Monthly Archives: July 2013

Seeking Asylum: Why Do They Come? (Part Three)

There are many reasons why people seek asylum, but following the previous post on the U.N. Convention (see below), the reasons enshrined in the Convention and International Law (and following Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) are: political and non-political persecution (persecution over sexuality, race), religious persecution, economic persecution, war (conflict), torture, barbarous acts, oppression, tyranny.

In the majority of cases people do not take risks to leave their family, community, nation and take further risks leaving savings and worldly goods to others, take the risk of unsafe travel, risk discovery and return, in order to just enjoy a western lifestyle. The reasons for someone to actually take these risks are substantive.

Self reflection here might be helpful. When communities are faced with bushfire or earthquake there is an understanding that one might need to leave home and belongings to escape danger. It is not easy to do that even when faced with danger, and people have recounted how they have left late, or have even stayed and risked death, rather than leave and face something new, no matter how temporary. For many, leaving what they know and control and make sense of is not an easy or simple matter. There are whole sets of relationships, opportunities, cultural connections, identity, and world view, that are so much a part of each person they cannot easily be junked at the drop of a hat or on a whim.

The Story of ‘Gus’ is familiar to a certain generation. His family fled Austria after Hitler’s Anschluss. The family didn’t rush into it but eventually they fled in 1939, to arrive in Australia and safety. Gus’ father was Jewish, but this meant that even his mother wasn’t safe even though she was not Jewish. (see this and other stories at http://www.ras.unimelb.edu.au/refugees_australian_stories/). There is the story of Maimun who fled the civil war and utter chaos of Somalia for a UNHCR camp in Kenya and in 1999 came to Australia. There is the story of Pierre who escaped certain death in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire) and who came to Australia in 2006. The story of Ayuel from Sudan whose family fled persecution and certain death, moving around camps in Ethiopia, Uganda (where the Sundanese militias pursued the refugees) and Kenya before being brought to Australia and safety. These are just some of a small collection of stories from refugees who have settled in Australia through the UNHCR program.

My own interaction has included working with “C” from Sudan (and “J” “J2” and “J3”, “D”). “C” was sent out of his village in south Sudan by his mother as the rebels entered shooting. “C” escaped the hail of bullets and wandered for days in the bush until entering Kenya. The story of “A” and his family is amazing, he escaped academic, religious, and political persecution and death in Iraq, he gave up a career, security, parents, and money to get here. 

Najeeba from Afghanistan reflects that for her to leave her friends and family and culture was the hardest thing she has ever done, but escaping the Taliban and oppression, abuse even death was a must that finally pushed her parents to come by boat to Australia.

Three years ago Ashane escaped by boat from Sri Lanka as a young man who the Tamils or even the government were attempting to press-gang into fighting in the guerrilla war (and please note that although the war is over, the government has continued its persecution of Tamils). (see http://www.rethinkrefugees.com.au/real_stories/).

From Europe in the 1930s to Afghanistan and Syria currently, there are substantive threats to the security and safety of ordinary people. The threat of death, persecution, oppression, torture, religious persecution, and the loss of human rights in general is real.

Why do they come? Because in many cases the people would die if they did not try. They are willing to die trying rather than remain and be killed by others. I would do that too! They clearly struggle to come to the conclusion that they should leave, but leave they must if they wish to live or even have rights.

My contention is that we have fallen into the trap of tribalism whereby we harp on about border protection and population control without really looking to see that we are a global people. We are all human and we all have inalienable rights. we need to educate ourselves more on why they come and what it is like to live in the shoes of refugees and reflect on how we might react and respond through hearing those stories.

For further reflection I would recommend the book and film “Kite Runner” which tells the story of how Russian intervention brought the collapse of the Royal family and enabled the rise of the Taliban (with U.S. help) and how the Hazara are persecuted by other groups in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. I would also recommend Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut “In The Land of Blood and Honey” a romantic (sic) story set in the midst of the Serb-Bosnian war and tells of ethnic cleansing, murder, rape, concentration camps and love. “The Killing Fields” and “Schindler’s List” are also valuable in alerting us to ‘why.’

And very confronting is the 2011 short film “Unwatchable” which was commissioned by charities to shock western audiences into action over the human price of gold for mobile phones and the destruction of lives to obtain that gold. The story uses a fictional English family who are raped and murdered to tell the true story of a Congolese family who went through this (interestingly the Guardian journalist Jane Martinson whinged about its brutality saying it made her faint and others sick – but that was the point, this was real for someone who couldn’t just wander down to the video store and choose a Disney film or go to Maccas for lunch!) The official site is now closed but the video is available on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=flePzz_CEuQ or engine search for “Unwatchable” within Youtube. It is six minutes long but a hard six minutes!

