Guest post today by Gerard Oosterman, artist, farmer and blogger
The treasury informs us that 2.4 billion has been spent on detaining boat people since 2000. This has worked out at $100,000 per boat arrival. I wonder how long this stupid waste of money will be allowed to continue.
The tide in favour on off shore detention has been turning, and ever so slowly there now appears the realization that if not from a humanitarian but from a financial point of view, we might be better off to swallow our pride or blind obstinacy and simply do what the rest of the world has been doing for many years. That is, dealing with a difficult problem that presents itself directly on most of their doorsteps, on a never-ending and daily basis.
After all, not many countries have the luxury of submissive sovereign nations such as PNG and Nauru, or excised islands close by, where refugees can be sent and left to slowly languish while awaiting the assessment of their refugee status.
In the meantime, there are serious concerns expressed daily about the treatment of asylum seekers in detention. This treatment results in hundreds of cases of self harm, mental break-downs, riots and the involvement of the Australian Federal Police. These events ring alarm bells worldwide especially at the UNHCR.
No matter what we do to try to dissuade the boat people, they will continue to undertake dangerous voyages to escape their circumstances and find a better life for themselves and their children. They have little or nothing to lose.
So what is this deep fear that Australia has about boat people who, no matter what, will continue to arrive at our doorstep? Are they armed? Do they threaten Us? Do they come with murderous intent, do they come to rape and pillage? The general and not unreasonable assumption is that many more will arrive if we let our guard down. That might well be true. So what? Australia happily takes in more than a hundred thousand migrants in a year. If a thousand boat people a week arrive on our shores, what is the problem with that?
If we reduced our normal intake of migrants by fifty thousand we would still not increase the overall number. Consider that fifty thousand migrants from ‘normal’ channels are those that are in less urgent need than boat arrivals, then why not give priority to asylum seekers? Consider how our image would change overnight.
Currently, we are viewed with horror by many world-wide as images and have been since the Tampa. Then there are the terrible sights of refugees burning and self harming, and those terrible drownings at Christmas Island. Sometimes, the footage resembles Guantanamo Bay, where prisoners are also languishing after many years.
The advantage of age is the luxury of hindsight. I remember still a similar
fear of refugees and new-comers in the late fifties and sixties. The ’reffos’ and Italians and Greeks were knife pullers and worse, garlic eaters. They would catch trains or buses while speaking strange languages. That fear for Southern Europeans later changed into a fear for the boat people from Vietnam. They would allegedly bring exotic diseases, and they wore funny hats.
All of those fears were unfounded. Can you imagine Australia without the huge benefits from all those brave enough to risk dangerous journeys to come here?
We would all still be slurping milk-shakes, eating meat pies with lamingtons for dessert, and thronging around the six o’clock swill pubs. Those killer Sundays, they were deadly quiet with just the stray dogs about,scratching their fleas at deserted suburban rail-stations. Instead, we have a lively and varied society.
We still seem to harbour similar fears against the Afghans, Burmese or Iraqis, again based on ignorance, prejudice and an unwillingness to change.
Why do we allow fear to compete so sadly with compassion?
Come on Aussies. Open your hearts. Take the risk and deal with those
unfortunate boat arrivals as best as we can. Deal with the problem with honesty and do it in Australia. Show the world we care and have compassion. We are the largest
and least densely population country in the world. Not just a country but a
complete continent with the smallest population. Let’s also have the
Gerard blogs at Oosterman Treats Blog
- All-out assault over issue of boat people (theage.com.au)
- Both sides singing the same old song on boat people (theage.com.au)
- Politicians have their own reasons for pursuing hard line (theage.com.au)
- Manus Island as inhumane as Nauru: Amnesty (theage.com.au)
- Report seeks new approach to refugees (news.theage.com.au)
- Plea for asylum policy rethink (theage.com.au)