A recent survey in Australia showed what I believe to be an alarming attitude towards boat people coming to Australia. As many as 60% of Australians want the government to treat incoming boat people more harshly. I’m not sure what shocked me more about that statistic, whether it was the fact that 60% of Australians wanted it, or that people genuinely didn’t think that current conditions for boat people were horrid enough.
The only legitimate reason a person can give for not letting boat people into Australian society is that they are racist.
The only legitimate reason a person can give for not letting boat people into Australian society is that they are racist. It’s really that simple, and part of the reason that this alarms me is that I have trouble believing that 60% of Australians are that racist. Sure, I encountered a bit of racism in boarding school, meeting people who had not only never seen a non-white person in real life, but who obviously missed the point of the movie Romper Stomper. But ordinary Australians aren’t like redneck country boys. Australia is a diverse and multicultural society with a national attitude of fairness, being welcoming, and giving people a fair go… or so I thought.
I can hear people now (somewhere in the back of my head) insisting, as people like Geert Wilders do, that they are not racist. No, we are really just protecting our way of life, they would say. Well, I call bullshit. You’re either very mean, or very stupid, and I’m not sure which one is worse, but if it were to rain acid rain tomorrow, I would not lend you an umbrella.
Legally, we are actually obligated to take in refugees. There is this thing called the refugee convention which Australia are a party to, and a signatory of. Basically it says that if you are a refugee you must be granted asylum. It also says that if you enter a country illegally and are a refugee, then you aren’t illegal. This isn’t rocket science – we’re breaking the law. When poor and less powerful countries violate treaties and conventions like this, wealthy countries (like Australia) waste no time in denouncing them, imposing sanctions, and beating their holier-than-thou chests about it. But when countries like Australia do it, nothing seems to happen because apparently we are not all equal under the law… either that, or some of us are clearly more equal than others.
Of course our international obligations are a very good reason not to treat boat people like shit, but how about human decency? how about not being an asshole?
The world is an anarchic system of states. There is no world government, nor is there any effective means of enforcing international law. Countries can get together to pressure other countries to do the right thing, through the use of sanctions, threats, and of course the use of force. But is this really necessary? Of course our international obligations are a very good reason for us not to treat boat people like shit, but should that really be our only reason, or even our main reason? How about human fucking decency? How about not being an asshole?
So maybe you’re not mean, maybe you’re just stupid. Maybe you’re one of the 60-something percent of Australians who believe that these people are a bunch of fakes who don’t want to wait in line to be processed by a borderline racist immigration policy, but instead pay people smugglers thousands of dollars to come to Australia so they can mooch off the system. Allowing these boat people to successfully arrive in Australia only enriches criminal people-smuggling rings and injects our population with unsavoury characters. Guess what? All of that is wrong. At a minimum, about 90% of boat arrivals are found to be genuine refugees, often that figure is over 95%. So, in order to punish that 5-10% who are trying to rort the system, you’re going to punish a whole bunch of innocent people who have broken no law and, moreover, are fleeing injustice and persecution. This is the very definition of cruel.
Over 90% of boat arrivals are found to be genuine refugees.
It’s easy to forget while living our sheltered, comfortable lives in suburbia that most of the world is still a rather nasty place. Human beings are incredibly resilient, indeed billions live in abject poverty with about 1 billion people living on under 1USD a day. They know that there are countries like Australia where life is really, really good, even if you’re useless at it. But they don’t choose to leave their shitty countries to move here, why? Because it’s really hard. When a person goes to the effort to get on a boat to flee persecution, they are desperate. Not “I haven’t studied for my exams” desperate, these people are literally fearing for their lives. Having worked with Amnesty International in the past, I personally know of cases where people were not granted asylum for whatever reason, returned to their country of origin, and were tortured and killed. It’s ridiculous.
Economically, none of the arguments against allowing entry to boat people make sense. NONE OF THEM.
Consider a person’s lifespan of say, 80 years. For the first 20 and the last 20, they’re not really paying for their own existence on a day-to-day basis. Only plants and small animals are expected to do this. It is only during your working years, really from your mid-twenties until you retire sometime in your sixties or earlier, that you are making a net contribution to the economy. Outside of that, you are a freeloader. Your productivity during your working years should in theory cover your living expenses during your childhood and after your retirement. In modern economies, we are so productive that in addition to living expenses, we also pay for all of our own medical expenses and education. We even get to pay for the poor people in our country to go and kill other poor people in other countries. (sometimes we spend so much money doing this, that it’s a miracle that there’s any left for education and health care, but I digress)
Now think about how old most refugees are. Sure, there are always a few children and they will be moochers, no doubt about it. I’m okay with that though, because I consider myself to be a decent human being. All those other boat people are working age, and they are not old. When all is said and done, they will be making a net contribution to our economy. Not only that, because we didn’t have to pay for them growing up, and may only need to pay for a small amount of their education, they’re going to contribute more to the Australian economy than most Australians. More than that, boat people are statistically less likely to be a burden on the healthcare system (you need to be fairly robust to survive the trip), and are also less likely to be a burden on the criminal justice system, contrary to the racist stereotypes. I am not certain why this is the case, but I would hazard a guess that these people were on the receiving end of a great deal of injustice in the past, and probably want to leave that… in the past.
Contrary to (a very daft) popular belief, rich people don’t create jobs; the need for things, and for things to get done creates jobs.
There has been a rather amusing meme circulating around the internets that says something along the lines of “if a guy who knows nobody, can hardly speak the language, and has no education gets the job instead of you, then maybe you’re shit”. That’s a very good point, and it highlights that we’re really using immigrants as a scapegoat for our own insecurities and shortcomings, but it misses a large part of the picture. There are not a fixed number of jobs in the country. If there is a need for something, a good or service, and if that need is great enough that the benefit from satiating that need is also great enough, then a job (or jobs) will be created. Contrary to (a very daft) popular belief, rich people don’t create jobs. The need for things, and for things to get done creates jobs. If there’s anyone to be blamed for a shortage of jobs, it’s the people who organise the economy – presently, big businesses and the government.
What people tend to forget is that immigrants are people too. They live, they eat, they decorate their houses. Immigrants, and especially immigrants who are in the process of establishing themselves are a tremendous boost to the economy. Australia is a country built almost entirely of immigrants. I simply have a lot of trouble understanding the objection to boat people. The more I think about it, the more I come back to the inevitable conclusion that it is nothing more than racism.
The solution is very simple. We welcome boat people with open arms. We send them to processing facilities in the centre of large capital cities where they undergo basic medical screening. They have committed no crime, so the message shouldn’t be “you’re illegal, we’re locking you up”, it should be “welcome to Australia, we’re sorry you had to leave home like that. If you want to live here, you have to earn your place in society” (and they will). Then they’re released into the community while their claims for asylum are processed. If they’re genuine, we help them out with some language courses and adult education programs. If they aren’t, we send them back. Sweden does this. It’s not difficult. Most of the infrastructure is already in place, it’s more humane, it’s more in keeping with Australian values, and it is orders of magnitude cheaper than locking people up in horrendous conditions on faraway islands, out of sight and out of mind.
Frankly, I find the current situation untenable. We go to a lot of trouble, and shoulder a very heavy cost not just in terms of money but in our international reputation, just to treat a bunch of innocent people in a really nasty way, and FOR WHAT!? Political point-scoring on the back of an underlying current of racism in the Australian population. It’s disgraceful. It must end.