Adelaide artist Peter Drew has been travelling Australia challenging some of our basic assumptions on this refugee "crisis" we are apparently facing. Some say Australia doesn't have a refugee crisis, and say we have a racism issue. I would argue against that - I think we have some fundamental problems with how our media reports on issues, and I believe our politicians are doing us a disservice by clouding the reality of the situation with their rhetoric and inflammatory use of words.
Peter has been travelling Australia and plans to culminate his trip this week in Canberra as we celebrate (or something) Refugee Week, which started this week. He found inspiration in our national anthem which features the lines:
For those who’ve come across the seas
We’ve boundless plains to share
With courage let us all combine
To advance Australia fair
I wanted to share some important statistics on this issue, as I think it's essential we have perspective and clarity:
Fact 1: It’s not a crime to come to Australia by boat without a visa and ask for protection
People are often fleeing their home country for dear life. And they are legally entitled to do so.
It is not a crime to arrive here by boat without a valid visa and ask for protection. It is not illegal to flee persecution, to cross borders without documents/passports in order to seek asylum. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrines the right to seek asylum from persecution. We should value this document, and the principles it espouses, much more than we currently do.
Fact 2: There’s no official queue for people coming to Australia seeking a safe place to live
It simply doesn't exist in the manner in which it is represented by our politicians and certain sections of the media.
Fact 3: Only 1% of the world’s refugees is likely to be given safe haven in any given year
And that's a tragedy. Need outstrips supply in a major way. No wonder there are human traffickers lining up to deal in this awful trade of hope and survival.
As the Refugee Council of Australia notes:
We know from our decades and decades of experience working with vulnerable migrants that the vast majority of asylum seekers and refugees flee to escape persecution, torture and death – dangers inflicted on them because of their race, religion, nationality, social group or political opinions.
Some have seen their closest relatives and friends murdered, and their homes and villages burnt to the ground. They’ve suffered torture and their bodies, like their minds, are covered in scars that will never disappear. They are survivors. They come from all walks of life, rich and poor. They flee, simply, because they want to live.Have you put your welcome mat out lately? And what kind of country do you want to live in? One that genuinely attempts to discharge its obligations as a privileged (in terms of development) member of the United Nations in a fair and compassionate manner? Or somewhere different? Insular, unwelcoming and - worst of all - uninformed?