I’ve been meaning to put together a few thoughts on the subject of boat people – or more correctly asylum seekers for some time, and I was prompted to get into action by an excellent editorial in the Australian Newspaper. It seems to me that our thinking about assylum seekers who arrive by boat really is all at sea, and based far more on myth than reality. Here’s a few of what I consider to be the worst myths.
1. We are being overun by ‘illegal immigrants’. No – 4500 boat arrivals is not overun! if they are assessed to be genuine refugees and are allowed to stay they are subtracted from our existing refugee quota anyway – so we take no more refugees than we otherwise would. In any case this is only about 2% of our annual population growth, and only about 0.02% of our total population.
2. Boat people are well off people looking for an easy way to get around our immigration system or terrorists trying to sneak into the country. No – I think I read somewhere that over 90% of boat arrivals are assessed to be genuine refugees – a far higher percentage than those who arrive illegally by plane. Also, just because the assylum seekers arrive by boat doesn’t mean they aren’t subject to the same kind of background checks as any other refugee applicant.
3. Boat people are queue jumpers. Anyone who has ever been anywhere near a refugee camp will know that the idea of a queue is just ludicrous. In most places where people apply for refugee status corruption is rife and there is really no ‘fair’ process for who gets here and who doesn’t. As the Australian editorial helpfully points out, if we are so worried about queue jumping, why not just stop including the boat people in our refugee quota – then they won’t be taking anyone’s spots.
4. We should stop the boats because it is dangerous for the people involved. This again is the kind of comment that could only be made from the comfort of a middle class Australian lounge chair. Being a refugee is dangerous by definition, and living in a refugee camp is also dangerous. If I had the choice of a slow death for me and my family from cholera, dysentry, malaria etc, or a choice of a leaky boat trip that might get me out of the situation I know which I’d be choosing.
I think the kind of scare mongering that some of our politicians go on with about assylum seekers, and the lack of compassionate leadership is just shameful. Yes there are a few issues that need to be dealt with – people smugglers being one. But we should be able to do much better in being merciful to those who arrive in our country from terrible and traumatic situations.
This is a particular issue for Christians. I read somewhere that Christians differ on the approach we should take to Boat people, but I think this is a cop out. Sure we might differ on some of the fine details. But there’s no way we should be differing on our primary approach to asylum seekers. The Australian editorial makes a telling point about our political leaders in this regard.
I find it disappointingly inconsistent that both of our political leaders, Rudd and Tony Abbott, wear their religion on their sleeves, yet neither of them practises the compassion that Christianity extols when it comes to boatpeople.
I heartily agree, and I think that Christians should be at the forefront of ensuring that all refugees, including ‘boat people’ receive a warm and generous welcome. After all, in the Old Testament God wanted the people of Israel to remember that they had been refugees at one stage and welcome those who came among them, and at easter we remember that we have a God who welcomed us as his people – even when we didn’t deserve it and we should show this kind of welcome to others.