Tag Archives: Refugees

Seeking Asylum (Part 4) How Many Come?

The way the Australian media report on refugees or asylum seekers is either by overstatement or the opposite, silence. But then you would only have to look at who owns the media to work that out, as Australian media is (with the exception of the Australian Broadcasting Commission and SBS) privately owned with bias towards the ownership (which is to be expected). However, you would think that journalism might actually be journalism and question government and anti-refugee rhetoric. There is precious little reporting in the mainstream commercial media that challenges the lies and myths surrounding those seeking asylum.

According to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (2012 data) “23,000 persons per day leave their homes and seek protection elsewhere – more than the total number of asylum seekers arriving in Australia in a year.” http://www.asrc.org.au

According to the UNHCR: 

As at December 2012 there were 45.2 million people displaced. of which there were 15.4 million refugees, of which there were 10.5 million (with 4.9 million Palestinians under UNRWA mandate) refugees in 2012. Of that number 1,638,500 were being hosted by Pakistan, 868,200 hosted by Iran, 589,700 hosted by Germany, 564,900 hosted by Kenya, 476,500 hosted by Syria, and 376,400 by Ethiopia.

Developing countries  hosted over 80% of the world’s refugees (compared to 70% ten years ago).

Pakistan hosted the highest number of refugees compared to its national economy – 552 refugees per 1 USD of GDP. Ethiopia was second (303), Kenya third (301), South Sudan fourth (209). Germany was the first developed country on the ranking placing it 31st, with 15 refugees per 1 USD of GDP. Australia hosted 0.7 refugees per USD of GDP ranking it 77th in the world!

Australia’s World Ranking by:

  • Total number of asylum claims 20th.
  • Compared to our population size (per capita) 29th
  • By hosting 77th
  • Compared to our national wealth GDP (PPP) per capita 52nd

Australia’s Ranking of 44 Industrialised Countries (2012):

  • by total number of asylum claims 12th
  • compared to our population size (per capita) 16th
  • compared to our national wealth GDP (PPP) per capita 14th

Note: PPP is purchasing power parity.

By asylum applications received in 2012:

  • Asylum applications received in 2012 out of a global total of 2 million applications globally was 29,610. Australia’s share – 1.47%; Australia’s ranking 20th.
  • Asylum seekers recognised as refugees in 2012 globally 1.3 million. Australia’s recognition 8,367. Australia’s share – 0.61%; Australia’s ranking 28th.

For further statistical resource see:

http://www.unhcr.org/globaltrends/2012-GlobalTrends-annex-tables.zip

http://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/r/stat-int.php

Although New Zealand (pop. 4.3 million; Australia 22.2 million) only takes small numbers of asylum seekers under the quota system (750 per annum – plus/minus 10%) and although in 2011/2012 there were 364 extra claims from others who arrived in New Zealand by various means, only 115 were validated, it is the way they handle it. For a small nation they have a very healthy attitude to reception, processing, and the integration of asylum seekers. It certainly puts Australia’s attitude and policy(s) in a poor light despite population difference.

So, whether we look at our ranking within the industrialised nations, or globally across all nations, or wether we look at per capita (thus in relative context) Australia is woeful at taking in refugees.

A correlative is migration (another sticking point in Australian politics). A recent article at blogs.worldbank.org “Can I get the bill, please? Are immigrants a burden or net contributors to the public purse?” by Jean christophe Dumont and Thomas Liebig asks a number of questions about migration. One significant question is “the current doxa about the fiscal impact of migration is indeed that immigrants contribute less in taxes than they receive in benefits …” It is an expectation an unfounded attitude but not a reality. the converse is also true as the article explores the question as to whether immigrants are a fiscal panacea, and they are not. However, the authors contend that immigrants are neither a burden nor a panacea, but rather that “immigrants have a positive net direct fiscal position in most countries …” in other words, they are not a drain on any society.

