Ugly populism has won the day

World Refugee Day reminds us that people who seek asylum are not ‘illegals’, writes Clare Condon.

- Clare Condon SGS, The Good Oil

This past week, on June 20, people of goodwill worldwide have taken time to commemorate World Refugee Day. Held annually, it’s an opportunity to draw attention to the plight of people who have been forced to flee their homes due to fear of persecution. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, “more that 42 million people around the world have been forcibly displaced from their homes and communities”. That’s close to double Australia’s total population.

So why is it that Australia is so miserly, to say the least, in welcoming refugees and asylum seekers to this land of opportunity and extraordinary natural wealth? Why are we being mean-spirited, fearful and condemnatory, especially to those who desperately risk entry to Australia by a treacherous sea journey? Why is the focus of national debate on the people-traffickers and not on the desperate people being trafficked?

The Refugee Council of Australia says that, in 2012, a mere 14,415 people arrived on our shores by boat. That’s only 0.06 per cent increase in our population. The arrival of refugees over the past ten years has been during a period when Australians have enjoyed continuous growth in Gross National Product (GNP). At this current time, the nation has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the developed world. In the past two weeks we have witnessed another 55 people perish in Australian waters.

They died an ignominious death – no names and no retrieved bodies. People with no identity! And yet, they were someone’s husband, wife, brother, sister or child. They took desperate risks, hoping against hope for a new life. They are now dead.

People who seek asylum are not ‘illegals’. They are human beings, just like you and me, who, through circumstances of birth or nationality, find themselves in intolerable positions of war, civil unrest, dictatorships and persecution. This can be difficult to comprehend for someone born and bred in Australia. So why does our government treat them in such a punitive way? The policy of detention keeps them as statistics, out of sight from most Australians.

They are rendered invisible. Without any citizenship rights, they have no power within the electoral process. Their stories are not told, so their stories are not heard by Australian citizens. Therefore, they can be easily demonised and tragically stereotyped.

FULL STORY Ugly populism has won the day 

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