"I'd like to sweep away any sense that people should close down any debate, including this debate, through a sense of self-censorship or political correctness. People should feel free to say what they feel. For people to say they're anxious about border security doesn't make them intolerant. It certainly doesn't make them a racist - it means they're expressing a genuine view."The arrival of tiny numbers of asylum seekers by boat into our country is not a border security issue. It is a humanitarian issue.
Over 90% of these people are found to be genuine refugees (if they are allowed to get in and spend years in our detention centers, racking up debt to the government for the 'privilege' of being there). Being 'genuine refugees' means that they are fleeing truly horrifying, life-threatening situations in their countries of origin. They might be members of persecuted minorities, such as Tamils from Sri Lanka or Hazaras from Afghanistan, or they might be suffering political persecution in their homeland.
Many people, including Tony Abbott, have suggested that these people should just stop in the first country that they arrive in. However, as Julian Burnside points out, it is not that simple. Hazaras are not safe in Pakistan as they arrive in areas that are frequently controlled by the Taliban (the group responsible for their persecution in Afghanistan), while no one receives true protection in Indonesia, as that country is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention. If they are lucky enough to have their claims processed by UNHCR in Indonesia, it will often take over a decade, during which time they are considered 'illegal' and have no rights to education or health, and risk being sent back to their dangerous homeland at any point. (BTW: India is not signatory to the Refugee Convention either.)
To pretend that political correctness is currently preventing an 'honest debate' in this country is deeply dishonest. Currently talk-back radio is full of people expressing their view that "boat people should be sent back." There is also a bloody good reason why many of these views are not considered to be 'political correct': they are founded on a xenophobic feeling of "us" v "them" and contain more than a little racism to boot. Take this caller, for example:
Caller Melba says that boat people should be sent back to their own country. She says that the “islamification of Australia” is an open secret. — 2GB (Sydney) Breakfast Chris SmithInstead of pandering to these views, the government has a responsibility to actually take some leadership in this debate. It would be quite easy to actually dispel a number of myths associated with asylum seekers arriving by boat; to better publicise the true facts and statistics and to promote a sense of compassion and tolerance in our community.
They could start by letting people know:
- Australia takes less than 1% of the world's refugees; and
- Asylum seekers arriving by boat make up a tiny percentage of our annual arrivals for immigration.
"at the current rate of arrivals it would take about 20 years to fill the MCG with boat people. The largest number to arrive in any 12-month period over the past three decades is 4100. Compare that with about 200,000 new permanent migrants every year. Boat arrivals so far this year amount to less than three days' worth of ordinary migration."They could also ask people to put themselves into the shoes of a typical asylum seeker and to ask themselves: "What would you do?"
Imagine for a moment that you and your family were members of a persecuted minority - say Tamils in Sri Lanka, who are currently facing genocide after the collapse of the Tamil Tigers. Imagine you somehow managed to get yourselves as far as Indonesia for 'processing as refugees', only to find that you have a precarious wait of over one decade, during which time you have no capacity to support your family, no rights to health care or education, and are at continuous risk of being deported back to Sri Lanka. Would you pay a people smuggler (or in-debt yourself to them) in order to gain the possibility of arriving somewhere safer? Would you risk just about anything to get your children to a place where they don't have to constantly fear for their lives and might have a chance of making it to adulthood? Or would you 'queue up'?