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.
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 clichéd 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.