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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!

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