Thursday, October 22, 2009

There Is No Queue

Nobody likes a queue jumper. Everybody should politely wait their turn and remain courteous at all times. Pushing in is not to be tolerated. In fact, anyone who pushes their way to the front can expect to be pushed back again. In the same way, nobody should take a trolley full of goods through the 12 items or less lane because it is rude and inconsiderate. In fact it is downright arrogant. How can anyone act as if their needs are more important than everyone else’s, and expect to get away with it? Such attitudes can lead to ugly scenes at the supermarket, and most of us do the right thing because it is only fair.

Unfortunately, many of us also take this same supermarket mentality and apply it to the vastly more complex situation of asylum seekers. Who are these people, and how dare they try to jump the queue to get into our country? Why don’t they wait patiently somewhere else while their claim is processed? How dare they assume that they have the right to turn up uninvited and expect to be welcomed? If only they could follow the rules, fill out the paper work, and most importantly “wait their turn” everything would turn out just fine. The problem is that it just isn’t true.

There is no waiting list. There is no orderly process. There is no queue. There is no safe and amenable sanctuary where people can “wait their turn”. Refugees who have been displaced by civil war have in many cases already had their homes destroyed, their friends and family members killed, their possessions taken away. They may have been able to salvage some of their life savings to use in their attempt to escape devastation, and make their way to somewhere safe. They may even still have some portable items like personal jewellery, but they don’t have a safe haven. Many of the people in transit through places such as Malaysia or Indonesia are actually there without legal status, and as those countries are not signatories to the United Nations convention on refugees they cannot apply for asylum there. They have literally nowhere to go.

Australia, on the other hand, is a signatory to the convention, and has always had a proud history of accepting refugees from around the world. The convention itself was born out of the horrors of World War Two, specifically in response to the Holocaust, in an attempt to ensure that no such tragedy could occur again. Millions of innocent people lost their lives because the rest of the world ignored the persecution of the Jewish people, and there was no where for them to go. Those who did provide assistance to the Jews were later proclaimed as heroes, even though what they did was against the laws imposed by Nazi Germany and by definition illegal.

Our nation has been built by people from every part of the world, from every ethnic, cultural and religious background. We are a nation of immigrants, and we have been on the whole enormously successful and prosperous as such. Our democratic beliefs have previously led us to welcome refugees fleeing from such places as Viet Nam, and in those days boat people were considered to be heroes for defying the evil communists. But now, something seems to have changed and many of us have fallen for this crazy idea that desperate refugees are somehow a threat to our national security or our national identity.

Australia is also supposed to be a predominantly Christian country. Although we have separated church from state, and although we welcome all religions, much of our way of life and our tradition is based upon Christian ideals and philosophies. But strangely, many of us seem to be having difficulty practicing Christian charity. Instead of being good Samaritans helping the injured stranger, we seem to be telling him to go back to where he came from and to wait his turn. Some of us seem to have forgotten that “whatsoever you do for the least of my brothers, you do also for me.”

The truth is that in the last 12 months about 1700 asylum seekers have made it to Australia, while at the same time about 50000 people will have deliberately overstayed their visas, making themselves the genuine illegal immigrants. The truth is that asylum seekers are not simply an Australian problem, they are a world wide problem. The truth is that while people smugglers are profiteering form the misery of others, it is wrong to blame the victims. There’s a crisis alright, but it’s not a border security crisis for Australia, it’s a humanitarian crisis for the people who have nowhere to turn.

Calling them queue jumpers and telling them to wait their turn does nothing to address the problem.

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