By Persephone Fraser

Recently, there has been good reason to discuss our attitude toward refugees. On the one hand, the Abbott government said it wouldn’t be increasing the number of overall intake of refugees in the wake of the Syrian crisis. Later, it said it would be taking in 12 000 Syrian refugees and offering significant financial support to UNHCR efforts in Europe and North African countries to facilitate refugees there. Then, reports arise surrounding the return of a Syrian man from Australian detention to the country where conflict is ongoing, and that Australian authorities in camps are under instruction to repeatedly inform detainees that they will not be settled in Australia and should return to their homes. We also have in resent developments the information that all remaining refugee claims in the Nauru detention centre will be processed this week, and that asylum seekers will be able to leave the camp and move around Nauru at any time as of Monday, (a contentious move but a sign of progress), but only in the lead up to the High Court hearing set to establish the legal legitimacy of offshore detention. While it looks contradictory or even duplicitous, that we offer support to Syrians publicly, but are privately working to return them, and that progress in the processing of refugee claims and changes to the nature of detention only take place in the wake of legal proceedings, on closer inspection the split in the governments behaviour is a conflict between what it intended to do, and what it has been forced to do.

In as much as it can get away with, in as much as it can keep from media controversy, the government in recent history has avoided fulfilling its responsibilities under the UN refugee convention that we are a signatory to, and stood resolutely for the tightness of our borders rather than the improvement of our community and our international standing. I’m proud that the public has held the government to answer for its actions, and created controversy regarding its behaviour, but its important to note that Australian governance has been seriously lacking in leadership, initiative, momentum and most seriously foresight. If refugees must be discussed in terms of political feasibility or convenience, I’ll highlight why politically, our attitude towards refugees is uninspired and unimpressive.

Recently, the story of a Syrian refugee has surfaced, who after two years in an Australian detention centre was sent back to his decimated village. The man, Eyad, had been the first from the disaster to agree to return, but the exceptionality is very much in our government’s attitude and treatment of refugees, made obvious in this case by the fact that no other organization or nation will return people to Syria. Countries like Germany, Austria, Turkey and others in Europe and North Africa, geographically or economically viable, have taken on the greatest portion of the Syrian refugees, and have responded according to the sincerity of their need. Undoubtedly there has been fear and hostility documented there too (for example, the viral video of the reporter tripping refugees running across borders in Hungary), but no other body or government has attempted to return refugees to Syria, given the undoubtedly stricken and volatile environment in the country.

Doubt of the legitimacy of asylum claims had been an excuse for the treatment and long detention of other asylum seekers, but in this case where the plight of Syrians as been conformed and repeated by all international bodies and spectators alike, makes particularly clear that we have not been driven by or felt bound by our humanitarian responsibilities, but there are many, many good arguments for the economic and social benefits of accepting refugees and migrants more broadly. The pertinent argument for why the Australian government’s reactionary behavior is insufficient is political though. No doubt, the reason for the Abbott government’s conservative policies were political too, given he was voted in on the back of serious leadership and economic insecurity and presumably felt he was onto a good thing, but Australian foreign policy can’t continue to be hesitating on the back foot, dragged by the public, for the important reason that our future is dependent on our integration into a global community, and short sighted, xenophobic policies affect our international reputation and relationships.

Politically and economically our progression is dependent on the rest of the globe, for security, trade, innovation and partnership on intercontinental issues and projects, and situations like these kinds of crisis call for stronger leadership and more ready involvement, in proportion with our capacity, but in line with our desired position among the world’s powerful alliances, and our policy makers need to be the ones at the forefront pushing for change and progression.

Recently I read an article in the Sydney Morning Herald that said something along the lines of Australia is decidedly and consciously far more civilized than the US because we made the right call on gun laws. That we are trying to convince legitimate refugees to return to their war torn homes is an obvious counter example, as is our lack of commitment to climate change action. While Obama has a constituency with an attachment and culture revolving around firearms to fight, the Australian government has been dragging behind its people. A scarred constituency is difficult to fight; a scarred government is stupid to carry. We need policies that it will be possible, like gun legislation, to look back on as movements toward positive and lasting change. The abandonment of the Abbott government’s education reform act is a step in the right direction, and hopefully a sign that the Turnbull government will take action for the future, and appreciate the importance of being involved in and keeping up with the global community. The obvious needs to be said, not to Australian people, but to our government: refugees are not a threat to our border protection, they represent a humanitarian crisis, and should not just be spoken of as such, but treated in each level of our involvement accordingly.

