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Monday, June 27, 2011

Where did they get the money for that?

You know the ones! Those lucky few who can spend thousands and thousands of dollars to travel overseas!  Often to countries that you haven't been to.  You know, countries like Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Indonesia and with the value added thrill of not carrying legal documents or shacking up in dangerous refugee camps or prisons.  I know a lot of people would love an adventure holiday.  How many would pay up to $25,000 for the adventure of travelling 'illegally', to or through countries with poor human rights records and then, just to really spice things up, chartering a leaky boat with dozens of other fellow travellers so that you can spend days at sea with the hope of being imprisoned when you make landfall; praying of course that the boat doesn't sink or catch fire in the meantime.

Yep.  It must be good to be so lucky.  To have that much money to waste paying some unscrupulous capitalist to smuggle your family and maybe you from a country where there is a high chance of rape or murder to a country which might eventually accept that you really were in danger, and therefore are a genuine refugee.

Where DID they get the money for that?

Surely if someone can afford to spend anywhere between $5,000 and $25,000 on people smugglers then they must only be an economic refugee not a humanitarian one... surely?  After all, only poor people are persecuted, only people who don't own anything are oppressed.  Aren't they?

Let's set the scene:

(1) Marauding government or civilian hordes raping, pillaging, murdering your people group
(2) To save your family you flee ... often across a border into a neighbouring country
(3) You are now treated as illegal with all the benefits which that entails.
(4) You are now in a refugee camp.  Some of these camps suffer violence from locals whose country you have just fled to.
(5) Your life is on hold, you can't get a job, you can barely feed your family, your children are no longer receiving an education.
(6) You apply for a humanitarian visa, but this could take years.  You know of people who have been in the refugee camp for 5 years or more. By then your children will be adults with no education and no longer having dreams of being doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers.  A few years in a soul destroying refugee camp will do that to a child... and an adult...
(7) Let's call this 'Option 1'.

Let's rewind a few years:

(1)You are in a country with marauding government or civilian hordes raping, pillaging, murdering your people group.
(2) You and your extended family (aunts, uncles, cousins), decide that someone has to make a break for it to a country where the children will have an opportunity for an education, where you can recommence your life and you can make a worthwhile contribution to a new society.
(3) Let's call this 'option 2'.

The problem with option 2 is that it will cost thousands of dollars and risk the life of yourself and/or your family.  Option 1 is relatively free but costs you and your family your soul, your motivation, your dignity and you will have to abandon your house, your shop, your farm ... it costs you everything.

Of course there is Option 3, which is 'do nothing' and remain in your own county, but that means remaining in a high risk situation in which your family may be kidnapped, raped, murdered at any time.   It's your choice if you want to do that, but for the purpose of this article, let's run with Option 2.

So option 2 requires you to raise some cash.  You sell your house, your shop, your farm, the sheep, the crops . Your extended family have to pitch in and your uncles and aunts and cousins sell what they have in order for you to be the lucky one who will risk life and limb to reach a humane country and then to assist in bringing the rest of the family over.

You pay a people smuggler and the first thing they do is ask for your documents. If you have any, you give them to the smuggler.  Of course, some countries don't issue passports.  For instance, Afghanistan only issues an identification card, not a passport.  Some countries, including Afghanistan do not even bother recording birthdays.  For some Muslims it is unIslamic to celebrate birthdays.  Hmm... It would appear that accurate identity documents are already a problem.  Some countries, such as Somalia are not safe for you to apply for a passport.  It is tantamount to waving a flag and saying 'come persecute me'.  Then there are countries which don't recognise certain areas or people groups, for instance Kashmiris and Kurds.

What say you fled the country in a hurry?  Often times it can be difficult finding important things when there is a marauding horde outside your door baying for your blood.  How many Aussies could locate their passport in a hurry whilst being attacked?  For that matter, how many Aussies have passports?  But of course we are in a safe country and this could never happen here (let's forget what might have happened with the Brisbane Line in World War 2).  Then there is another issue with carrying documents.  If you are fleeing a country, do you think it would be safe to carry identity documents? This would come in handy for the government to identify you and continue their persecution of you and your family based on your religion, race, area of origin ... all those things that might be easy to determine from your real name and address.

