May 02, 2013
ASYLUM seekers in Australian waters. Source: News Limited
THE real story of asylum seekers and refugees is still far from common knowledge in our fearful, bigoted society. And politicians like it that way.
On Monday, ABC’s Four Corners broadcast surreptitiously filmed footage of filth inside the Manus Island detention centre, where Australia stores people while their claims of persecution are assessed.
A doctor who worked there, John Valentine, said the conditions were a medical disaster. He warned they rendered everyone at risk, especially the 30 children there. It made him ashamed to be an Australian, he said. The information, the footage, the reports from whistleblowers about the offshore centres were shameful.
Human cost aside, so much secret squalor is rented for such a pretty penny: offshore processing of asylum seekers is currently forecast to cost taxpayers $2.3 billion over the next four years. There are hundreds of ways the Government could better spend so much of our money in meeting our international humanitarian obligations.
Remembering that it is not illegal to seek asylum and acknowledging that not all the world’s people live in safe and civilised places, might help start reframing the focus.
The warped perception in the community is partly because both political parties sing from similar song sheets.
The Opposition has made plain its intentionof turning back the boats if it wins government, even though nations including Indonesia have said they will not catch the human refuse we bat in its direction.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott launched an “illegal boats” billboard on Monday that will keep a tally of arrivals by sea since Labor took office. He and his ministers continue to use the word “illegal” inappropriately.
A YOUNG boy is handed to a Customs officer after he arrived on a boat with other asylum seekers.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard insists on dealing with asylum seekers anywhere but here. Labor’s continued insistence that its fight is with people smugglers, all the while treating their human cargo like criminals, is cruel and inhumane.
Both parties use weasel words and lies to keep the public ignorant and fearful about boat arrivals. It’s divisive, fear-driven hokum.
What of those who arrive by plane on visas, then apply for asylum once they are living in the community? Government figures show there are as many of them as those who come by boat.
Why do we never hear about them?
Government statistics show that four in five of those arriving by boat are eventually deemed to be refugees, while only about one in five of those arriving by air pass the test. So why the fear of the boat arrivals?
Perhaps because those who seek asylum from within Australia – who come by plane and stay on – are perceived as conventional, civilised, ordinary. Perhaps they seem more like us.
Lies about asylum seekers continue to be spread. They pass through other safe nations just to get to us. They burn their papers. They jump queues. Say it enough and fiction becomes fact.
People swear they know someone who knows someone who came over in a leaky boat and who hasn’t worked a day since because they are comfortable being nursed on the Government’s knee. Such asylum seekers may be vividly described, but they are mythical.
In reality, on arrival, asylum seekers get very little. A medical check, an emergency blanket. They are given food and shelter in detention centres and offshore processing places, but the conditions there are well-documented as being jail-like, austere and not conducive to aiding good health.
If asylum seekers are allowed to enter the community while their claims are being assessed, it is the charity of non-government organisations that keeps them alive. They are entitled to nothing for six months and only then if they have lodged the right papers, in the right way and with the right people.
The Government does fund community support for some through the Red Cross. These chosen few must have a diagnosed mental illness, or be elderly, disabled, a minor at risk of harm or suffering from the effects of torture.
In short, they must be in a very bad way to qualify.
The rest are on their own.
Those found to be refugees go through character, security and medical tests. The Government does not give them houses, jobs or spending money.
The upshot is that every day we, the people, need to be truth seekers and not rely on sound grabs and picture opportunities staged by fear-mongering politicians.
The truth is there, just under the noisy online surface.