Put simply, we cannot remain an island for their sake or our own.

Photo Credits: Feature image by ABC

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  • Akira Lawson

    I would be mindful of using the word “refugees”. Most of the 12,000 Syrian are not “refugees”, rather they are illegal immigrants. If they were legitimate refugees, they would not be marching through different south-eastern European countries often to Germany to seek asylum. Additionally, many of them are not “Syrian” and have actually come from many countries other than Syria to seek a better lifestyle. Personally, with the wake of Islamic extremism in this country, accepting more Islamic “refugees” will not benefit society. The more Islamic “refugees” we take in, the more Islamic extremism and terrorism there will be. I would see it as a threat to Australian culture, lifestyle and traditions, if we accept more in. Our current intake of refugees needs to stay as is. If we take more in, our debt and deficit will only go up. There are many Australians out there who are not xenophobic, but would rather out tax to be spent on veterans, the homeless, and people with sickness or disabilities. I also see no “economic” improvement whatsoever. We have youth unemployment that is fluctuating, though, is not at a good level. The stopping of the illegal boats is a great policy that saves lives and deters people smugglers from the trade. I won’t go into cue-jumpers which you will know a lot of.

    • Tom Mowbray

      Sorry @risingsun95:disqus , but you’ve made some pretty bold claims in your argument there.

      1) The reason that many of these people are ‘marching through’ different countries on their way to Germany is because those countries are already taking on huge numbers of refugees, and in many cases cannot take any more. Lebanon has already taken in 1.1 million fleeing Syrians. Turkey: almost 2 million. Jordan: 600,000.
      Greece has seen 500,000 Syrians arrive on its shores this year alone. Serbia has received 50,000 requests for asylum this year as well. Most of these nations are smaller, and less-equipped to take on these people than other nations, and yet have received more people than almost anywhere else, simply because they are the closest nations to the conflict. In many cases, these countries cannot take any more people, and people are being turned away. And you wonder why Syrians keep moving?
      (Source: http://edition.cnn.com/2015/09

      2) The assumption that Islamic extremism will increase with Syrian refugee intake is absurd. These people are literally fleeing violent Islamic extremism. If they were extreme Islamists, why not join ISIL, Al Qaeda, or any number of other extreme groups operating within Syria or greater Arabia. The logic here just doesn’t work. If you want to argue that they might be ISIL agents trying to infiltrate other nations, why would they take the risks involved with boats and refugee camps? Why not simply fly to their destination with fake details? They have more than enough resources to do this.

      3) If you’re worried about the economics of immigration policies, why aren’t you worried about offshore detention? Detaining a single person on Nauru costs taxpayers $500,000 per year. On Manus Island, it costs $420,000 per person per year. But you’re worried that $12,000 in welfare per adult refugee per year will cripple us with debt? Sure, there will be more people claiming these benefits than those detained at Manus Island, but 40 times more? I don’t think so.
      (Sources:http://www.smh.com.au/federal-

      You have a right to your views, just don’t try to back them up with false reasoning.

      P.S. There is no queue for asylum seekers to jump. The UN system of placing refugees works more like a lottery than an orderly line.

