Boat people, asylum seekers, people smugglers and immigrants.
My view on the current boat people tragedy off the Australian coast is admittedly skewed. I haven’t lived in Australia for over 10 years. I spent a year of high school in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, a 3rd world country which this year made the list as the most violent city in the world, and I’m currently deployed as an analyst in an intelligence center that deals with border crime. I’ve also gone through the immigration process myself as a Naturalized US Citizen. I’d like to have a Utopian view of the world and think that all fortunate people of the world should just take the less fortunate into their homes, but I know in practical application, it just doesn’t work.
Contrary to the headline, I don’t think that anyone out there dislikes genuine refugees. We feel bad for those who have been through so much. We are saddened when we see what poverty or war stricken countries they are fleeing from. It’s hard to see pictures of children being shot in the streets. The problem with refugees, is that the word is often misused or over used. People see them as illegal. I do find it odd that people are irritated by “boat people” but don’t seem as concerned by the huge number of people who come to Australia on tourist visas and who then never leave. Maybe because people figure if they can stay they’re not a burden to the system. They’re either working under the table or are independently wealthy. Maybe because the majority of illegal immigrants in Australia are from the UK, the USA and Malaysia. I don’t want to hear it’s because they’re white. Most of the Americans I personally know of in Australia who have overstayed are African American. I think it’s because those people entered the country with documentation, and we know who they are.
The actual definition of a refugee: Any person who owing to a well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his/her nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself/herself of the protection of that country.
Now, there are more amendments than that, and there are restrictions also. People who have committed war crimes, have violated laws, etc will not be considered refugees. Of course, it’s still pretty open to interpretation. I mean, people like Matt Newton or Kyle Sandilands could both claim to be members of a particular social group, (Celebrities) and they are so persecuted by the media and public in Australia they should be allowed to live elsewhere. Stupid argument, I know, but it’s all in the interpretation of it, isn’t it? It’s also why people need to be assessed as genuine refugees.
People get refugees confused with economic migrants, environmental migrants and people who are just looking for a better life. The best example for me is Hurricane Katrina. For years afterwards, people in the street would ask me for money, declaring they were Katrina refugees from New Orleans. Yes, Katrina was a disaster, yes people were displaced and many people lost everything, but these people were not “Refugees”. Alabama and Mississippi suffered just as bad as Louisiana, but they picked up the pieces and got back along with life, without making a huge fuss. They weren’t being persecuted, (unless caught looting), they weren’t outside their country and their own government was helping them. By definition, not refugees. But people got so used to hearing the term in reference to Katrina, the word lost a lot of its meaning.
Then there’s the issue of “illegals”. These are people who have no valid reason to claim refugee status, but choose to enter a country illegally, or enter with a visa, but let it expire. In Texas alone, Border Patrol agents apprehend over 3000 illegals a WEEK. Contrary to popular belief, they’re not all Mexican. In fact, only about half are Mexican. Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala are big ones, but there’s normally a list of 20 or so nations on there. We even get an Aussie or Kiwi every couple of months. There’s also terrorists coming through the border. At his sentencing hearing in San Antonio, one al qaeda terrorist on trial stated he didn’t care he was being put in prison. He had brought hundreds of other terrorists across the border over the years and they were now all over the US, and he would never tell where they were. The big problem is the Coyotes, the people smugglers. It amazes me what people will pay to cross the border. Instead of going to the embassy and applying for a work visa, which I’ve been told by many Mexican friends is actually a very easy task, (they’ve actually done it) people will pay someone hundreds to get them to the border. They then pay another coyote $1200 to cross the river. They’ll then pay another $3000 to get to a third city. I just don’t get it. If you can save up that kind of money for a coyote, why not just go pay for a visa? Of course, it seems in every load we catch, there’s someone in there who couldn’t get a visa. People who have been deported multiple times for DWI, Rape, Murder, etc. There are people who pay their way across by transporting drugs. People who get caught up in the violence and end up in the sex trade or who are told their families will be murdered if they don’t bring drugs across. There are poor migrants from south of Mexico who are murdered by the hundreds in Mexico because they won’t be drug smugglers, or can’t afford the coyotes. People die crossing to the US. In summer, these people are ill prepared. They don’t have enough water. They die of dehydration or heat stroke. The coyote doesn’t care. Just like the people with the shitty unseaworthy boats bringing people to Australia. They don’t care if the conditions are bad, or if their passengers die. They just want their money. The Mexican cartels are in a bloody war, not just over drug routes, but over people smuggling routes. Almost 60,000 people have been murdered since Presidente Calderon took office. The DTO’s are ruthless and don’t care who or what gets in their way, they just want the cash. So many Mexicans could be classed as genuine refugees. Border Patrol Agents ask them leading questions, trying to get them to just ask for it. Do you feel scared to return? Do you fear for your life? Many are allowed to stay on humanitarian grounds. Many of them however are simply seeking to come to the US, steal someone else’s identity, work for a while, send the money home and then move back there. They’re not here to contribute to society. They are what are classed as Illegal. People who have bothered to go through the immigration process legally, and those whose identities are stolen by illegals really don’t like them. People may confuse genuine refugees with illegals, and that’s sad for the refugees.
What about the people of Haiti? Are they considered refugees? Before the earthquake, they were the poorest nation in the western world. They had a huge crime rate. Life pretty much sucked. Unlike Cubans however, when they took a raft to the US, they weren’t granted asylum. They were put into detention centers. Then they had that devastating earthquake. They still weren’t refugees though. They had an environmental disaster and they certainly needed help. They still need help. But taking people out of Haiti isn’t going to help. They need people to go there and teach them how to rebuild, physically and emotionally.