Why do people come? Because they live in fear and face death for many different reasons.

The U.N. Convention is a commitment by all countries to honour the rights of those who come to us as asylum seekers. But I have also already suggested that we shouldn’t hide behind the convention, we should respond humanely without recourse to laws. 

Paul

 

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Seeking Asylum: The U.N. Convention (or part two)

On December the 10th,1948 the United Nations publicly proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the General Assembly, it was two years in the making. The draftees were one from Canada, China, Lebanon and France, and Eleanor Roosevelt was its champion for adoption by the U.N.

Article 14 was the Article stating the world’s agreement that a refugee fleeing persecution had the right to seek, and the right to be provided with refuge.

The Convention in general, and article 14 in particular, came out of the experience of World War Two. And it came at a time when the world was changing (again) and facing new anxiety over communism and nuclear war. It also came amidst demanding post-war recovery programs for many nations with many devastated structurally and economically, and some in long term debt. So it was no trivial matter to expect that Article 14 was going to be a high demand on any nation given that people movement continued, and then grew post war with such economic devastation to contend with.

In 1951 the U.N. adopted the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, thereby expanding Article 14 into a full convention in its own right. it was put into force on April 22nd, 1954. but because the framing of the convention had been done with the recent World War in mind, it was limited in scope and geographical reference. So in 1967 the U.N. passed an amendment – the 1967 Protocol (which is the only amendment to date) which gave unrestricted universal application to the 1951 Convention.

The Convention and Protocol consolidated existing positive practices with regard to refugees such as the idea of a ‘Nansen Passport’ (Fridtjof Nansen the first Commissioner for Refugees – League of Nations 1922) which was to enable freedom of movement and gave identity to refugees. 

The Convention is status and rights based, and parallel to is has been the development of the International Human Rights Law.

There are some key points that should be noted about the Convention as I see it: 

  • The Convention was framed at a time when there was great upheaval and change.
  • The Convention was framed with the knowledge that the world was economically struggling.
  • The Convention was framed with cooperation from nations with diverse needs and views and often mutual antagonisms, but yet who rose above it all to make the Convention possible.
  • Arguably, the Convention came at a time, that because it was a different era, might be considered to be ‘primitive’ in  historical terms and development. Thus, if we live in a more enlightened and developed time, surely the Convention should not only stand inviolable, but if necessary, should be strengthened in favour of refugees rather than weakened by shallow political arguments! My contention is that if we consider ourselves to have progressed then surely we will have moved on from tribalism and selfish needs to global needs and reconciliation?
  • Australia was a proud and major contributor to the framing of the Convention and an avid supporter of its proclamation and adoption.
  • Australia was a positive sponsor of the 1967 Protocol.

The Convention also provides for protection of refugees by:

  • Requiring signatory states to provide asylum subject to the Convention.
  • Requiring signatory states to protect and provide basic life needs for refugees.
  • Requiring that signatory states do not expel or send refugees back to state they came from, this is one of the main principles of International Law – non-refoulment – which safeguards refugees from being returned to places of risk and danger. 

It seems to me that Australia has entered a time of psychological and cultural redoubt. 

Since the Howard Coalition Government came to power in 1996 there has been a desire to limit and prevent asylum seekers from directly entering Australia by the Coalition and by Labor. This was thought to be achievable by processing asylum seekers off-shore at Christmas Island, Manus Island and Nauru. This gets around the Convention because we are only obligated to accept asylum seekers who either (a) apply from within their own country to be given asylum in Australia or, (b) can enter by whatever means of their own or (c) are part of a U.N. negotiated quota. So that off-shore processing prevents direct entry, there are few places asylum seekers can apply to in any country, and therefore the number of asylum seekers is successfully diminished. However, while this may be ‘good politics’ (sic) it is a diminishment of our international role through the U.N.,  and it is an abrogation of our responsibility to the Convention in the spirit of the law. 

