So you think it’s a good idea to welcome refugees? Excuse me while I burst your bubble.
This story was originally published on Christine Mead’s blog. It’s been re-published here with her permission.
Let me be clear: I am in vehement agreement that Australia needs to show compassion to asylum seekers and meet its international obligations.
Now let me be real: Have you actually thought about what it would mean for Australia and its society if we did? Have you thought about what it would mean for you?
I live in Fairfield, an area of Sydney that you have to apologise for hailing from (if the person that you are speaking to has heard of it). I’ve long stopped hesitating to reveal where I live, but the rest of Sydney’s views on it haven’t changed. Fairfield and its neighbouring suburbs are rich in culture, low on socio-economic status.
We are an area that has grown because of the efforts of migrants and we are home to many refugees who have either been granted asylum or are in the process of having their visas approved. Somewhere in between all of this, anyone with fair skin seems to have moved on, their only interaction with Fairfield being to reminisce over their youth on a Facebook page, and lament over what it has now become.
My interaction with asylum seekers has been limited, but has mostly been facilitated through my local church. We hold English speaking classes and through these, refugees find a sense of community and care. Sometimes they also attend church or the youth group we run on Friday nights.
I am currently taking care of one girl in my small group on a Friday night who has been in Australia from 11 months. She came here on a boat with her father, leaving her whole family behind. She is a big ball of energy, actually. Her English is still developing and she is still coming to understand and orient herself in our culture, so she is more of a handful than all of the girls I take care of, combined.
The people who run ESL classes at our church don’t just run a class and go home. They invite their students into their lives, they help them with daily tasks: furnishing a home, paper work, grocery shopping. All of these menial things that are actually incredibly difficult for them. It takes effort. Genuine effort.
What I want you to understand is that there are implications for what you propose. At present, the parts of our society that assist asylum seekers, despite their best efforts, are under resourced and ill-equipped. Most of our society is also frightened, ignorant and unwilling to be welcoming. Those are the facts.
So before you write your letters, or rally, or whatever it is you’re about to do, consider what it is that you are willing to give up in order to welcome asylum seekers. In writing to Kevin Rudd, or your local MP, don’t just make demands of them. What are YOU willing to do?
If Rudd agreed to your terms, if all refugees were granted asylum and we did our part, it would not just happen. This does not end with a Facebook like, share, or letter. It would take genuine care and sacrifice to continue to make these people feel welcomed and re-settled. The reality is that such a task is hard and ongoing and we can’t just blame the government if it should go wrong.
I speak for myself. I would sacrifice to assist someone desperately escaping war and persecution who’s placed their life in the hands of a leaky boat. But what could this mean? Would it mean an increase in taxes? Would it mean giving my time to assisting someone with their grocery shopping? Would it simply mean that I would patiently attempt to build relationships with people who speak a different language and who have a different way of life to mine rather than just moving to a place that would be easier and more comfortable to live? Would it mean moving into an area where you could do just that?
If any of those options made you baulk, you better re-think what you’re fighting for.
The title of this blog is deliberately provocative. It’s called irony. Allow me to clarify, once more, I believe that Australia should welcome and support all those who seek asylum. The point of this blog is to make you understand the realities of this, as someone who lives day to day in a multicultural context, amongst people who have very different ways of life, who have suffered the trauma that is unique only to those of refugee status. We – the people of Australia, myself included, are not people who easily share, not people who easily give up our rights for the sake of others. This creates serious difficulty in allowing people to truly integrate. The relationship quickly turns from welcoming to one of animosity. We have seen it before, and I for one do not want to repeat the mistakes of the past. Again, I pose the question, what are YOU willing to do?
This story was originally published on Christine Mead’s blog. It’s been re-published here with her permission.Image: U.S. Coast Guard photo by Public Affairs Specialist 2nd Class John Edwards.