As a result of any one or more of the above scenarios the chances are that you are not travelling with identity documents.  This may cause problems once you arrive at your destination, but for now all you are concerned with is the safety of your family and yourself.

Let's say this little adventure goes to plan and you arrive in Malaysia or Indonesia.  You were smuggled in. You are treated like a criminal.  So, just like Option 1, your life is on hold.  You can't work and can't educate your children.  In this country, you may be subject to corporal punishment, extortion and in some areas there is forced prostitution.  Is this the sort of life that you want for your family?  There is nothing to be gained from hanging around.  So you press on and make for Australia. After all, if you are imprisoned in a country lacking human rights, you might as well be imprisoned in a country with better human rights.

Finally you make it to Australia and spend say a year or so in detention at Christmas Island or Villawood or some such detention centre.  Eventually the government accepts that you (and hopefully your family) are genuine refugees and you are released into the community.  You look for other people from your country and your religion, after all they are the ones who you identify with; they are the ones who understand what you have suffered and the fear that you have for your family and friends left behind.

You were someone in your country, maybe you were an engineer or a doctor.  But here that means nothing.  You need to work, so you end up driving taxis.  It is a living and you save as much as you can to send to your family and assist others to make the risky journey.

Some people criticise those who pay people smugglers and accuse them of not being genuine refugees or of taking the places of poorer refugees.  Of course, those who make this criticism often don't care for the poorer refugees either.  Keep in mind that Australia allows for both on-shore and off-shore applicants.  As we are so concerned with poorer refugees being disadvantaged by 'cashed up' refugees, why doesn't Australia increase its off-shore quota? Considering the quota only allows for around 10,000 or so refugees anyway, would it kill us to at least double it? This might encourage more people to apply from off-shore locations rather than making the risky journey in a leaky boat in order to make an on-shore application.

Those who criticise the 'rich' refugees for illegally(?) entering our country should keep in mind that Jewish and other refugees who fled Nazi Germany were often rich and used people smugglers to aid and abet their entry into other countries.  They were the lucky ones.  They were the ones who had the means to avoid the death camps, whilst those not so lucky or well-resourced, suffered horribly.  Does anyone begrudge them for escaping by any means possible?  Does anyone begrudge them entering other countries 'illegally' or for using people smugglers?  Does anyone care whether they were cashed up or not? Means testing has never been a criteria for determining the eligibility or validity of a claim for asylum on humanitarian grounds.

Those who are suffering and are willing to do anything, to pay anything to save their families are as legitimate as those who spend year after year wasting their lives in the limbo of a refugee camp in another country.

This is not an endorsement for people smuggling.  It is acknowledging the reality that whilst there is persecution and difficulty in migrating, people will do anything that they can to save their families and themselves.  Before judging those who would do this, ask yourself what you would do if you were in their situation.

More than 90% of boat people arriving in Australia are found to be genuine refugees.  Government rhetoric about 'stricter border protection' is politicising the genuine suffering that refugees are escaping from. Our borders do not need protection from the victims of persecution.  Australia should not politicise, criminalise or dehumanise the victims of crime.

Instead of judging those who risk their lives in circumstances that we don't understand or appreciate, instead of hating them, we should be compassionate, we should put ourselves in their situation.

Rather than judging, we should be identifying with them.  They are no different to us.

Their hearts yearn for the same things that our hearts yearn for: safety, security, happiness, love.

Let's identify rather than vilify!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Do Gooders - on a Mission from God!

Do Gooders! You know the type.  Always out there campaigning for "peace not war", for refugees, for human rights and the list goes on.  Do Gooders!  Usually those left wing, chardonnay sipping types who have adopted John Lennon's Imagine as their manifesto.

