Monday, December 5, 2011

Mixing politics

I'm beginning to realise it's not worth mixing Facebook and politics. It's simply too disheartening when someone comments in a way that goes against every grain of my beliefs. I'm all for healthy debate, but when I lose respect for someone in the process, I can't help but wonder if it's worth it.

Yesterday, I saw an excellent visual representation about the situation faced by asylum seekers in Australia, compared to those in various other western countries. It is shameful, and a cause very close to my heart.

[Graph source]
Too many Australians whinge about the asylum seeking boat people - that they have it 'easy', that they get too much financial assistance from the government. This graph really puts the situation into perspective.

I don't know about you, but to me, there is nothing 'easy' about this. First of all, for a person to seek asylum means they've been having a pretty damned horrendous time of it in their own country, and not in a crap-the-bank-wants-more-money-from-me-and-I'm-sick-of-this-awful-weather sense. No, there is usually a fear for survival at stake, whether it's political, religious or economical.

Secondly, the journey made by these asylum seekers, by boat, is downright dangerous. To choose to be on a cramped, tiny boat that's travelling the massive distance from Indonesia to Australia, at the mercy of the open elements and giant ocean waves; not to mention the unsanitary conditions on board as a result of unscrupulous mercenaries who've organised the trip and try to fit as many people on to one tiny vessel as possible... well, if a person is prepared to undertake such a journey, to me that speaks volumes about the nightmarish existence they're desperate to escape.

Thirdly, for those who survive the journey, they are not treated with dignity. They are herded into detention centres, for a ridiculous period of time. Interrogated. Not given the useful tools needed to adapt to a new life in a new country... and then people wonder why there are social problems down the track in some of the areas that the asylum seekers settle in.

I can't speak personally for the asylum seekers in Australia, but one of the first teaching gigs I had in London was at an adult community college, working with refugees. I had students from Somalia, Iraq, Jordan, Bosnia, and Kosovo. I heard some of their horror stories first hand, and will never forget.

I will never forget the young Kosovan mother, pale, trembling, tears spilling, her vocabulary unable to fully articulate her nightmares, but her face saying it all. Being trapped in a room, all the young men around her, shot dead in her presence, as she held her smallest children. Stepping over the bodies. Seeing their destroyed heads in her dreams. Haunted. Telling me she has post-traumatic stress disorder, yet no referrals for professional counselling.

When I hear people imply that asylum seekers are somehow not 'genuine', and are faking it, I see red. To hurl such accusations makes a mockery of countless people who have seen hell. Why would anyone leave their home country with little more than the clothes on their back? Make such a dangerous trip on a boat? Knowingly endure less-than-welcoming detention centres? Indefinitely?

I don't understand the resentment towards asylum seekers, and it's an increasingly prevalent attitude amongst certain sections of Australian society that makes me feel ashamed and disgusted. I do understand there are financial implications for when a nation accepts a number of asylum seekers, but figures show that far more money is actually spent on chasing down and deporting visitors who have overstayed their visas - usually visitors from Western countries. I'm too lazy to link the figures here today, but I've read 'em.

Why the grudge-holding? Why don't people see how lucky they are to have grown up in a country in peaceful times, with access to good public health and education? Why don't people see that it's the right thing to help out a person in need? Why don't people see that by embracing people from other cultures, we can enrich our own?

I don't have any answers, so when I saw what a friend - someone I've known since school - had commented on my link to the above image on Facebook, crying the clich├ęd phrase about only 'some asylum seekers being genuine', I saw rage. And disappointment. Being late at night, and in different time zones, I decided to sleep on it rather than reply in anger... so eight hours later, I replied. I was happy that I held off on the angry tones, then he bit back and said even more that I'm unable to erase from my mind. I am disappointed, and racking my brains, wondering what's happened in his life (as far as I know, he's done alright for himself) to make him so unwilling to accept the possibility of asylum seekers not being part of a grander conspiracy.

Whatever happened to empathy? Compassion?

