In July 2013, on my first blog, I wrote about stemming the awful, bloodied tide of asylum seekers to Australia, in some hope our country might find a way to help people desperately in need and willing to take any risk to reach safety.
In honour of Aylan Kurdi, a precious three-year-old Syrian refugee now known around the world for his lifeless corpse lying on a Turkish beach, I want to repost what I wrote then. It wounds me so deeply that nothing has changed…
I cannot begin to imagine the factors that drive a family to pack their entire lives into whatever they can carry, and flee their country of origin. Those of us who live in the safety and security of this country can only wonder at the fear and sadness endured by people who find themselves with this as their only option.
From what I understand, after months, often years of skipping between camps and countries, those seeking asylum usually find themselves in the relative safety of a UNHCR camp. Unfortunately, these camps are hardly what you might call, comfortable. People in them submit their scant paperwork to UNHCR staff in an attempt to claim asylum in a nation where they feel they will be free from persecution and often war.
They have no rights to earn a living while in the camp, waiting for their claim to be processed, meaning they are completly reliant on the charity of others and the UN to provide food and clean water. Sanitation is almost non-existent and heating in winter as well as cooling in summer are unheard of. Men find themselves not only emasculated, their role in the community and family as the provider stripped away, but also bored, traumatised and angry. Ask the social services workers in Melbourne currently dealing with groups of young men recently migrated to the country, now turning to crime and gang like behaviour. They will tell you, these are the leading factors toward this sort of spiral into poverty and violence.
Children also have no access to a normal education, only whatever basic lessons the thinly spread UN staff can provide.
One could say, ‘Well, this situation is only temporary! They aren’t there forever!’. While waiting for the UN to process their claim, many asylum seekers can be in camps like this for years. Is it any wonder, when faced with the choice of languishing in a camp like a caged animal or risking everything to get to Australia, so many people choose to run the gauntlet?
Politics aside, these are human beings we are talking about. People with mothers and fathers, siblings and spouses. Not only do they often have children but more and more, they are children! And they are fleeing monsterous violence; things we could not dream of seeing day to day. Asylum seekers the world over are in pursuit of one thing: a better life.
They seek a life where they can earn a modest living and pay taxes, in a country where those taxes then pay for universal, world class medical care. They don’t want the highest paying job in the land, they simply want a job.
They want to pay their own way so their children can go to school everyday; a school that won’t be blown up by a drone strike, or shot out by extremists because girls are in attendance, or a school where their sons and daughters can study together as equals. Whatever you might say about the education system here in Australia, it’s likely to be a damn sight better than Afgahnistan.
They want to go to sleep at night without the fear of a bomb falling on their home. They want running water that’s clean and safe to drink. They want simple things; safety, health, education, work and a future.
And who can blame them. Aren’t these the things we all want?
So what can our government do to stop people taking the massive risk of climbing on a boat in an attempt to gain such a life?
Take the pressure off the UNHCR camps by resettling pre-processed, authenticated asylum seekers. Help the UN and the host countries of these camps to improve conditions, so the prospect of spending a decent amount of time awaiting resettlement isn’t so daunting. When people seeking asylum see that waiting in a camp has a more positive outcome than boarding a boat, the people smugglers lose the base from their market.
Can we strike a deal where the Australian government agrees to take processed asylum seekers … If we agree to take the pressure off, perhaps other countries will be more willing to assist us in stemming to flow of boats and inevitably, blood.
Again, I don’t pretend to be an expert, but something must be done. People are dying. We demand better conditions for animals and live exports in Australia, why not human beings?
Lets not all jump into the leaking boat of ‘locking the borders’. We don’t know where it will take us, or how quickly it will sink.