Do Gooders!  Defined by the Free Online Dictionary as naive idealists who support philanthropic or humanitarian causes or reforms.

The term "do gooder" is often used disparagingly by conservative voters to criticise those of us who actually believe that people can and should live together in peace, that people deserve to be treated with dignity - "to do to others as we would have them do to us".   Oh, isn't that a quote from the bible? Yes, actually, Jesus said it in Matthew 7:12.

Could it be that Jesus was a Do Gooder?  After all, he saved that adulteress from being stoned by an angry mob, even though stoning is what the law called for.  Could it be that Jesus wasn't too hung up on punishment, but on delivering mercy, compassion, justice and love?

Man, what a Do Gooder!

But then He was the Son of God!  Perhaps that excuses his mild and meek, do gooder attitude!  Although mild and meek doesn't explain Jesus at all.  It was He who threw the money changers out of the temple for perverting the place of God. 

Jesus came to save us from damnation, from Hell, from condemnation.  The world is in balance.  Physically and Spiritually.  Physical balance was described by Isaac Newton with his three laws of motion; you know, equal and opposite forces etc etc.  

Spiritually the world is in balance too: God and Satan, Heaven and Hell, sin and payment for sin.  The bible says that the wages of sin is death.  Spiritual death.  Spiritual death being eternal separation from God.  You sin, you go to Hell. One way to pay for sin was a blood sacrifice, usually a lamb, but that is so Old Testament.  Jesus became the Lamb of God and paid the ultimate sacrifice for our sins, even going to Hell and rising 3 days later from death.  This is why we say that Christians are saved.  We are saved from Hell because Jesus went there in our place.  We deserved to go Hell, but God through his love for us showed us grace that we did not deserve by sending Jesus to pay for our sins.  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn, but that the world through Him might be saved. (John 3:16-17).

What has this to do with "do gooders"? 

Ephesians 2:8-10 tells us exactly what this has to do with Do Gooders:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

What are these good works that God has prepared for us?

These are just some of the good works that we have been called to do:
  • Spread the good news.  Gospel literally means "good news".  What better way to do good than to spread good news.  Matthew 28:19 "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you ...".  One of those things we should be teaching, is to do good!
  • Caring for the poor, the oppressed, the widow, the stranger.  There are over 2,000 scriptures which refer to caring for the poor.  When the bible refers to the stranger, it means strangers in the land: travellers, immigrants, refugees!  The parable of the sheep and the goats, described in Matthew 25:31-46 which is summarised in verse 34-35 "inherit the kingdom prepared for you ... for I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to Me."
  • Making peace, not war.  In the beatitudes which Jesus delivered in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-11), He says "blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."
  • Love everyone.  In Matthew 22:37-39, Jesus explains that the law is summed up in two great commandments: "love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind ... and ... you shall love your neighbour as yourself ".  It doesn't say to love your neighbour if they are the same colour and religion as you.  Love your neighbour!
  • Do Good!
Just to clarify.  We are not saved by good works, but to do good works!

Why has the role of  "do gooder" been left to the left wing?  Why are conservatives and the religious right so opposed to Do Gooders?  This isn't to say that the left is perfect and the right is going to hell.  The right wing certainly have their virtues as do the left wing.  The issue is with using "do gooder" as an insult, when it should be a compliment.

Christians are by commandment of God, called to be Do Gooders and we should be leading the way in doing good works, we should be teaching the world how to do good.

After all, Jesus set the standard for doing good.


This article has also been published at 'The Christian Left' blog:

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Truth, Lies and Refugee Entitlements

There are numerous emails being circulated about what refugees are entitled to.  Most of the emails are full of blatant lies.

They claim that refugees are entitled to far more than any Australian is.  The truth is that refugees (that is those asylum seekers who have been assessed as being a genuine refugee and granted residency in Australia) are entitled to the same benefits as any other Australian resident or citizen.  No more, no less.

