship, the protections of civil rights – have been rolled back.

Also rolled back has been a more decent treatment of asylum seekers. Until a few months ago I believed that the reforms made by the Howard and the Rudd Government meant that we had irreversibly turned the corner.
I wrote that we were closing a dark chapter in our history. This chapter had seen men women and children seeking refuge in our country incarcerated; innocent people imprisoned for periods longer than convicted rapists, robbers and kidnappers. Escapees from persecution were demonised. Detention centres traumatised not just detainees but their guards.

That chapter has been reopened.

Regression has become the order of the day. With an increase in boat arrivals, asylum seekers are being subjected to increasingly virulent attacks. The Labor Government has frozen the processing of Afghani and Sri Lankan asylum seekers, and is reopening the Curtin detention centre, historically the most notorious detention centre, a place of despair and self harm.

Opposition policies would turn back boats, process asylum seekers in undisclosed third countries, and restore the destructive temporary protection visas. These policies are cruel. They do not have my support.

This regression does not reflect credit on either side of federal politics. Vulnerable people are again being made into a football to be kicked around in the interests of partisan politics. This is despite the facts and the best values of our society.

The fact is, Australia’s punitive approach did not deter people seeking to come to Australia. Mandatory detention, charging asylum seekers for the cost of their detention, the introduction of temporary protection visas and the Pacific Solution did not deter.

After mandatory detention was introduced, boat arrivals increased. After temporary protection visas were introduced, boat arrivals increased. Most of the people subjected to the Pacific Solution were found to be refugees and resettled in Australia and New Zealand. We have not lost control of our borders. People smugglers do not determine who comes into Australia and who doesn’t.

We can support orderly processes; we can warn people against people smugglers and risking their lives on unseaworthy boats. We have to realise, however, that escaping from persecution is not an orderly process. Desperate people do take desperate measures. Beyond the arguments about deterrence and what causes what, however, is a deeper issue.

It goes to our obligations. I believe we have a fundamental obligation as a nation. That obligation is to not further harm those who bring themselves into our orbit of responsibility seeking safe haven.

We should not, as Australians, compound the persecution of genuine refugees, delaying their processing, locking them up in unnamed third countries or keeping them in permanent insecurity on temporary protection visas.

I once said to journalist Michael Gordon that "in life there are many things that you’d like to walk past and not notice. Lots. But sometimes you do notice and when you notice, you have to do something". Well I have noticed some things, and I have tried not to walk past.

— from Petro Georgiou’s valedictory speech to parliament on June 3, 2010.

That’s it for the moment. Except to say that for all my suggestion that you read the Houston Panel Report carefully, the recommendation’s “no advantage” principle – the one that potentially could see people locked up on islands for indeterminate periods – is particularly abominable. See also Islands of the damned.

The second series of Go Back To Where You Came From begins on SBS on Tuesday 28 August. It is truly a must see for all Australians.

Oh, and in case you wondered: the latest in dehumanising acronyms are: IMA = Irregular Maritime Arrival and SHP – Special Humanitarian Program.

Fuckingdepressing

Update

See an excellent article in the Weekend Australian by Peter van Onselen: Let’s dispel a few myths about asylum-seekers:

ATTEMPTS by both major parties to rationalise support for offshore processing of asylum-seekers on the grounds that they are saving people from drowning really is a hollow argument.

It takes a micro look at an undeniably macro problem – not the first time our political leaders have done so. It is the worst form of political opportunism I have been forced to witness.

Some commentators have taken great delight in the conversion of one-time advocates of onshore processing to the offshore way of life. To avoid any confusion let me spell out where I stand: I support onshore processing, convinced now more than ever before by the merits of such an approach.

Let’s work our way through the various falsehoods used to try to hoodwink people into believing that offshore processing is the best policy approach for the government to take.

Offshore processing is based on a premise that it will stop the boats. We’ll see about that. But even if it does "stop the boats", it’s not as if asylum-seekers vanish into thin air. The plight of millions of displaced citizens continues, even if our policymakers pretend the problem is solved because it’s geographically removed from Australia…

Related mostly to recent preoccupations here…

Ha!

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From The Australia Institute, which also gives you Politics in the Pub Wednesday 27 June 2012 -Father Frank Brennan AO -Asylum seeker policy 20 years on (PDF).

