Friday, August 1, 2014

Dream Boat Refugees

Why are Australian’ so passionately afraid of Boat People?  Is it because we are genuinely concerned about safety at sea for these desperate people or are we appealing to the fear and racism that is buried deep amongst many of us?  After all the largest consignment of ‘boat people’ disembarked on this land on the 17th of January 1788 and many of the same people who are paranoid of refugees trace their ancestry back to this date. 

We are in Byron Bay to contemplate this and many other topics. 

We have decided to kick start the 3 day Writer’s Festival by sitting in on a session aptly titled Dream Boat Refugees!  The session includes Carina Hoang a Vietnamese refugee who left Vietnam by boat when she was just a teenager with her two younger sisters.  She has come to Australia via Indonesia, and the US. 

Read her amazing story:

Carina has now been inducted to WA’s inaugural Women’s Hall of Fame as one of their most courageous and inspiring women.  She has just produced a beautiful book of photos and stories about the journeys of boat people.  She shares small insights on her harrowing journey out of Vietnam, where she watched people die at sea.  Her story highlights what many refugees will tell you—that most people don’t really want to leave families and everything that constitutes home for them but they do so because they are fleeing persecution and have no option but to find a safer place to live. 

The session allows us to get our head around some numbers.  Only a small number of people who actually arrive in Australia come by boat—and they are between 2-7% of our annual migration.  Despite this, approximately 94% of people who come by boat are found to be genuine refugees while those who come by plane were more than twice as likely to be refused refugee status!  There are over one thousand children in our detention centres and many who are also living in community detention.  

If you watch the news you may have been led to believe that we are being swamped by refugees. In fact UNHCR numbers tell us that we only receive 3% of the refugee claims made in industrialised countries around the world. The largest number of refugees (80%) are actually hosted in developing nations! 

So in reality we are not really contributing our fair share to help all the people around the world displaced by wars we have helped support! 

One of the people on the panel is Julian Burnside a barrister who specialises in human rights and commercial litigation.  He explains the situation a little more.   The UN Refugee Convention to which we are a signatory recognises that refugees do have a legal right to enter a country and seek asylum regardless of how they arrive or whether they have a visa.  The refugees are not illegal.  Julian explains that the government is failing to comply with its international responsibilities. By suggesting that refugees are illegal it is able to then imply that they are criminals and so justify whatever actions it takes—such as locking up children. 

What if these kids were your own?  What would you do if you had to choose between the persecution of the Taliban or the slim chance you would make it to Australia.  What would you choose?

All I ask is this.  Can we stop the fear mongering, and hear their stories?

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