However, asylum seekers who are yet to be assessed, receive nothing. Zero dollars! No allowances at all.  So certainly cannot be accused of receiving more benefits than Australians.

This fact sheet from the Australian Government answers many of the claims in these emails:

A further refutation of these claims is also available at the following website:

The only advantage that is applied to refugees over other immigrants is the waiting period for benefits.  This waiting period is waived on humanitarian grounds, as refugees do not normally arrive cashed up or sponsored by an Australian citizen.  

Some of these emails claim that Australia only accepts refugees from North Sudan, which is predominantly Muslim.  The emails asks why does Australia bring in Muslim Sudanese instead of Christian Sudanese who live mainly in southern Sudan.   The Department of Immigration advises that 83% of Sudanese refugees are Christian, whilst only 12% are muslim. Refer to the below fact sheet from the Department:

Another claim is that refugees are given $50,000 either to settle or per year.  This is another false accusation.  It is possible that this figure is a perversion of the actual cost to detain a refugee under Prime Minister Howard's mandatory detention policy, as explained in a speech given in May 2001 by the Hon Marcus Enfield: "We are now the only developed country in the world which practises indiscriminate indeterminate incommunicado detention of asylum seekers. Alone of all countries in the world, including Canada, the United States and the nations of Europe and Scandanavia, we have indiscriminately detained all of them - the elderly, the children, the sick and the pregnant - at a cost by the way of around $50,000 per person per year ...".   May 2001, Hon Justice Marcus Enfield (AO, QC, PhD) in a speech at the Jessie Street Trust Annual Gathering, Parliament House, NSW.

Many of these emails will claim that Muslims don't have Christian values and therefore will not assimilate and are not welcome.  Yet the emails are full of hate, intolerance, racism and blatant lies which are far removed from values that Christians should embrace.

These emails appeal to people's fear of those who are different, to the fear that people will lose their way of life.  So they are circulated at a prolific rate.  They may be lies but the proliferation of them results in people believing they are true, further reinforcing hatred, fear, racism and xenophobia in Australian society. 

"His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if  you repeat it frequently enough, people will sooner or later believe it".  United States Office of Strategic Services describing Adolph Hitler's psychological profile in a report entitled "Hitler as his Associates Know Him", page 51.

In late 2011, another email circulated which was also full of blatant lies and demonising of asylum seekers.  Some of the claims in this email include:

1. "Federal police are making fewer drug busts because they are spending resources policing asylum seekers".  This is wrong.  Australian Federal Police drug busts have increased 300% in 2011.

2. "Asylum seekers are given mobile phones to call anywhere in the world and have incurred a combined bill of $5,000,000".  The federal government does not provide asylum seekers in detention with mobile phones.  They have access to land-lines to seek legal advice. Some asylum seekers are given mobile phones with limited credit whilst in community detention for safety reasons. Some refugee advocacy groups have sent mobile phones to detainees but these are not paid for by the government.

3. "As the boat sank off Christmas Island in 2010, rescuers threw life jackets to the people in the water".  The email alleges that the adults pushed their children out the way so they could save themselves. This is wrong as can be seen on video footage of the tragedy.

4. "Asylum seekers in detention tell their guards that 'they are there to serve the asylum seekers' and when they don't, the asylum seekers attack the guards".   Another falsehood. Much of the violence in detention centres has been caused by asylum seekers whose claims are denied and have not yet returned home, or by people frustrated by the length of time taken to process their claims.

5. "Asylum seekers print out their welfare entitlements from the net".  This is false. Asylum seekers are not entitled to welfare until their claims have been approved and they have been granted residency.

6. "After 12 months, the asylum seekers have saved $10,000 which they send to their families in their country of origin for the use of bringing them out to Australia".  Again a falsehood.  Even after being granted residency, refugees are only entitled to the same welfare entitlements as other Australians.  It would be quite an achievement for anyone to save $10,000 a year whilst on the dole. (If they can achieve this, then they should be working as a financial counsellor).