Some Cubans are refugees. Although they’re not just welcomed en masse either. They have to actually make dry land and then ask for political asylum. If they are caught out at sea, they will be turned back. If a USCG or USBP Agent grabs them before they make it onto dry land, they’re out.
I don’t know how to fix the boat problem in Australia. How do you take in genuine refugees that need your help while discouraging scummy people smugglers who are willing to let people die just so they can make money? You can’t just let people loose in the community without finding out who they are first. Australia’s first responsibility is to its citizens. They need to make sure they’re safe. Immigration camps are not all bad. My mothers best friend came to Australia from Scotland. She had to spend time in Villawood Detention Center. The govt. wanted to make sure people were free of disease. We still need to do this. The countries refugees come from are not ideal. They have many diseases that have been eradicated in Australia. If people don’t have documents, how can we be certain that they are who they say they are? How do we know they’re genuine refugees, and not really a cousin of Saddam Hussein trying to blend in with everyone else on a boat? How do we know they’re not fleeing their country because they’re wanted for war crimes?
We need to treat genuine refugees with respect. We need to take care of them. We need to do what is on the treaty we signed with the UN. But we still need to protect those that are contributing towards the cost of those refugees. People need to be vetted, and sometimes this takes time. People live in refugee camps in disgusting living conditions in Africa or the Middle East for years at a time. Some people have been in camps for over 15 years, without running water or access to proper meals. When you compare those camps to the ones in Australia, or even the ones off shore, ours are like Club Med. Australians might not think they’re flash, but they’re a shit tonne better than whatever hell hole they just came from. People are fed good meals everyday, they’re given clean water, decent shelter and their children are given access to education. Some of their conditions are better than the soldiers deployed fighting for those people. Yes it sucks people had to flee their homelands, and it’s not ideal being in a camp, but if all you do is bitch about the conditions, this flags to me you’re not a genuine refugee. A genuine refugee is just grateful to be away from the situation they were in. If they demand to be sent to a particular country, this tells me they are in fact an economic migrant, not a refugee. When the Chileans who were being persecuted by Pinochet asked for refugee status from America and were denied, then also told no by Canada, but given visas to Australia, they didn’t complain they should be allowed to go to the US. They were grateful someone, anyone, gave them a refugee visa and they had an out. They were grateful to be taken in. They didn’t complain about conditions, or make demands of the government. I can imagine if my life was in danger and I had the money to pay my way out, I would try, as would many others, but when people who have paid $15,000 to a rickety boat smuggler start demanding they have the right to be free in a certain country, this tells me they didn’t really have it that bad. Oversimplified yes, but simply my opinion. There’s also a question of why those boats are filled up with mainly men. It’s much easier for Women and Children to be perceived as refugees. They seem more at risk. But as someone who wears a uniform and is willing to risk my life for others, I wonder what makes some men run and what makes others choose to stay and fight. Why should the US and Australia and other countries send their sons off to war to die for your country if you won’t stay and defend it yourself? Men who are accompanying their families are understandable. But I think people have less sympathy for those single men who are simply getting out so they don’t have to fight. It seems cowardly.
I understand something needs to be done to help refugees. I don’t know how to fix the problem, but I don’t think people should be using this loss of life as an excuse to bitch about whoever is currently in parliament. Julia Gillard didn’t ask these people to risk their lives by getting on an unsafe boat and attempting to cross the sea. It’s not Australia’s fault that the dozens of other countries in the region choose not to be part of the UN Refugee program. It’s not the Australian governments fault that other countries are at war. All it can do is try to work out how to settle people with the least loss of life. Pushing the government to make hasty decisions while everyone is in crisis mode isn’t going to help that. There has to be a way to help refugees while discouraging people smugglers from profiteering off the desperation of others. Maybe the UN needs to go into the camps and divide people up and each country has a navy ship waiting to transport people. Maybe while people are in camps the UN could do a better job of vetting people so they could be moved quicker. Maybe Australia could hire more immigration officers so vetting done on Australian soil is quicker. Maybe we do need to turn back boat people who have managed to go through Indonesia and make them take some responsibility. I don’t know what the solution is, but I do know we need to discourage people smugglers. They’re not out there moving people from crappy countries out of the goodness of their hearts. They’re people who are taking advantage of others in a time of desperate need. They’re willing to risk people’s lives for a big pay day. They’re no different than drug smugglers. Do the math, you fill up a rickety boat you bought for $1000, put 200 people on there at $10,000 each. That’s a sweet payday. Being a refugee isn’t illegal, but being a people smuggler is. How do we help one while stopping the other?
I think it’s great Australia implemented a program for people to sponsor refugees in their homes. It’s like an exchange student program. People can learn so much about each others cultures, and this will help the refugees adapt to Aussie life much quicker. I applaud the government for coming up with a program that will benefit the community both economically and socially. I think anyone who has the means to do so, but doesn’t and prefers to just sit back and whine about the country not doing enough should just shut up, or come up with another solution, and then actually implement it. Instead of complaining, use that energy to work out how to help people. Write a blog post with your ideas, submit them to others to review. Give a smile to a refugee. Invite one over for dinner. Buy a nice yacht and bring people over for free. Use your airline miles to sponsor someone. Go do the ESL Teacher course at TAFE that lets you become a free English language trainer for migrants. Do something, anything. Just don’t turn it into finger pointing or a political debate. That’s not going to help anyone.