I tell you, Australian current affairs TV is pulling out the big guns of late. First a 4Corners report brings live cattle trade to a screeching halt and now we have SBS galvanising viewers with the confronting, enlightening, horrifying and bold documentary Go back from where you came from.
I started doing a convoluted post about the six Australians in the doco being put through what a refugee goes through and their reactions in light of their initial attitudes.
Some of the attitudes expressed are alarming in their complete lack of compassion or empathy. The only thing just as alarming is the vitriol being directed at them via Twitter. I think I’ve been guilty of a bit of that. But my main issue with people being so devoid of understanding, empathy, compassion is exactly that. That it is coming from young Australians is even more alarming.
I will say here and now I have always been firmly of the opinion that it is NOT human nature to be nice to each other. To be thoughtful or understanding. That these are learnt traits. I read a study somewhere which discussed how if a child has not been taught right from wrong and the concepts of sharing and ‘being nice’ by the age of four then well, good luck to you. I think we can see that in the cold hard light of day in some of the protagonists.
I know there are some people who come here under false pretences. Who are not ‘good’ people as in genuine refugees. But how many? How many of them to the THOUSANDS desperately seeking a life free of persecution. Where their children will not die because they have no money for medications. Where family members will not be dragged off in the middle of the night?
Why are we not developing better systems to find the bad apple instead of instigating even more inhumane, draconian policies which punish the good?
How can the leader of the opposition run an election platform of “we will stop the boats” have any credibility whatsoever when only 2,500 refugees of the paltry 13,000 Australia takes every year?
I did a story once on refugees and the way the NSW education system was handling them. I met with a woman whose name now eludes me but was regarded as one of the eminent experts on refugee policies and issues in Australia. She was saying that it cost $5-6,000 more per person to ensure a refugee was adequately assisted in settling in Australia over someone else immigrating here. She stated very simply, if the goverment was not willing to spend this money on each person then we should not be accepting refugees at all. The fall-out from not supporting these new citizens are many and devastating – for them and for society.
But I digress. I think.
This is what this issue does to me.
I worry about it on a daily basis.
I worry that our system of accepting refugees is deeply flawed from the outset.
I worry that our system of supporting these people once they are here is seriously wanting.
I worry that the dumbing down of how our politicians communicate with us – that they’re driven by polls rather than policy – has given way too much acceptance to the dark whispering in our hearts about people and cultures we know little about – that they are to be feared, that they are here to ‘take over’, that they are barbaric.
That they have pandered to our base fears and we have let them.
That by letting them get away with saying things like, ‘we will decide who comes here and how they get here’ the real argument has been totally overlooked. The real argument being where are these people coming from, what are we doing to help those countries. What is going on in the countries these refugees get to before getting to us and how are we working with them to ensure THESE HUMAN BEINGS are looked after, cared for and most importantly SAFE.
Being part of a society where we are safe, where we can believe what we want to believe, wear what we want to wear, go where we want to go and not be killed, raped, tortured, maimed or murdered has to come at a price.
That price is ensuring no one gets left behind.
Many – if not most – of the refugees who get to Australia are deeply traumatised and have experienced more horror than any of us can even fathom let alone ever experience.
How are we embracing them? How are we enabling them to become active participants in our society? Or are we going to be driven by our base fears about difference and push them to the periphery of our society, leaving them with hardship and isolation which may not have the physical threats of their homeland but can be just as emotionally debilitating?
The issue is complex. The issue is fraught. The issue is expensive. It is hard.
But these are people. Human beings. Mothers, fathers, CHILDREN.
Imagine, for one moment, sharing a toilet with 50 people while raising your child. And not being allowed outside. Of either working illegally on a building site and risking getting caught or working FOR NOTHING tilling fields? Indefinitely. After you’ve witnessed family members killed or raped or taken away in front of you. Or lived in a war zone all your life.
Just imagine it. I can’t really. Can not even get my head around it.
It has to stop.
UPDATED: Things that need to change immediately:
– reasons people who are here are not allowed to stay – not political spin, a proper explanation of why they were desperate enough to get here but we do not see them as desperate enough to stay
– access to detention centres by the media.
– education campaigns and series about where refugees are coming from, what they have experienced, their own cultural backgrounds and religious beliefs. I will be the first to put my hand up and say I know/understand very very little about the muslim faith.
– trialling and exploring alternate ways of settling refugees into Australia – home stays, school community projects
UPDATED 2: When the live cattle trade debate was at its peak (isn’t it still?) Lyn White from Animals Australia wrote an article for The Sydney Morning Herald about it mentioning the words of the British politician William Wilberforce when fighting to bring an end to the slave trade:
You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.
UPDATED 3: Third and final episode tonight. I basically started crying from when it began until it ended. I watched it with Felix. He’s 11. I think he nailed it when he said to me, ‘When you see how these people live, we really are rich aren’t we.’
What followed was a discussion about how when we meet people who look different from us, talk in a different language to us, have a different religion to us, our base human reaction is to fear them. That we have to acknowledge that fear and see beyond it. That to do so is what it means to be a part of an educated, civilised society. That despite our differences we are all human beings with our own experiences and families and fears and loves.
And to never take our freedom for granted.
Man. What an emotional ride.
Some places to get more information and/or donate:
Asylum Seeker Resource Centre: http://www.asrc.org.au/
Department of Immigration and Citizenship: http://www.newsroom.immi.gov.au/
Services for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS): http://www.friendsofstartts.org/index.html