A distressed vessel discovered by the US Navy (USN) Oliver Hazard Perry Class Guided Missile Frigate USS RENTZ (FFG 46) 300 miles from shore with 90 people on board, including women and children. The RENTZ provided assistance and took the Ecuadorian citizens to Guatemala, from where they would be repatriated. (SUBSTANDARD)

10 Myths About Asylum Seekers

Divya Venkataraman provides some responses to throw into your next asylum seeker oriented conversation.

A distressed vessel discovered by the US Navy (USN) Oliver Hazard Perry Class Guided Missile Frigate USS RENTZ (FFG 46) 300 miles from shore with 90 people on board, including women and children.  The RENTZ provided assistance and took the Ecuadorian citizens to Guatemala, from where they would be repatriated. (SUBSTANDARD)
A distressed vessel discovered by the US Navy (USN) Oliver Hazard Perry Class Guided Missile Frigate USS RENTZ (FFG 46) 300 miles from shore with 90 people on board, including women and children. The RENTZ provided assistance and took the Ecuadorian citizens to Guatemala, from where they would be repatriated. (SUBSTANDARD)
  1. We’re saving people from drowning at sea!
    This “moral upper ground” argument doesn’t compute in a few ways, yet it is possibly the most persuasive of them all. Hell, I found myself reconsidering my position. But insisting that locking people in mandatory detention to save them from drowning at sea and is somehow for their benefit isn’t doing anything to remedy the situation which is forcing them to flee and disregards the crux of the problem. The fact is that people will continue to take dangerous boat journeys if whatever they are fleeing from is worse. We have seen this. Boat arrivals are up. The fact that people are still undertaking the journey after having heard of so many deaths at sea proves the fact of their dire situations. If Australia is unable or unwilling to help overseas (which the consistent slashing of the foreign aid budget implies), the most moral course of action os to take refugees in.
  2. They’re jumping the queue!
    Again, it comes back to desperation. The UNHCR takes on average, 10 years to process a refugee, and you can’t claim asylum seeker status until you have left the country you are trying to flee. For those in desperate need and fearing for their family’s safety, this is far too long. Legal channels to Australia are only accessible with a visa. But embassies are watched, and walking into a government controlled area in a country where one’s entire ethnic group is being persecuted just isn’t a viable option.
  3. We’re successfully taking away the livelihoods of the evil people-smugglers!
    Even if the Australian government believes that it will be able to deter people from undertaking sea journeys (which it will not, for reasons outlined above), why is “people-smuggling” necessarily bad? This is an example of rhetoric at work. The word “people-smuggler” sounds despicable, aligning them somewhat with the similarly hyphenated “human-trafficker”. However the connotations inherent in the term “people-smuggler” necessarily involve illegality, which asylum-seeking is not by international standards. Essentially, these are people who are helping their countrymen flee from countries in which they face real danger. Without valorising them, it must be noted that Oskar Schindler could have been considered a people smuggler.
  4. They are criminals and/or terrorists/will steal our jobs
    All asylum seekers go through mandatory health, character and criminal record checks before arriving in the country. The overwhelming majority pass and are found to be genuine refugees. Many refugees have contributed to the success of Australia as a nation, including writer Anh Do, businessman Nathan Werdiger, and Westfield founder Frank Lowy.
  5. They “country-shop” to get to Australia
    Places asylum seekers “pass” before reaching Australia are not fit to take in asylum seekers. Malaysia has not signed the Refugee Convention (1951), which outlines the obligation to accept refugees and give them basic human rights. Refugees are similarly treated poorly in countries such as Indonesia and Cambodia, where they cannot work or get an education even if the unlikely situation that they are accepted as refugees. Escaping these countries therefore becomes a simple matter of survival.
  6. Detention is for processing. They need to be processed somewhere.
    Yes, but detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru have been found on numerous occasions to be relatively uninhabitable. The Moss Report showed serious allegations of sexual abuse, some towards young children. The living spaces are crowded, damp and adequate medical care is not received, such as in the case of Hamid Kehazaei who died from septicaemia after a cut on his foot. Women are made to line up for each sanitary product and mental health is dangerously neglected, with reports of children and adults starving themselves and self-harming. This is partly because, in the words of Julian Burnside, “after about 12-18 months, people fall into despair and hopelessness”. Detention does not need to be mandatory and indefinite for asylum seekers, and the Australian government denying responsibility for its actions on such offshore detention centres only compounds the very real problem.
  7. They’ll take all the Centrelink and bleed the country dry!!
    Keeping offshore detention centres open cost Australia upwards of $1 billion from January-October 2014. Asylum seekers get the same Centrelink payments as any other adult, however most who have been resettled are employed in rural (and metropolitan) communities and aim to contribute to Australia as part of the workforce.
  8. We can’t just let people in indeterminately/indefinitely! The floodgates will be broken! The helpless people will arrive like the plague and then we will be overrun! (Runs off screaming hysterically).
    It is hard to accurately determine how many people would attempt to seek asylum if Australia’s policies were half-way generous, because it’s been so long since they have been. However, Bruce Haigh notes that when the last generous asylum seeker policy was enacted (towards Vietnamese refugees under Malcolm Fraser), refugees still only constituted 0.1% of the population.
  9. It was all Gillard’s fault!!
    Um, what? Yeah, ok.
  10. The deficit!!!!!!!!

…. Right.

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