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.