Since 1996 it has been politically expedient for politicians to play with the issue of Asylum as if it were an inanimate thing, rather than the lives of real people. A number of red-herrrings have been used to support the prevention of asylum seekers, economic (there have been no real (reviewed) costings of direct acceptance of asylum seekers in the public sphere), unemployment (a fickle topic to promote as definitive in any argument), population explosion (we are almost static). I can’t help but think that beyond these arguments, which are poorly argued in Parliament and in public, we are actually dealing with the issue of race, religion and culture. Which is ironic, because those are some of the very reasons the asylum seekers come in the first place. This is clearly in contravention of the Convention and International Law, to which we are proud signatories, this, I believe, is a classic example of hypocrisy and political cowardice.

I can only conclude through my own reading and my direct experience with refugee families that we are as a nation playing to the idea of Australia as the White redoubt. Epic moral failure and an inability to explore positive humanitarian options onshore (as most other nations do).

Basically, if we cannot abide by the Convention, then perhaps we should withdraw from it, rather than pretend, at least then we could be seen for what we really are and believe – at least politically – a race conscious, religiously intolerant, culturally narrow nation(?).

And yet in spite of that, I still hold to a hope that we might yet see the light and think more globally and live a less insular life and open up fortress Australia.

Paul

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Seeking Assylum: A Christo-Judaic View (or part one)

From a Christo-Judaic view the notion of refuge has been vital for justice and for the health of community. Internally, the people of ancient Israel were instructed (God through Moses) to designate six cities of refuge for those who had slain another person (Pentateuch – Numbers 35). If the slayer/murderer could make it to the city of designated refuge they were reprieved from the death penalty so long as they remained within the refuge city’s walls. it was latterly taught in rabbinical schools that any town run by the Levites was to be considered a town of refuge but only the designated towns could not refuse or revoke a refugee. So, although this was particular to Israel, it stands as a principal of compassion and for all people because Israel was originally to be the model for other peoples on how to live in the light and love of God.

And there is the imperative from Leviticus 19.33 – 34, that the people of Israel were to treat any alien in the land as if they were their own family. The end of verse 34 is particularly significant because it reminds the people of Israel that they too were once aliens in the land of Egypt. As with ironic and prophetic poignancy the Holy Family were also to find refuge in Egypt! (doubly ironic given the state of affairs of the modern Middle East!).

The missionary Don Richardson working in West Papua or Irian Jaya discovered that in that culture there was provision for cities of refuge.

In Islam the refugee is also cared for irrespective of religion or culture. The Prophet Muhammad found refuge among the people of Madinah, and there are many historical anecdotes and historical records of acts of refuge for Muslims by others and by Muslims for people of all persuasions. Shari’ah Law (Pathway) also encourages the safety of aliens and refugees, and teaches that anyone seeking refuge in a Mosque or sacred place is to be given protection and hospitality. But it also goes further and and encourages people to designate their homes and civic buildings as places for refuge. in the Qur’an, Sura 9.6 (see also sura 8.72 ff., and 9.100, 117, among many) asks for pagans to be given refuge, and yes, in the hope they will also eventually find hope in Allah, but the refuge (Aman) must be given!

Whether you are religious or not isn’t the point, it is that in culture past, people found within themselves to look beyond self and even to make laws to protect people, especially those seeking refuge. and if you are prone to a cynicism (original meaning – to question) then it is not about how religion has clearly failed to honour its own teachings. The ideal still stands, can we reach it?

I reflect on that and find hope, hope for a world where we are less concerned for tribe and self and more concerned for building a community where care and compassion can be the foundation for a less negative world. Where the globe itself is a city of refuge.

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A Global View: my bias and aspiration!

I must admit to an aspiration, I am looking for a global citizenry. I say aspiration because although I seek it, hope for it, pray for it, it may be many centuries (not-with-standing certain eschatologies) before we could begin to achieve that in non-political, religious, commercial ways. call me an idealist, but how wonderful it would be to wake up to a world without diminished tribalism and selfish individualism. Local identity is important in so much as we can have personal identity, transact culturally, build community etc., but if it becomes a tribalism we devolve to territorialism and become defensive and inwardly focussed. If we could look to a world community and be outwardly focussed I suspect we might just develop workable relationships fro all the key issues that affect every people group.

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History of Philosophy with a few (women-shaped) gaps.

History of Philosophy with a few (women-shaped) gaps..

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Five Steps to the Nîmes Labyrinth

blogmymaze

The Nîmes labyrinth is of the Cretan type although with a very special layout. The layout of the Cretan can be transformed in five steps to the Nîmes labyrinth. This is shown in the following illustrations. The figures on the left side show the starting point, whereas the right figures show the next step. In the right figures, the base situation is coloured in grey, the action in red and the result in black.