      • risingsun95

        They may be bold arguments, but rather etic ones. I actually do wonder why Syrians keep moving. But I also wonder why they are being turned back. I also wonder why so many Islamic countries in the Middle East are not accepting “refugees”. Countries such as Austria and the Czech Republic do have the resources and infrastructure in taking in more “refugees” so to speak, but they refuse to do so for many reasons (which I can go into more depth in an article if you like ;). Thus, “refugees” should be stopping in these countries, and not heading off to the U.K., Germany, Sweden, etc. These people are simply just seeking a better life. The amount of males who comprise of the these hoards who are marching on to countries such as the ones mentioned above, should be fighting for their own country. Islamic extremism will increase, and such an argument is not absurd in my opinion. Tell me, is it decreasing? Nope! The reason why it will is because generally speaking, people who follow the Islamic faith are intolerant of the host country’s culture and way of life. The Islamic teachings and way of life are so alien and incompatible with Judeo-Christian values; such people are incapable or unwillingly to assimilate to the culture of the host nation. The growth of ISIS is just one example of that. ISIS did not flourish because of U.S. foreign policy, it flourished because the Muslims who were residing in many western countries, were not willing to assimilate into the socio-cultural norms of the host country. In Rome, do as the Romans do. If Muslims were assimilating into western culture, they would be drinking beer, eating pork, dressing as we do, no FGM (Female Genital Mutilation), allowing us the ‘infidels’ to criticize Muhammad, the Quran etc.. As of which, we see none of. Additionally, if they did assimilate, ISIS/ISIL would not grow, or possibly even exist. Furthermore, ISIS/ISIL are not dumb people by the way. They have said that they will exploit and utilize the “refugee” crisis as a means of infiltrating western counties. The reason why there would not put them on a plane is because they know that would be the most ineffective means of infiltration. Intelligence agencies around the globe are monitoring every move they make, and the ‘Trojan horse’ (i.e. “refugees”) is the most strategic way of infiltration. Think about it. Lastly, I’m not at all worried about offshore detention and the costs involved. We need it. Its a crucial filter in separating the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’. I’m not going to allow for my country to open up our doors to aliens who were not born and bred here for free. There is a reason why we have a border and many people have bled to protect it; thanks to our troops (past and present). In your last point, you did not mention the costs involved in investing in housing and where you would put them? Considering how hard it is for many Australians (especially in populated areas) who can’t even afford their first home, how do you expect to house them in Sydney for example where the average house costs $700,000. Personally, I believe that the government should be focusing on people born and bred here and we need to fix many issues in our society, before we accept more people in. There is a ‘queue’ so to speak, and the real legitimate refugees who have waited 5-10 years should be prioritized than the ones in Syria. These Syrian “refugees” you speak of are jumping the line.

  • Tom Mowbray

    Sorry @risingsun95:disqus , but you’ve made some pretty bold claims in your argument there.

    1) The reason that many of these people are ‘marching through’ different countries on their way to Germany is because those countries are already taking on huge numbers of refugees, and in many cases cannot take any more. Lebanon has already taken in 1.1 million fleeing Syrians. Turkey: almost 2 million. Jordan: 600,000.
    Greece has seen 500,000 Syrians arrive on its shores this year alone. Serbia has received 50,000 requests for asylum this year as well. Most of these nations are smaller, and less-equipped to take on these people than other nations, and yet have received more people than almost anywhere else, simply because they are the closest nations to the conflict. In many cases, these countries cannot take any more people, and people are being turned away. And you wonder why Syrians keep moving?
    (Source: http://edition.cnn.com/2015/09/09/world/welcome-syrian-refugees-countries/)

    2) The assumption that Islamic extremism will increase with Syrian refugee intake is absurd. These people are literally fleeing violent Islamic extremism. If they were extreme Islamists, why not join ISIL, Al Qaeda, or any number of other extreme groups operating within Syria or greater Arabia. The logic here just doesn’t work. If you want to argue that they might be ISIL agents trying to infiltrate other nations, why would they take the risks involved with boats and refugee camps? Why not simply fly to their destination with fake details? They have more than enough resources to do this.

    3) If you’re worried about the economics of immigration policies, why aren’t you worried about offshore detention? Detaining a single person on Nauru costs taxpayers $500,000 per year. On Manus Island, it costs $420,000 per person per year. But you’re worried that $12,000 in welfare per adult refugee per year will cripple us with debt? Sure, there will be more people claiming these benefits than those detained at Manus Island, but 40 times more? I don’t think so.
    (Sources:http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/government-spends-12-billion-on-offshore-processing-centres-in-one-year-20150205-13708n.html)

    You have a right to your views, just don’t try to back them up with false reasoning.

    P.S. There is no queue for asylum seekers to jump. The UN system of placing refugees works more like a lottery than an orderly line.