Meanwhile we must expect that the boats will keep coming, reminding ourselves that this island nation continent of Australia has far more robust borders than those first  world  countries  with  porous  land  borders.    Consider  UNCR’s  Global  Trends  2011 released last week.  In Australia, there are 28,676 persons of concern to UNHCR;  meanwhile  in  our  two  transit  countries  -  in  Malaysia,  there  are  217,618;  and  in Indonesia only 4,239.  Let’s look to Western Europe.  In Belgium, there are 42,105 persons  of  concern  to  UNHCR;  in  Denmark,  18,009;  in  Greece,  45,720;  in  the Netherlands,  87,023;  in  France,  260,627;  in  the  UK,  208,885;  and  in  Germany, 658,818.    And  let’s  consider  the  two  other  countries  who  join  us  in  doing  most  to accept  refugees  assessed  in  faraway  places  by  UNHCR:  Canada  has  206,735 persons within its borders who are of concern to UNHCR, and the US has 276,484.  In a globalized twenty-first century world, hermetically sealed borders are figments of delusional  or  racist  imaginations.    We  need  to  maintain  a  commitment  to  a humanitarian  migration  program  accommodating  those  who  could  never  afford  a people smuggler.  But we also need to honour our obligations to those who head our way seeking asylum unless and until we can improve our bilateral arrangements with Indonesia  and  our  regional  arrangements  for  a  regional  solution  to  a  regional problem.

What Father Brennan says is as always with him first rate, except that the matter I have raised really is not addressed: what IN PRACTICE is the best way NOW to prevent those drownings? That is where Clive Kessler has the edge. Indeed are not those UNHCR figures for Indonesia and Malaysia respectively a powerful incentive to do whatever is needed to work with Malaysia?

On Monday Australian Story tells a related story.

Introduced by Shane Warne

‘I think she was sent to this planet to challenge me’ – Jillian Symons, mother

Next week’s program tells the story of a young woman unsettling her middle class Melbourne family by going out on a limb to ‘adopt’ a fourteen year old Afghan asylum seeker.

Jaffar Ali arrived in Australia two years ago after escaping from Indonesia in a leaky boat subsequently intercepted near Christmas Island.

It wasn’t Jessie Taylor’s first such intervention. In 2008 she dramatically ‘rescued’ an asylum seeking Afghan soccer team during Melbourne’s Homeless World Cup.

Jessie Taylor is a human rights barrister who grew up in a comfortable ‘right wing’ middle class Melbourne family. Her mother Jillian was opposed to asylum seekers who she saw as queue jumpers.

But when Jessie spots fourteen year old Jaffar Ali, unaccompanied and behind bars in an Indonesian detention centre, she offers him her phone number in case he ever makes it to Australia.

What then unfolds changes the lives and attitudes of everyone in unexpected ways…

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Shane Warne with former asylum seeker Jaffar Ali, who features on Australian Story.

Photo: Fairfax Media Library (linked to source).

See also Putting faces to the tragic stories of asylum seekers.

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ABC image: Jaffar Ali’s journey was hardly un-Christian, un-Muslim, un-Australian, or un-Anything very much.

Asylum seekers and policy in sinking condition — 2

If you read yesterday’s post at all carefully you will have seen that I am re-examining the issue in the light of recent events. The critical line was this: “Even if we accepted all boats and abolished Christmas Island and the dodgy excision of bits of Australia for immigration purposes, wouldn’t the very fact of boats still have led to those drownings?”

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Back in June I was impressed by the arguments of my SBHS Class of 59 classmate Clive Kessler in The Sydney Morning Herald. A longer version of the article appeared in Malaysia. A parallel post is on Online Opinion with, as one might expect, much discussion.

JUNE 26 — And now another hundred souls lost. Another hundred souls on all our consciences.

Responsibility for this latest terrible loss is widely shared. By refugees themselves who risked this recourse, and by the people smugglers. By the Indonesian government. A government that prefers to see overloaded, unseaworthy boats head south and reach, as soon as possible, some place on the open seas where they will effectively become Australia’s responsibility, not their own. Here the commercial interest of the smugglers — who want to show that they have a “product” that they can sell, a service that they can deliver — is reinforced by the Indonesian preference to see the “refugee burden” passed on to Australia.For all their talk about “Islamic solidarity”, the Indonesian and Malaysian governments prefer to see themselves, and to serve, as transit points, not destinations, for Muslim refugees from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Myanmar.

And then, also on the responsibility list, comes Australia. Perhaps all, or most, or many of us. Those to whom our populist politicians defer, whom they wish to placate. But especially upon those politicians, of whatever stripe, who seek to mobilise fear and resentment, and to ride to power by inflaming them further.

At the head of the list come those who have obstructed all progress towards implementation of the “Malaysia solution”. That means especially Tony Abbott and his shadow immigration minister, the “hard man” in this awful passion play, and also the holier-than-thou Greens.

Wrapping themselves in the mantle of high virtue, the Greens have opposed the Malaysia solution on the grounds that Malaysia is not a paragon of human right practice. That it fails to measure up to ideal standards. Standards by which even Australia itself must be deemed a failure.