Ill. 1 shows the Cretan on a quadratic centered layout as the starting point (0). The center is somewhat enhanced; its height and width are 4 circuits wide. The reason for this is, that it enables us to bend all circuits 4 times by a quarter of a circle. By this, all opposite turns of the pathway are aligned along the axis and oriented vertically. (It is also possible to start with a rectangular layout with…

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The Land of the Free? Whose Freedom?

Am I alone in the world in that I think America is regressive, confused, and sliding into social chaos? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about the collapse of American society (although never rule anything out), I’m talking about social justice and democratic process.

Under G.W. Bush with a cabinet of corporates, the corporates have increased their hold over politicians. Obama’s administration shows little interest in dealing with corporate influence over federal politics. In fact it was reported in 2009 that Obama had lifted the ban on lobbyists under pressure from – lobbyists! I’m wondering who runs the country?

The NRA and other gun lobbyists have successfully neutered any attempt by the Obama admin. to make sensible changes to gun ownership. I’m left wondering what was so difficult about imposing a background check? And why do ordinary Americans need military weapons?

But even at state level it is endemic. Only recently there was a report that stated California’s proposal to impose a plastic bag ban had been undermined and subsequently defeated by lobbyists for the plastics industry.

Thank goodness the Australian Government saw the problems, and in 1983 began with the Lobbying Registration Scheme, replaced in 1996 with the Lobbyists code of conduct, and strengthened in 1998. In 2011 a new code was enacted. It probably isn’t perfect, but it has an affect and it is backed by the criminal code.

There is the inability of the American nation to deliver justice in health care, and yes there are always pros and cons in any proposal, but why can’t the nation positively engage with the idea of health as a justice issue?

There has been much musing over American corporate control and gain through the invasion of Iraq, so that irrespective of the outcome of actual war and policing, the corporates have done very well. And there is concern over arms length dealings in developing nations where pressure is unscrupulously applied to overcome local feeling and process to accommodate corporate greed.

The status of women in America is, to my eyes and ears, wretched. The attitudes (and in many cases the sheer, and embarrassing, ignorance) of conservatives to issues like rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, and the appalling attitude to abortion rights is just beyond logic.

The death industry has made a comeback in the States, Missouri is considering bring back the gas chamber (the mind boggles), and the culture of revenge plunges onwards (I can find no evidence of any reform process in the penal system in America).

The control of the media and the mind of the people, the continuing (though now deeply wounded) influence of Christian fundamentalists like Pat Robertson (if wives were spanked and disciplined the nation wouldn’t be in the mess it is in!!), the benign thinking of the Republican Party (GOP), are and should be a concern for everyone who values freedom and justice.

There are the usual constant reports about injustice; the homeless man arrested for using a flag to keep warm; two dogs shot by police for no substantive reason, and in one of the cases the owner arrested for filming the incident, the man who has been arrested because he chalked messages on the footpath out side the Bank of America critical of the bank, the arrest of a primary school aged girl for downloading music using torrents (older but pertinent news), a state (don’t recall which one) recently legislated to allow police to enter a home if the door was open (Why?), and so on.

Who remembers those seminal movies Silkwood and Erin Brockovich? What about Fair Game? For those of us outside America these have been movies of conscience, and alerted us to the quagmire of injustice and endemic corruption.

What about America and Global warming, the resistance to adopting climate measures and international treaties?

What about America and its corporate behaviour, Monsanto for example, and the way they treat farmers and their rights? Let alone the issues of greed through patent control and debt management.

And what about the NSA and spying?

Current issues are Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, and Edward Snowden. And in regard to Snowden America then interferes by forcing down the plane of Bolivian President Evo Morales because it thought Snowden was on the flight. What would have happened if that had been the President of France, or the Prime Minister of Australia? Why is it so difficult for the government of America to step back and reflect for a moment and consider the possibility that it is being called to take stock of its behaviour and to look to positive change? What gives America the right to behave inappropriately?

Why should it matter to non-Americans? Because, as recent history has shown, American (Mcdonaldization) decisions and values affect every nation (commerce and trade, war, cultural affect through media, spying, treaties, copyright issues, and bullying). America needs to learn to be a positive global player, and not a bully.

What would it take for America to stop, take stock and turn aside from its current behaviour? Am I alone in hoping it will one day be transformed for the better? Wouldn’t it be a relief to hear a President say, “we don’t like that we’ve been caught out, but we’re going to reflect on this and address our behaviour.” (Waiting for the pink elephant to fly past!).

Still, I live in hope, and I pray!

Paul

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