Politics: Asylum Seekers – this is not what I had hoped for from the ALP

So, apparently our spineless excuse for a government has decided that we shouldn’t process applications for residency from Afghani and Sri Lankan refugees. Because clearly when we all voted against John Howard and he lost both the election and his seat in Parliemtn, what we really meant was that we wanted more of the same.

I am absolutely livid. Admittedly, I’ve been cranky all day, but this really infuriates me beyond belief.

Anyway, I’ve just channelled an entire day’s worth of bad temper into an email to Chris Evans, via Getup. If you’re an Australian resident and feel at all strongly about refugees, I urge you to do the same.

My (probably incoherent, since I was and still am furious) email is below. It doesn’t cover any of the suggested talking points. Sod the talking points. Our entire immigration policy is filled with racism, xenophobia and a complete lack of compassion and it’s an utter shame, which I, for one, have had enough of. Anyway, if you find anything in it useful, please feel free.

Dear Minister Evans:

I would like to write a well-reasoned, carefully-argued, sensible, adult email, explaining why Australia must continue to process and assist refugees for our country, but I can’t.

I can’t write a well-reasoned email about this because I simply can’t believe that we are doing this again. I am totally appalled. I can’t believe that, after Australia said such a determined ‘no’ to John Howard’s policies of exclusion and persecutions, a Labour government could once again start turning away refugees, claiming that they are not sufficiently under threat.

My father’s family were economic refugees from Italy. That’s the easy kind of refugee, comparitively speaking, because they had a lot less to leave behind than most, but it’s still hardly easy. They lost community, continuity, that sense of belonging you get when you grow up in the country of your birth, and worked in poorly-paid jobs in a country where they didn’t speak the language and where they experienced discrimination and cruelty because they looked foreign. That was 50 years ago. If they arrived now, they’d probably share the experience of my hard-working Colombian friends, who have waited years to earn enough points to apply for permanent residency, only to find that applications have been frozen due the economic crisis.

Friends of mine from school left Romania in the 80s, fearing persecution by the Ceaucescu government, and lived as refugees in Europe for years before finally moving to Australia. They had been in fear of their lives, but again, they were relatively lucky – they were able to find reasonably well-paid jobs in Australia, and ‘only’ lost their home, their community, their careers, and their sense of security. That was 30 years ago. I’m not at all confident we would let them in now, though the fact that they are European would probably help.

Being a refugee, or even being an immigrant is not easy. It’s not something people just decide to do in order to take advantage of native-born Australians. You lose so much, both in terms of possessions and in terms of identity, and you hope that this loss will somehow be balanced or made worthwhile in your new life – that you will find some safety or some security, that your children, at least, will grow up to call their new country home.

If a person is desperate enough to do that, and determined enough to get to Australia (which is hardly an easy destination), and even more if that person’s country is no longer safe for them to return to, we should feel honoured to welcome them, not afraid to let them in. If someone wants to be here that much, the chances are he or she is going to make an excellent citizen, because he/she is not going to take anything for granted. I firmly believe that our country’s strength is its immigrant population – we are all immigrants, if we just go back a handful of generations, and our immigrant ancestors came here for reasons similar to theirs. Why should we close the door now?

Suspending visa applications from refugees is absolutely un-Australian. It is a policy utterly lacking in compassion, and one that ignores and belittles our heritage and our history. And, if that is not sufficient reason, it breaches our obligations under international law; Australia ratified the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and this leaves us with obligations that go far beyond the ethical.

I urge you to reverse this policy. It shames us all.

Yours sincerely,

Catherine

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