So, if Malaysia is for them not a fit place for the refugees, neither is Australia. Why then do the Greens urge open, unrestricted entry here to all comers and claimants?  On what basis can they do so? A workable set of arrangements has been negotiated by Australia with the Malaysian government. These arrangements are not perfect, neither is Malaysia. Nor are we.  But those arrangements have been agreed upon. They are workable. So why resist implementing them?

Tony Abbott’s reasons and strategy are clear. They are rational if hardly attractive. On immigration, as on all other matters, he wants, by a chosen strategy of finely targeted obstructionism to all government initiatives (in other words, of “maximum possible nay-saying and mischief-making”), to make the country ungovernable. That is half of his strategy. The other half is then to spend the rest of his time sneering and jeering that the government is demonstrably hopeless, that it simply cannot govern. Whose doing is that? Abbott is on a sure winner. But at least his strategy makes sense for him.

Less fathomable are the Greens and the other “human rights purists” who will not have a bar of the “Malaysia solution” because of Malaysia’s defects and shortcomings. Having spent a scholarly life, over half a century, studying Malaysian society, culture and politics — and many years living there — I know those shortcomings far better than most. Even so, there is a good case to be made for the Malaysian solution.

I am not naïve about Malaysia. But the hitherto obstructed and rejected “Malaysia solution” is about the best available option that is now to be had to the problem we face. It provides the most workable, humane, long-term sustainable approach now on offer. It offers one that, more than all others, is sensitive to human rights issues and capable of promoting a principled concern for them. It is a policy that stands somewhere between saying no to everybody and yes to everybody who shows up here — or who tries to and, facing terrible “peril on the sea”, gets less than half-way from Java to Ashmore or Christmas Island…

I find this very hard to disagree with.

The issue really is how to make the drowning tragedies less likely. At the same time I cannot disagree with the tenor of this either: Turning back the boats not quite so simple, Tony.

…It’s good politics to be seen to be ‘tough on people smugglers’ but it’s even tougher to acknowledge that we are locking up the wrong people.

Mr. Abbott has sought to exploit the mess that our Government have created by saying he will ‘turn back the boats’. This is simplistic thinking in the extreme, insensitive to our Indonesian neighbours and ignores the very privileged position we as Australians enjoy as a sophisticated and advanced nation.

With the live cattle fiasco; the US marines being based in Darwin; the PM’s ill-considered interference in case of the Australian boy on drug charges in Bali, and the jailing of Indonesian children in Australian maximum security prisons, the current Australian Government has done enough already to leave our northern neighbour worried about where we are heading on regional foreign policy issues.

They certainly don’t need the opposition leader to add to these worries. (May 2012)

In all this, however, keep the big picture in mind. We so easily lack a sense of proportion when it comes to Asylum Seekers, especially “Boat People”.

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Asylum seekers and policy in sinking condition

I have had quite firm views on asylum seekers: on this blog and earlier. Trouble is in recent times the whole issue has got worse and worse. And I have a reservation of my own that has been growing along with that: The Greens and others who advocate much more “humane” solutions – as have I – really are caught by the FACT of drowning people. Even if we accepted all boats and abolished Christmas Island and the dodgy excision of bits of Australia for immigration purposes, wouldn’t the very fact of boats still have led to those drownings? Something really does need to be done to make the boat journeys either undesirable or unnecessary – which is why I have even been prepared to consider Clive Palmer’s idea: fly them all here from Indonesia and process them here, sending back any who turn out not to be refugees by the fist available  plane.

Mr Palmer said Australians collectively bore the responsibility of asylum seekers drowning at sea.

"We can eliminate the people smugglers. We can eliminate the problem. We can eliminate the drownings. We can treat people as human beings."

Mr Palmer said he did not approve of the offshore processing supported by both major parties.

"What sort of a nation are we if we don’t follow our international responsibilities and allow people to come here safely?" he said.

Quite a bit was well encapsulated in last Monday’s QandA – with both Malcolm Turnbull and Chris Bowen looking uncomfortable arguing their respective party’s positions – but both at least being rather more than glove puppets too. However, no-one could top Nahji Chu:

JOHN WHITING: I have a question for Ms Chu. I don’t know all the details of your journey to Australia but assuming that you were processed by the former Australian Government procedures, I wonder how you’d feel if your admittance to Australia had either be delayed or denied because refugees coming by boat, having paid people smugglers, had effectively gazumped you?
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Nahji Chu?
NAHJI CHU: Well, you know, I just have to say that I came by any means possible, whether that was legal or illegal. My life was in danger.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: You were three and a half years in a camp.
NAHJI CHU: And I came at the age of 9. I arrived – I left at the age of 5. I arrived at the age of 9 and lived three and a half years in a camp.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: And they were pretty tough times, I imagine?
NAHJI CHU: They’re tough times. I mean, you know, I went through the correct procedures but, I mean, there’s no orderly queue in a camp. There is no such thing as order in a refugee camp. It is…
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Would you have considered or your parents have considered paying people smugglers to get over here?
NAHJI CHU: We’d do anything possible to have a life.
MALCOLM TURNBULL: Of course they would.
NAHJI CHU: A safe life.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: So such people who make their way here are not gazumpers, as our questioner asks?