That'll teach me, anyhow. No more politics on Facebook. If any more of my friends or family were to respond in a similar manner, to this topic that I feel deeply about, I don't know that I'd deal with it too well. I'd think I'd rather not know how they felt.


  1. I had a similar experience with a political comment on Facebook. I agree it is a bloody minefield and sometimes not worth the trouble.

    I can only speak very generally about the topic and I must make it clear that the following is my personal point of view (though not formed in a vacuum if you get my drift). The most obvious thing to me is that the actual people who come on boats comprise only a small number of the total percentage of arrivals each year who seek asylum. Many more arrive by plane yet the focus is always on the boat people. Why? It is good political mileage. It gets people fired up - suddenly, an English course and settlement programmes become "generous handouts not available to the rest of us".

    It is a political football. Nobody wants to appear "soft" on the issue as there are people here unlawfully - perhaps working for cash in hand jobs and staying under the radar either until they are caught or until they decide to come forward. The people in detention centres have one thing in common - they do not hold a valid visa to enable them to live in the community. Either their visa has expired, their visa has been cancelled and they will soon be removed or they never had a visa or any papers at all in the first place.

    The issues of these very different caseloads - visa overstayers, unlawful non-citizens and arrivals with or without papers and applying for asylum tend to mesh in the public imagination. It becomes one amorphous whole.

    What is talked about in the media, is only a very small part of the story. For the majority of people who choose to look no further at the issue, it satisfies them on some level. Most people who are willing to think for more than five minutes about it can see that clearly there is more to it. It is complex ... far too complex an issue to be reduced to such simplistic terms a'la "A Current Affair". =)

    By the way, I'm sorry you had such a rude awakening with someone you regarded as a friend. It is never pleasant.

  2. Agree, agree agree!!!! Facebook and politics = mindfield...don't even get me started...needless to say I all but disowned some cousins around the time of the federal election. (They are no longer on my friend list on FB).
    Sweeping comments I have heard people come out with about asylum seekers makes my skin crawl. I just think ...stop talking, because the more you talk, the more stupid you sound!

  3. You are both such lovely ladies! Thank you for the replies. Knowing open-minded, generous, wise people such as yourselves makes up for the rude awakenings that happen from time to time.

    The horn-locking ram in me (I'm an Aries...) couldn't resist going back to the debate for more, but I'm proud to have done so without getting nasty. Unfortunately, a big part of my personality involves wanting the final say. I tend to keep this trait under wraps online, but for those who know me in real life, they'll agree that I can argue until I'm blue in the face. Here's hoping this friend of mine gives up soon...

  4. A government that is 'tough' wins votes. But what about compassion? If a government chose to stand up and make decisions guided by compassion and empathy, with a spirit of charity, would there be votes in it? I think there would.

    But thus far, no government has had the balls to be different.

    Aussie Pride? Not so much.

  5. Issues like this make me wish I were Scandinavian, so I wouldn't feel ashamed by such politics - they seem more enlightened about that sort of thing in that corner of the world. There is the small issue of ball-breaking cold climate, though...

  6. Is it really economics though?

    Assuming ACA is correct in its accusations that every single asylum seeker is a fraud, then what benefit does the taxpayer gain from feeding, clothing, housing and providing medical benefits for every single detainee for 224 days?

    If it was really economics, then wouldn't the taxpayer be better of by allowing these people to live and work for 9 months *as a normal immigrant worker*, paying taxes, consuming goods and contributing to the economy.

    What are these "hand outs" that are bandied about? Are we talking about the fact that Australian tax payer has to pay to detain someone for 224 days at their expense. Thats a big expense. How much are the "hand outs"? What are they exactly?

    So I severely doubt any of this ACA spew has anything to do with rationality, or economics, but is simply racism.

    And as such I feel pretty confident about berating people until they just a) Shut The Fuck Up Like The Racist Cunts They Are or b) unfriend me. Either's fine.

  7. And from here on in, I will be copy and pasting the above if ever I am faced with this tired (racist) debate.

    You're married to him, Mad. Snaps.

  8. Yep. For someone to mix my DNA with, and help raise compassionate kids? I chose very wisely. x