“It’s a very strange thing that we criticise, revile and punish those who do precisely what we would do if by chance we had not the luck to belong to this country.”
In just one sentence, lawyer and activist Julian Burnside has summed up how millions of Australians feel about asylum seekers.
Granted, there also seem to be plenty of people out there who fear refugees. Who fear that letting the “queue jumpers” into Australia will negatively impact our entire country – by chewing up our resources, taking our jobs and living off our welfare systems.
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I have to wonder: if we took the same money that we “invest” into border control (ie prison camps for refugees) and instead spent it settling incoming refugees into our communities, wouldn’t that have a better result? They would become contributing, tax-paying, productive, healthy members of our society, rather than a drain on our federal budget. A win-win, right?
Anyway, I’ve seen some anti-refugee memes pop up on Facebook from vague acquaintances, and photos captioned by trite statements like “When did freeloaders become more important than tax payers!”
And to those people I would love to know: What would you do?
If you were no longer safe in your country, as your family’s safety is being threatened daily by a brutal and violent regime, how would you handle it?
Say you flee your country through Malaysia and Indonesia and obtain a one-month visitor visa while you work out your next move.
After your one-month visa expires, if you are found by the police, they will jail you. If you send your kids to school, police will discover you’ve over-stayed your visa and jail you. If you work for a cash wage and get caught, you will be jailed (and even if you can earn money under the table, your kids can’t go to school, so how long can that last?)
If you apply for refugee status and the UNHCR assesses you as a refugee, you will need to wait in the shadows until another country offers to resettle you. As Burnside points out, this can take 20 or 30 years.
This is when those with an anti-refugee stance suggest that asylum seekers should do it the “proper” way. Fill out the proper paperwork, apply through the proper channels, and patiently wait in the queue for your application to be processed.
It’s a great notion in theory, but even if those seeking to come to Australia were educated about this process, it can still take years to happen – and refugees must physically be in Australia in order to apply for a protection visa.
“Imagine you are that person. Will you wait in the shadows for 20 or 30 years or will you take your courage in both hands and get on a boat?” Burnside asks. “I have never met an Australian who would not get on the boat.”
I ask again: What would you do?