NAHJI CHU: They’re not gazumpers. I mean, look, if you gave them – look, you know, it’s a stupid really is a stupid debate that just keeps going around and round in circles. We’ve had this same debate for ten years. We’ll have this same debate for another ten years. There is no solution other than let them in. Pacific Solution is not a solution, it’s hypocrisy. Malaysia Solution is not a solution. It’s, you know, let’s not acknowledge that we have a solution. Let’s process them here, there, everywhere. It doesn’t matter where we process them. The fact is we need to process them in Australia. You know, like, whilst I was studying up on my notes today, I just couldn’t help but see that footage that someone emailed me. It was the public execution of the 22 year old, Najiba and the headline news was all around the world, you know, “It’s inhumane and it’s un-Islamic.” For me, to turn back the boats is inhumane and un-Australian as much as that was inhumane and un-Islamic. Turning back the boats, you know, four words, "Turn back the boats", they appeal to our dark side. They appeal to the side of us that says, no. They appeal to the side of us that look at outsiders as a threat. It does not look it does not even, you know, make Australia look like a nation that celebrates what it is: a nation of immigrants and refugees. The problem we have at the moment with refugees is not really a large problem. I think, you know, according to UNHCR figures, we actually take 3% of the world’s refugees, as opposed to Canada that takes 31%.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Well, I know…
NAHJI CHU: No, Europe takes 69% and the United States that takes 15%. Now, since 2007 the rate of change has been minus 9% in Australia, as opposed to Canada which is plus 9%.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Let me go to Thierry De Duve because I’ve been hearing him making noises here on my right and clearly observing it as an outsider. What do you think of this? Is what Nahji saying making sense?

And in case you had forgotten why these people exist:

And this story this morning:

A DESPERATE plea for asylum by a doctor trying to escape violence and possible execution in Syria and the Australian embassy’s bureaucratic response to him are among more than 2 million Syrian emails obtained by WikiLeaks.

”Please help me I want … humanitarian asylum or political asylum … the Syrian intelligence would kill me,” reads an email from a Syrian doctor to the Australian embassy in Jordan in May last year.

The Herald has obtained access to the WikiLeaks database of Syrian government, commercial and private emails and has started searching the material for significant information relating to the Syrian conflict, and Australia’s dealings with the troubled Middle East state.

Sent from a Hotmail address, the emails from the Syrian doctor provide a dramatic, personal illustration of the human tragedy of the 16 month conflict in Syria which observers estimate has claimed more than 16,500 lives.

”I am a doctor … in a hospital in Homs in Syria. Syrian intelligence want to kill me,” one email in broken English reads.

The doctor wrote that he had joined in protests against the embattled regime of the President, Bashar Hafez al-Assad.

”I went to the street with all the people who want to topple the Assad regime,” he writes.

After his brother had been killed by government security forces, the doctor went on the run with his wife and family. However he could not get a passport to travel abroad because of the interest of Syrian intelligence.

It took the Australian embassy in Amman, Jordan, a week to reply with a pro forma email that said any application for a refugee and humanitarian visa needed to be lodged directly in Amman.

This prompted a further email from the doctor, again begging for help. ”They kill my brother and burn my house … because I know what they do in hospitals in Syria and I refused to take part in the killing of youth revolution, who do not want to Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria …[They] take all my papers from my house and burn my house …”

The embassy then referred the doctor to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship’s website for visa application information. He responded that access to the website was blocked in Syria.

After another pro forma email response from the embassy, the doctor restated his circumstance: ”Intelligence Syrian want to kill me because I did not accept to kill any infected in the hospital of the young people who do not want the Assad regime.

”I am a fugitive in a place and my wife in another place and my kids are [away from me] more than 24 days, please help me.” …

Is it any wonder people might risk their lives and spend all they have to get on a boat? (Or plane — but as we know we don’t seem to worry so much about them…)

It has been great for the cartoonists though:

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Can anything more capture this nadir in our debate on the issue than Abbott rabbiting on about boat people being “unChristian”? Not to mention the whole “turning boats around” crap. See my January post Populist crud Abbott’s unworkable asylum seeker policy and Captain defied order on boat in yesterday’s Herald.

Meanwhile, I commend thoughtful reading of PDF The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre’s Submission (6 July 2012).