THE SUCCESS OF SURVIVAL
It’s a mystery how the personal stories of the thousands of refugees and asylum seekers who make their way to Australia – by boat or air – rarely manage to make it to the media.
There’s the odd success story that gets written about. But what about when the real success is actually surviving?
The preferred default position of media in this country is to play along with the dehumanising of asylum seekers as queue jumpers or potential security risks.Razor wire on Christmas Island, image via sbs.com.au.
This month, Medicins Sans Frontieres, the internationally acclaimed humanitarian medical group, has been on TV and online unashamedly trying to bring to our attention to the great work they do working in war zones and refugee camps.
MSF is also keen to put a face to the “illegals”, or “queue jumpers” that politicians like to use and abuse in their pursuit of a vote. Of course asylum seekers are not illegal because seeking asylum is not illegal. Under the UN Convention on Refugees, asylum seekers are not required to have any documentation and requires us to treat them as we would any other non-citizen.
And there are no queues; there are UNHCR processing camps that are bursting at the seams in which refugees can languish for years on end waiting to be processed. The UNHCR itself says less than 1% of the worlds refugees might be settled in any given year.
Believe it or not, Australia isn’t the destination of choice for all that many of them. In fact, the statistics show the number of asylum seekers coming to Australia is minuscule compared to those who go to Europe or elsewhere.
Still, some continue to believe we are being swamped. Still, some see them as queue jumping terrorists-in-the-making who have fled their homeland not because they have been persecuted or have been displaced by war, or have been subjected to poverty, rape and torture, but because they see an Australian nirvana where the issue is such a hot political potato there is no real border control policy.
And still, many Australians see just numbers rather than real people who have survived conditions none of us can even imagine and who come from culturally rich backgrounds.
Enter historian Ann-Mari Jordens. When she was a child in the western Sydney suburb of Lakemba, “some very strange people appeared” in the neighbourhood. These people were post war Europeans. From this memory, developed a desire to tell the stories of newcomers, from those who came at the end of the last world war, to those some politicians seem these days to think it’s prudent to demonise.
Her book Hope: Refugees and Their Supporters in Australia Since 1947 has the capacity to end the negative, misinformed public debate on refugees and asylum seekers.
If it were compulsory reading on the high school curriculum, who knows – the next generation of politicians might actually make the world a better place.
Between the covers of this book are the stories of 12 refugees, from Germany, Hungary, Chile, Vietnam, Afghanistan, South Africa, Iran, Kosovo, Burma, Sudan and Liberia, all told in their own voices. There are also the stories of the carers and enablers who pave a gentler path to resettlement in a new and very foreign place.
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