Asylum Seekers Beware: You’re Australia’s Political ‘Hot Potato’

“Illegal immigrants…”

“Potential terrorists…”

“Go back where you came from and wait in line like everyone else!”

This is the overwhelming sentiment I remember from the Howard years. If I was on the outside, watching this behaviour, I’d have to conclude that the average Australian is an unsympathetic xenophobe. That is, of course, until I saw the wild whip-around that provides millions to overseas aid services when natural disasters hit.

It’s not a subject I often talk about, but every so often, the insane media circus and political sales pitch over the “boat people problem”, gets so great, I’m stirred up enough to put thoughts down.

It is, after all, just that; noise to stir up masses and I’m stumped to understand why more people are yet to say, “enough is enough!”

The only other time I’ve discussed this was in an article about a year ago, The Nauseating Song of Abbott’s Campaign, in which I pointed out that the then sales pitch, we’ll be “swamped” with boat people, was based on nonsense; most people immigrate via other means. On the back of the Howardian xenophobic era, this was the pitch Abbott thought would win him votes.

Nowadays, the message is, at its root, the same, but now has a sugar dusting of compassion to the sales pitch. It’s all about stopping the people smugglers. It’s all about stopping people from dying on the high seas…

Again, the numbers are minimal, but the issue has been so well cooked that it makes for a great game of political ‘hot potato’.

The Malaysian Solution

…wasn’t a solution at all. Malaysia has decided not to recognise the rights of refugees in the hope of detracting asylum seekers. While I don’t agree with this choice, it’s another country, free to make it’s own decisions. At best, we can try to change their attitude through diplomatic avenues.

Even if the High Court had ruled in favour of it, it would be a shamble.

Think about it; if you’re a refugee and you head to Malaysia, you’d have no rights. On the other hand, if you first risked your life at sea, you would be taken to Malaysia and obtain the basic human rights otherwise denied.

That won’t remove the incentive for the people smugglers at all!

Offshore processing

This always bugged me – even more so in the days of Howard, when fear of terrorism was at it’s peak.

If people were filled with hatred for Australia, how would prolonged detention in cramped / overcrowded conditions help your feelings? What about the overwhelming majority who are legitimate asylum seekers? How is such treatment at all beneficial to their welcome to Australia? What if there was just one individual in such an environment with aspirations to commit acts of terrorism on Australia – I couldn’t think of a situation that better caters to recruitment.

Treating asylum seekers like criminals too despicable to make landfall on the mainland is ridiculous to say the least. Not only does it show an ugly side to the Australian culture (to a problem inflated beyond all reason) but it’s also expensive.

My thoughts

Personally, I’d like to see more compassion and assimilation. There remains no reason why we couldn’t process claims more efficiently onshore and at the same time implement a work-for-the-dole-like scheme for all fit adult asylum seekers. In this way, they are quickly returned to a life of some normality (mental health concerns being one of the largest problems of detention centres) while providing productive work in return. It also helps to keep a regular check on the movements of the refugees, doing some of the work otherwise necessary (freeing up money and personnel, which could then go into speeding up processing and to support legal passage so that the “short cut” exploited by people smugglers is reduced).

After their claims are processed, they then can fully integrate into Australian society, with some money in the their pocket and understanding of the country. It also provides them current work history. That is the dignified Australian attitude that I’d like to demonstrate to the world.

It is such a small problem, accounting of a small percentage of all immigration into Australia. You would never know this, however, if you listened only to politicians and the media. It’s a cheap trick employed to win votes, but at the expense of people in need. The manufactured xenophobia surrounding asylum seekers is entirely unAustralian as most Australians today have roots in immigration themselves.

Most tragic of all, we’re doing asylum seekers and ourselves no favours by utilising detention centres; it’s an expensive and depressing venture which will leave a scar on new Australians and those only looking for a temporary stay while turmoil washes over their homeland.

While I’m glad the hate has largely gone from the message surrounding this issue, I’m tired of the political game of hot potato which largely avoids the reality of the situation.

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