As a young child, this phrase was drilled into me by my parents. We weren’t a particularly religious family, but we were brought up with strong family values that echoed this statement.
Be grateful, I was told. Appreciate the incredible country you live in. Be compassionate to those who are struggling. And don’t for one second believe you are better than others, or more entitled to anything, because you had the good fortune to be raised in Australia.
Due of this upbringing, I believe I’m a pretty compassionate person.
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So I’m always startled when I meet someone whose thoughts about refugees and illegal immigrants are so very different to my own.
They usually have an argument that goes something along the lines of: “If they want to live here, then they have to get in the right way. Apply through the right channels and don’t become a ‘queue jumper’.”
As if it is that easy and simplistic; as if these distraught, desperate refugees are making a decision to try and subvert the system.
I find this argument to be unintelligent, uninformed, entitled and basically repugnant.
As a parent, I know that I would do anything to protect my children. When you consider some of the situations refugees are fleeing from, I can totally understand why they would take massive risks in an effort to secure a better, safer life.
We have all, by now, seen that devastating image of the Syrian child washed up on the shore on the news last week. The image is completely gut wrenching. I’m heartbroken for these poor families, and I’m at a loss as to how anyone can possibly have the view that refugees don’t deserve access to safety and food and freedom? As if ANY of us somehow have ANY more or less entitlement to these basic human rights, just because of where we were born?
Do we really want to be the type of people who see such pain and suffering and say, “Tough luck?”
I know I sure as hell don’t want to be.
So why are we not helping more? Why does Australia continue to have refugee policies that are so abhorrent, the New York Times has labelled Australia’s treatment of migrants as “brutal”, “inhumane” and “unconscionable”?
If, like me, you feel helpless but moved to do more, you can donate to the UNHCR’s Syria Crisis Appeal. There but for the Grace of God go I and right now, I’m feeling pretty bloody lucky to be Australian.
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