Asylum Seekers in Australia – What Happened to a Fair Go?

This policy lacks substance and needs to be seen for what it is – opportunistic and based on misinformation. It fuels an unfounded fear and ignores what asylum seeker policy should be based on – humanity *

It’s difficult to believe that the policy, to be adopted officially on August 20, 2012 in parliament, will see us leave people fleeing persecution and the possibility of death placed in offshore centres for indefinite periods of time.  Even more shocking is a credible report that many families will be left in limbo in places where malaria is a huge problem. What ever happened to compassion, caring for others and a fair go? We need to be leading our region on human rights issues if we are a nation that believes in offering everyone opportunities to live a dignified life.

‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood’ so says Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The United Nations General Assembly adopted this powerful document on 10 December 1948, as a result of the atrocities and experiences of the Second World War. The preamble says ‘recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world’.

The decision as it stands makes me ashamed because I grew up in an Australian society in the 50’s with people who had fought under the Australian flag in WWII, with many giving up their lives to secure freedom and justice for all. They went overseas far from the safety of home to fight for humanity. Today our brave soldiers are still continuing the fight, offering security to people in places where it is still such a huge issue.

Australia was always a society that offered its neighbours a helping hand, as well as pitched in and helped others when times were tough. They didn’t turn their backs, pretend it wasn’t happening or just walk on by. They also did not give into fear. My parents descended from refugees fleeing starvation in the Great Famine that ravaged Europe in the 1840’s and were given an opportunity to have a better life. They all arrived by boat and were treated with respect. It was a hard life on the land, but it was filled with hope and promise. They wanted a better life for their children and their children’s children.

Being held in detention... a humiliating experience by anyone's standards

As former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser reported because of the offshore decision ”The minister will no longer be guardian of children, so the convention on the rights of the child, which we’ve agreed to, suddenly means nothing.” We who enjoy the freedoms offered by this country today would not, under any circumstances, want our own children or grandchildren to spend one minute in a place where it may seem to their young minds that there is no hope. Would someone please explain why any good person would want to inflict such a prospect on someone else’s children?

How we treat asylum seekers matters. It is not illegal as far as I know to seek asylum. And also, how we can expect people who have suffered as these people have to be carrying neat arrays of documents that would satisfy Australia’s contemporary legal standards? If we are to continue to contribute in defining and shaping the cultural and social development of this wonderful nation Australia, and its now much cherished multi-cultural concepts, surely we cannot do that without having respect for each other’s stories?

Offering a refuge for those needing our help should be as integral to our society as its advancement towards the future. Change in any society should be about making something better. We need to all learn how to better deal with difference, with each other, and the things that hurt. This policy is now a fait accompli and so reminding all those in power that the onus is on them to ensure those seeking our help receive treatment consistent with very highest human rights standards is our collective responsibility. If you would put aside a few minutes and send a message to remind your federal minister the time to act is now.

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile**

‘Out of sight, out of mind’ is a saying that too often rings true.We need to be ensuring that we put in place enough safeguards to be sure that the health and well being, both mentally and physically of the asylum seekers will remain of deep concern?

It’s time then to stress the need for improving the conditions under which this dreadful deed will happen. In this instance that would include making sure that clean and appropriate accommodation is provided, that someone is looking out for families so that they are able to stay together and given access to education and mental and physical health services while they are being detained.

Prime Minister of Australia with Report

They will also need compassionate assistance with their applications for asylum, merit-based reviews conducted by senior officials and NGO representatives, as well as monitoring of their conditions by a representative group drawn from both government and civil society.

It is very hard to fathom. In the past and present both disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in terrible acts against humanity and we must be vigilant to ensure it doesn’t happen again. If we want a sustainable, creative society filled with people who raise their positive voices to protect, preserve and strengthen policies and practices within our communities then we need to stand up and be counted on this issue.

Culture in the twenty first century should be about how we make love and settle disputes, it should also be about maintaining bodily health, mental strength and inner wellbeing and our behaviours and beliefs, moral and social mores. It relies on each and every one of us to encourage the raising of positive voices and provide a practical benefit for marginalized sections of our society.

We need to encourage communication and inter-cultural conversations that help contemporary Australians better understand the nature of cultural difference by growing an appreciation and respect for the positive benefits of Australia’s multi-cultural policy.

…‘the peoples of the United Nations have in their Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom…’ a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge’

Good citizens who believe they are consulted fully and contribute will help keep our cities safe, our communities thriving and our country and its established democratic freedoms and culture, both active and alive.

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person**

Once they are here then asylum seekers must be made aware at the entry point that the onus will be on them to show and demonstrate a willingness to integrate into Australian society if they wish to stay, and want to have, a productive life.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2012

Download Here The Official Report on Asylum Seekers

* Malcolm Fraser

**The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Full Text

The United Nations – We the Peoples…

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