“Why the Bloody Hell Did You Come Here?” (says Australia, to Asylum Seekers)

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These people have escaped persecution to find themselves in a country that officially does not want them.

Asylum seekers arrive at Christmas Island on a small flat boat, wearing life jackets, kneeling in a line and being escorted by what appear to be immigration staff.A retired friend of mine has recently become involved in efforts to help newly-released asylum seekers in Sydney. He wrote the email below to myself and a few others. It is a damning assessment, from people on the ground, of how the Australian government is treating people in need. I’m publishing it here because I think it is important for people to know what this government (as well as the main party trying to replace them) is doing in our name.

Refugees (or more correctly asylum seekers) have essentially walked into churches adjacent to where they have been released into the community and asked for help.

Each church has responded well and their resources are stretched and the workers are weary.

Imagine 50 asylum seekers turning up at 10am next Sunday and sitting amongst the congregation and, when asked, saying “we are  hungry” and we need your help. Then you discover they are not only hungry but some or all:

  • Have inadequate clothing
  • Need all the basics of life – eg: a bed, a fridge, a saucepan, a toothbrush, a blanket
  • Have a need for internet access
  • Speak little or sometimes no English
  • Have serious medical and psychological problems…they may show signs of torture
  • Are extremely lonely
  • Are afraid
  • Have no idea how/where to get food
  • Don’t understand Australian society at all ( eg don’t know how a to buy a bus ticket )
  • Have little or no money
  • Are forbidden since August 2012 to seek work
  • Are forbidden to attend language classes at TAFE
  • Desperately want ESL help

I’m sure this list is incomplete.

My personal reaction to what I’ve discovered is that a coordinated Sydney Anglican response is embryonic but there are good-hearted people at various church-led agencies who are trying to respond.

Our Federal Government has released these people (about 30,000 I think) into the community on Bridging Visas without adequate support in most areas. They have dumped the problem on people who care. If the coalition are elected their plans may well make the situation worse. These people have escaped persecution to find themselves in a country that officially does not want them.

Just to be correct these folk are given an allowance of about $220 per week to cover everything – including rent. They pay full fares on public transport. The govt pays their rent for 6 weeks after they arrive in Sydney…then they are on their own. They are wide open to exploitation by people who will employ/exploit them for cash.

It is a complex and evolving mess that should make us ashamed of our country.

While my friend says that we should be ashamed (and we should), the reality is we are already collecting shame on a global scale. The following article was recently published on CNN.com, highlighting how a cultivated fear of asylum seekers is driving votes, despite the numbers being insignificant in the context of Australia’s overall migration intake: Australian parties in ‘race to bottom’ on asylum seeker policy

Our current asylum seeker policies are the human rights atrocity of this generation of Australians. If, like me and my friend, you are ashamed of what our country is doing to these people in our name, please don’t just shake your head, hit retweet or share, and then move on. PLEASE DO SOMETHING. (Though re-tweeting and sharing would ALSO be very helpful!)

There is an election tomorrow. Perhaps you should seriously consider changing how you vote to send a message about how serious you think this issue is. Remember, you can’t waste your vote.

Regardless of who wins the election, it is very easy to write to your local member, and to the representatives of immigration policy for both Labor and Liberal, and tell them what you really think about how they’re treating asylum seekers, both in detention and after their release.

There are also organisations you can get involved with like Welcome to Australia, who are providing opportunities for people to actively get involved in caring for asylum seekers.

(In case you’re not up on Australian culture and are wondering what the title of this blog is all about, it’s a satirical hark back to an Australian Tourism campaign where potential tourists were asked “Where the bloody hell are you?”)

Image credit: ‘Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre
by Australia Department of Immigration and Border Protection

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