7. "Asylum seekers on Christmas Island have access to broadband internet whilst the locals only have dial-up". This is false, asylum seekers have access to the same internet connection that Christmas Island locals have.

There have been articles in the media reporting the abhorrent practice of giving refugees "plasma televisions".  In this day and age, television is considered almost a basic human right.  Refugees are provided with a start-up pack to assist them in furnishing their accommodation.  After all, they have fled persecution and generally arrive with nothing.  The furniture start-up pack has basic necessities; beds, dining table, lounge and the much demonised "big screen plasma television".  Firstly, they left their own TVs at home in their rush to avoid being raped and murdered.  Secondly, the two most common types of televisions available in Australia are LCD or plasma.  As for big-screen, refugees may be provided with a 52cm television, hardly big-screen, but then who would put a smaller television into a lounge room?

The prolific circulation of emails and criticism such as these demonise refugees, blame them for our economic ills and accuse them of destroying our way of life. 

Debate over refugees needs to be framed rationally and based on truth.  Emails such as these contribute nothing constructive to discussions and often incite further hatred and fear against asylum seekers and refugees.  Opinions either for or against Australia's refugee intake should be based on facts, not lies, not fear, not racism. 

(Image by Barry Deutsch,, licenced under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported licence)


Friday, June 3, 2011

Labor canes refugees

The Australian Labor government claimed that Naura could not take asylum seekers because it was not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention. Yet the ALP is effectively condoning torture and human rights abuses through their deal to swap refugees with Malaysia.  A country known to not respect the human rights of refugees. A country were the cane is regularly used on refugees. Whilst the government claims to have secured guarantees from Malaysia that refugees will not be abused, it is unfathomable that they could be so naive as to believe that Malaysia will abide by this guarantee or that it can be monitored.

To facilitate this deal, the agreement deletes reference to the words "human rights" and describes refugees as "illegal immigrants" which is a despicable untruth and further justifies the vilification and demonisation of refugees.

How can the Labor government possibly do this after years of opposition to Howard's Temporary Protection Visas and Pacific Solution?  This deal almost makes those policies appear to be the epitome of compassion by comparison.

Instead of pandering to the xenophobic legacy of the Pacific Solution, the Labor government should show some mettle and defend those who need defending. Refugees are victims, not criminals.

Australia cannot erect a fence around it and be insulated from the rest of the world as the bigotted policies of the Liberal Party would have us believe.

Certainly we don't want to see refugees risking their lives in leaky boats, however, the government's efforts should be directed towards improving processing and increasing quotas rather than subjecting these people to abuse.  People smugglers should be the target of the government's punishment, not refugees. 

How can the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, state that he doesn't want to see a repeat of the numbers of deaths that have occured from sinking boats and then justify condemning asylum seekers to a brutal and inhumane existence in Malaysia.  Mr Bowen states that he doesn't want asylum seekers thinking that there is some sort of exemption in place for them.  Is it really so bad if they think that? Why shouldn't the Labor government promote Australia as a beacon of compassion instead of embracing the red-neck, racist vitriol that is permeating our society. 

What next? Send them to the Gulags?  Reopen concentration camps?

Evidence of the attrocities that refugees face in Malaysia were detailed in an article published in on 27 Feb 2009, at,-handcuffed,-victims-of-profiteers-14598.html . The article catalogues such abuses as refugees treated as criminals, handcuffed and held in remote prisons, hundreds packed into cramped rooms, women humiliated and forced to strip in front of guards and squat and then made to remain topless, body searches, and all the while profiteerers exploiting the refugees. 

Is this what Australia condones? Men, women & children stripped of their lives, stripped of dignity, punished for being victims?  Yet through both the Malaysia and Pacific Solutions this is what Australia is doing and has done.

Instead of defending the indefensible, we should be defending the defenceless!

In the name of decency,  human rights, morality, dignity and the original ALP virtue of a fair go for all, the Labor government should rescind this inhumane and irresponsible decision immediately.