November 4, 2009

The difference between migrants and refugees

I realise that I may be in the minority here, given that three quarters of the country supported the Howard government's policy on mandatory detention, but why is it that so many Australians are anti refugee?  

They only have to hear the word asylum seeker and they start gagging about invasions and overpopulation, about people stealing their jobs and raping their women. 

Obviously, these misconceptions are largely driven by fear, but fear of what and of whom? 

Not a single terrorist was found to have travelled here by boat during the Howard administration; not so much as one suicide bomber disguised as an Afghani toddler, and yet many Australians still fear the terrorist threat to be true. 

Another misconception, (also heightened by the Howard administration), is that Australia will descend into full scale anarchy if people do not walk single file, via the front door, in a neat and orderly fashion, (the legal vs illegal immigrant argument). 

With all of the money we spend on border protection, to protect us from illegal boat arrivals ($654 million over the next four years) I am sure we can afford a couple of bouncers. 

But there is another, more frightening misconception that fuels this noxious debate, and that is the white supremacist belief that Australia does not welcome people from other nations, or in other words, that Australia does not have an immigration policy. 

As a dear friend pointed out to me, there are a large number of Australians who do not know the difference between a migrant and a refugee

This type of thinking is clearly founded on a lack of education and observation, but it does explain why the sight of boats carrying dark skinned, possible terrorists might make some racists want to machine gun them in the water.  

It may come as a shock to some people to learn that the Australian Department of Immigration is practically begging for skilled migrants, (and yes that includes people from non white, non english speaking countries).

According to the Department of Immigration website
The 2009-10 migration program is set at 168, 700 places. 
108, 100 of those places are for skilled migrants who gain entry because of their work or business skills.
60, 300 of those places are for family migrants who are sponsored by family in Australia. 
(Including marriage visas etc).
300 of those places are for special eligibility migrants who have lived in Australia for 10 years.

In stark contrast,
The 2009-10 humanitarian program is set at 13,750 places.
6000 of those places are for refugees.
7750 of those places are for a special humanitarian program 
(including places required for onshore needs).

Did I mention that a mere 6000 places were allocated to refugees? 
Hardly a cause for concern in terms of invasion and overpopulation. In fact if we are to be worried about any invasion it should be from the British or the Kiwis.

In 2007 -8 the four largest groups of skilled settlers came from - 
The U.K - 27%
India - 16%
China - 11%
South Africa - 6%

Furthermore, in 2008-9 a whopping 47,782 New Zealand citizens came to Australia as permanent residents. That figure is not included in the 2008-9 migration program because New Zealand citizens are not counted as part of Australia's migration program.  

The fact of the matter is, Australia accepts a disproportionately small number of refugees compared to other countries and compared to our own immigration numbers. 

In a 2009 study that ranked 44 countries in order of their asylum seeker intake, Australia was 20th on the list. I have supplied a link to this chart in a previous entry, but here it is again

The old saying ' until you have walked a mile in my shoes' comes to mind when I think about the ignorance and cruelty inflicted upon this marginalised society by a white, privileged society. The difference between migrants and refugees is that migrants have autonomy and refugees do not. Migrants have choices, refugees do not. 

Once again I ask you to imagine what it would actually take for you to grab your children and flee your country, with nothing but the clothes on your backs, to climb aboard a dilapidated boat, across dangerous seas, bound for a strange land where nobody speaks your language, in the vain hope that you might find safety, all the while knowing that you will probably be forced to endure a long stay in detention if you survive the perilous boat ride. 

If you were brave enough to take this risk, brave enough to hope, then imagine arriving safely in this new land only to be met with hatred and disdain, or worse, to be forced to go back from where you came. Imagine what life must have been like for you to make this terrifying decision.  

Fear is born from that of which we do not understand. Racism is born from ignorance and assumption. And yet we still have the audacity to say that Australian's are not racist.


Mizzsharon said...

A very thoughtful read and insights into what is happening at the moment.

Pardon my lack of understanding between refugees and migrants.

But in simple english, I find it rather unfair for the skilled migrants as they actually work hard to make it in Australia. There is many that I know which spend so much time and money investing on that one single PR status or citizenship.

Whereas the refugees just hop on a boat and hope to be granted residency status by the gov, overnight.

Don't you think that's abit unfair, no? *just my six pence worth*

aquariusmish said...

In response to Mizzsharon's comment: I doubt that any refugee believes they will be granted residency status overnight, or even under two years. Refugees who aren't held in detention or sent back are granted a 'Refugee Visa' or 'Protection Visa' and allowed temporary stay in Australia, which is usually no more than a year, during which time they can get the support and the help they need to apply for another Visa for further temporary stay and if they are lucky enough to be granted that, then they can apply for residency after living in Australia for 2 years. Refugees 'hop on a boat' and come here because they don't have the money for a plane ticket, let alone the time and the safe environment in which to organise documents for extended stay before they leave.
*just my two cents*

Rita said...

'Refugees are people who have been forced to leave their countries because they have been persecuted. Refugees often have little idea about where they are going. THEY ARE RUNNING AWAY NOT RUNNING TO. Rarely do refugees have the time to make plans for their departure: to pack their belongings, to say goodbye to their families and friends, some refugess have to flee with no notice, taking with them only the clothes on their backs.'

Say no to migration, but please don't say no to refugees & asylum seekers...and mishaloula, please keep educating.

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Anonymous said...

Another thing people don't seem to realise is that seeking asylum is not illegal. It is a right that many countries, including Australia, recognise under certain circumstances (political or religious persecution for example).

Asylum seekers are usually detained because it is necessary to validate their claim for legitimate asylum, which can be difficult when they arrive by boat because they often don't have proof of identity. They are only returned to their country of origin when their claims are DISPROVED or illegitimate (i.e. they don't actually qualify as refugees).

Where we house people who seek asylum here by arriving by boat is really irrelevant- except that it's probably cheaper to do it in Nauru or somewhere offshore than it is to do it onshore. And it IS expensive to house people for several years.

ps. mizzsharon - re: spelling. 'vain' not 'vein'. and 'disdain' not 'distain'. :) Sorry to be pedantic.