Seeing what is happening in our off-shore detention centres made me ashamed to be an Australian. Of course I KNEW of these shocking situations, but to see it - and try to take it all in - was overwhelming.
It was just over 40 years ago that a fishing vessel carrying a small number of Vietnamese refugees landed in Australia. These were desperate people.
As time went by a further 2000 ‘boat people’ arrived; most on unsuitable and rickety vessels.
There is a lot more to this story. It involves political decisions and changes in attitudes. Something had to be done. It was not an easy task.
But eventually a better formal refugee program was introduced and more ‘authorised’ refugees were accepted and settled, which stopped the terrible risky boat journeys.
So, all those years ago, we had a ‘Stop the Boats’ system that worked and, eventually about 90,000 Vietnamese refugees arrived by plane, after being processed in offshore camps in S.E Asia. This processing usually took less than three months, before they were settled in Australia.
From those early 1970s arrivals, the Australian Vietnamese community is now estimated to be over 200,000…that is, counting the next generation.
The immense positive contribution to Australia by people originally from Vietnam is incalculable.
But now we have refugees from other war-torn parts of the world seeking asylum in Australia who are imprisoned in ‘off-shore’ detention places – and have been there for years.
Remember – processing of asylum seekers used to take three months. Is any ‘processing’ being done at all lately? I suspect not!
Asylum seekers in detention are rotting away, neglected - with nothing to do and nothing to hope for. There is no vision of hope for them and, as they sweat and struggle in these tropical hell holes on Manus Island and Nauru, we, the Australian people, are spending over ONE BILLION dollars, repeat: over ONE BILLION dollars a year on housing and guarding (!) these poor people; people who have already witnessed and experienced horrors that you and I cannot even imagine.
For the record, it is NOT illegal to seek asylum, so these people are NOT illegal.
Surely someone from some leading political party can go back into our forty-year history and see how the Fraser government dealt with refugees in the 1970s and 80s. Is there anyone still alive who helped formulate the policies that both stopped the boats and saved the bodies and souls of desperate people? Someone able to advise, if (surely not) details of that program have been lost?
If not for the sake of the refugees, for the mercenary sake of stemming the financially crippling cost.
What has made us so racist, red-necked, xenophobic, selfish and cruel that we can do this to other human beings?
A call to politicians of any persuasion: Risk being unpopular for just a short while and do something that will make us remember you as someone decent .
There is a small paragraph in British writer A.A.Gill’s excellent memoir, ‘Pour Me’, where he is writing about Syrian refugees landing in Lampedusa. It really strikes home:
“…if you would come face to face with these people you would never turn them away. You could not but help them. We all of us strive to be good, to be decent, to do the right thing. It is only their anonymity that allows us to support policies that turn our backs on them, send them away, bury them in internment camps and embargoes. It is perfectly simple – if you were confronted with their humanity, then simultaneously you would be confronted with your own. I want to write this over and over and over again.”
True, so true.