The queue-jumping myth
4 years ago I was studying psychology when I decided to take a human rights elective. For one of my pieces of assessment I decided to cover Australia’s asylum seeker policies. It was then that I heard about this guy called Tony Abbott who was the Leader of the Opposition, and I started to learn about what he wanted to do to asylum seekers if he was elected. Things like physically towing boats back to sea, and sending refugees that land in Australia to other politically vulnerable developing countries.
3 months later I had dropped out of psychology and I was now studying a Bachelor of Arts at a different university. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it, I just knew I couldn’t sit idly by while such evil men were rallying against our fundamental human rights. I wasn’t able to stop him getting elected, but I was no longer silently submissive and I continue to bare witness to the lives ended by our cruel asylum seeker policies.
What was it about him that triggered my change? The idea that asylum seekers don’t belong in Australia because they’re “queue jumpers”, and that those coming “illegally” by boat should be replaced by people coming legally by plane.
But here’s a fact drop: There is no such thing as an asylum-seeker queue. Of the15 million externally-displaced refugees (meaning those refugees that have left their home country), the United Nations only resettles 0.6% of them. 0.6%! That leaves 99.4% of the world’s refugees to fend for themselves!
War is not a calm, co-ordinated operation. It is violent, messy and chaotic. At the drop of the hat, war can fall upon any nation and cause the mass shift of thousands of people desperately scrambling to survive. There is no neat way to compartmentalise the conflict and effectively process all the victims. They mostly come from places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, and we can all understand why they’re fleeing.
Additionally, refugees don’t always have such easily identified reasons for fleeing. Sometimes the persecution isn’t generalised, it’s personal. This could be anyone facing a threat to their life including the death penalty, a form of punishment condemned by both the UN and Australia and therefore a credible reason for asylum. Countries like Iran execute women for outrageous reasons like wanting a divorce. Then there are countries like Sri Lanka recovering from a civil war that systematically pick people off the streets and dispose of them without calling international attention to themselves. There’re also groups like the Rohingya of Myanmar who are unrecognised by the government as human beings and are often referred to as the most persecuted people on Earth. Due to their lack of legal recognition and the hostility from their country they are completely without government support or protection from violence.
These people do what they can to survive, and sometimes that means paying a people smuggler to get them out of the country that’s trying to kill them. I’m not sure what queue Australians expect them to be lining up in.
Seeking asylum is not just a human right (our 14th right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), it’s also a right recognised by international law (The UN’s 1951 Refugee Convention). Australia ratified the UN Convention into Australian law in 1954, and as such our country recognises seeking asylum here is legal for all people. This means we have to accept them, it’s the fucking international law.
And there’s no way to slow the refugees. As long as Australia supports US’ invasions overseas, they support the creation of refugee crises and its our responsibility to clean up our own mess. Afghans and Iraqis are two of the three biggest groups of global refugees, and we seem to wholeheartedly support bombing their homes. And as one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gases – it’s certainly our responsibility to house the environmental refugees!
But for a little perspective… Australia never has taken its fair share of refugees. We consistently have one of the lowest intakes of refugees for a developed country. The countries with the highest refugee populations are those closer to the conflict, namely places like Jordan, Pakistan and Lebanon. It’s a rare anomaly for somebody to travel as far as to Australia to escape war. Usually they do it because they know someone who has made it here and they think we will provide a good life for them, which unfortunately isn’t always the case.
We are currently ranked:
– 50th by refugees per capita (measured as % of population)
– 67th by refugees per 1000 residents
– 70th by refugees per GDP per capita (our ranking in order of countries’ wealth)
Tony Abbott may get into the news and make up some story about Australians taking the most refugees per capita in the world. But what politicians say on TV is irrelevant to the truth.
Those that hold onto the queue myth are also those that completely fail to understand the world around them. If you don’t recognise the suffering of people in different countries and see the devastation they flee from, you’re prone to making up scenarios in your head such as “we’re the best country in the world and they just want our money”.
The truth is, refugees are victims. Many I’ve met personally have suffered extreme violence. Some have been permanently disabled by government torture.
They are vulnerable people trying to survive.
We have one of the strongest economies with ample land to share, and by law we are required to accept refugees as they come. There is no law that states they must arrive by plane. The vessel of travel is irrelevant to the truth of their asylum claim.
If your country was burning and your ethnic group was being slaughtered like flies, you’d flee too.
And I hope, if you do, you land upon the shore of a country much kinder than Australia.