The official immigration impact on OECD countries, including Australia is negligible when considered over a period of fifty years of migration study, to the point that the fiscal impact is “close to zero, rarely exceeding 0.5% of GDP …”

The subject of asylum seekers also raises the doxa of negative fiscal impact but that is also not true. In Australia refugees cannot access Centrelink, do not get public housing, rarely are able to get transitional housing, a limited number are able to get the Red Cross Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme (which is 89% of the New Start Scheme) for a short period of time. Refugees face higher rates of homelessness than other groups in Australia. Until a visa is granted they cannot access Medicare. They receive less than what it costs to pay rent and buy food let alone pay up-front for medical and dental costs.

There are many other myths surrounding asylum seekers. We need detention centres: well between 1948 – 1992 we successfully resettled 452,000 refugees, all processed directly within the community. There were no detention centres then and we more than coped. We must protect our borders: we do and have always done so, refugees by boat have always been checked and scrutinised no one is at risk in Australia from a boat arrival in spite of the government or media rhetoric (manufactured moral panic?)!

So, we are not being overrun, or flooded by refugees. We are not at risk. We take the least of many of our fellow industrialised nations. We are way behind developing nations in accepting refugees. They are neither a major drain on our economy nor a panacea (using the immigration ideal which is not radically different) as they have limited access to welfare or assistance.

So I’m wondering what the problem is?

I personally believe that it has a lot to do with the development of the nation and our beliefs about the ‘other’ the foreigner. With the reaction to the Chinese on the Victorian goldfields (1851), the fear of a Russian invasion (1885), the framing of the constitution to deliberately exclude non-whites and restrict non-english speaking peoples (Section 51, sub-sections 26 – 30), the treatment of German people during World War One, the riot in Kalgoorlie in 1934 against Italian migrants, the Imperial attitude to race and culture, all of these and more are contributing factors to an anxiety about the foreigner in Australia today.

I believe that the current fear is, as a direct result of ignorance, a fear of Islamic people, beliefs and culture (White Australia Policy again). Which is not dissimilar to how people reacted to the Chinese and the Germans and Italians in the past.

In addition, it has become popular in political circles to utilise this anxiety for political gain, so that people have become politicised and therefore dehumanised. There is a worrying connection with the insights of Georgio Agamben in his work ‘Homo Sacer’  and earlier, Hannah Arendt’s ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism’ which demonstrate how easy it is to create scapegoats, and to dehumanise and demonise a race or culture for political gain.

We are not overrun, we are not inundated, we would not be financially burdened in the extreme (especially if we used an integration process rather than a detention process – which is costing us dearly), so it must be (irrational) fear.

Only this past week, the U.N. has reprimanded Australia for reneging on its U.N. treaty obligations in regard to 46 refugees. We have descended from a nation of foreigners (excepting the indigenous Aboriginal peoples),risen to a nation that welcomed some foreigners after both World Wars, and then plummeted to a nation that resists foreigners. We have lost sight of our responsibilities as a nation on the world scene. We have lost our compassion in regard to asylum seekers. We are surely hypocritical to be sitting on the U.N. Security Council, sitting making decisions that affect other nations, sitting in judgement of other nations as we seek to reinforce U.N. treaties and conventions!

It is entirely possible to change this. Education about asylum seekers at all levels from school to parliament would help to restore a positive understanding of their plight and our responsibility to them, and the possibility of  their positive participation in our nation. To deconstruct the myths and distortions would help to re-humanise those who come to our shores by whatever means.

We need a new way forward on asylum seekers and refugees, one that will see them as people with inalienable rights, but also to see them as future Australians.

See:

epress.anu.edu.au/cw/mobile_devices/ch13s05.html  (chapter on the ‘White Australia Policy)

http://www.dictionaryofsydney.org  (reference to fear Russian  ship visiting Sydney)

“In Fear of Security: Australia’s Invasion Anxiety” Dr. Anthony Burke 2001

“U.N. castigates Australia for treatment of 46 refugees” Reuters, Geneva 22.8.2013

http://www.immigration.govt.nz  (refugee fact sheet)

Hannah Arendt ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism’ Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich  1973

Georgio Agamben ‘Homo Sacer’ Stanford University Press, 1998

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized