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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 5 November 2016
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 5 NOVEMBER 2016 25 OPINION The unthinkable ‘For those who’ve come across the seas/We’ve boundless plains to share’ - not! NIKOS FOTAKIS Ever since Mr Turnbull announced on Sunday his government's plan to pass an amendment to the Migration Act to ensure asylum seekers who tried to come to Australia by boat after 2013 would be banned from the country for life, including those attempting to come by tourist or business visas, one story has been making the rounds in social media, shining amid a wave of backlash that includes condemnation by the United Nations, for Australia's dangerous defiance of the Refugee Convention. It is the story of Dr Munjed Al Muderis, the distinguished orthopaedic surgeon, who arrived in Australia by boat after fleeing Iraq. It is shared as an example of how this proposed policy, if it had been active around the time of Dr Al Muderis' arrival, would have deprived Australia of a brilliant health professional, whose presence in the community has made many lives better. While this is definitely true, focusing on this example is missing the point. If the suggested policy is inhumane, ruthless and wrong, it is not because it condemns the potential brilliant exception among those who arrive by boat, but because it condemns the rest of them, the average people, the everyday workers and families just looking for a normal life − those who are just like us. It is on these people those opposed to the amendment should focus, because it is them the government is trying to make us ignore. Yes, there may be hero doctors and brilliant scientists onboard, but there are also engineers, accountants, construction workers, cooks, drivers, unskilled workers, students, children, mothers, all hiding behind the cold, generic term ‘irregular maritime arrivals’. The PM's careful wording, in all its sterilised Orwellian newspeak in which most governments around the world excel, provides distance from what it is actually used to describe human beings, throwing themselves into the ocean, in boats, vessels poorly equipped and unsafe, looking for a chance of survival. Granted, it is not easy to feel empathy for them. It is not only the political elite, it is the voters themselves, the citizens who have no way to relate, who cannot possibly imagine what it is giving up everything, getting yourself in a position to have to rely on seedy people smugglers, give them whatever money you have, and risk your family's life by taking them on such a journey. Protected in the safety of our homes, we have no idea what this is like. And yet we have an opinion; we ask "why are they equipped with smartphones" (because they had middle-class lives, before those were shuttered), or "why aren't they going back to their countries", failing to understand that there is nothing back. That 'back' is devastated cities laying in rubble, lost lives, destroyed properties, oppression, political chaos, prosecution and death. Who would want to go back to that? No, for those people, leaving is the only option. It is not only refugees; even those dismissed as ‘economic migrants’ are actually people deprived from the possibility to lead a safe, dignified life and make a livelihood in their countries of origin. By questioning the motives of asylum seekers, we fail to process one simple, basic thought. No person whatsoever, in any part of the world, would risk their lives if what they're leaving behind is not a fate worse than death or incarceration in a con- centration camp. No one puts their children on a boat if what they're fleeing from is not worse. You have to be desperate to do this and this is exactly what these people are. By refusing them entry to Australia, the government is telling them that despair and hopelessness is the suitable condition for them, that they should not feel safe and free, nor pursue anything better for themselves and their children. The Australian government claims that this harsh measure is what it takes to stop the death of people at sea. They say that this kind of action is the only thing that will stop those ruthless people smugglers who take advantage of desperate people. Maybe the Australian government is right to go against traffickers, but while doing so, they manage to hurt the victims more than the perpetrators. If they really need to stop smugglers, maybe the government should address the demand for their 'services'. The most effective way to make people smugglers redundant is not to make access to Australia impossible, but actually by making it easier, by creating the framework that provides legal documents to asylum seekers and assists them in their quest for relocation, instead of leading them straight to the hands of criminals. Better yet, if Australia doesn't want these people coming to the country, maybe it should help them stay in theirs. Because the most effective way to tackle the refugee crisis is to stop the creation of refugees. By bombing countries in the Middle East, Australia is ensuring that people will flee, leaving behind the fire and smoke and rubble, and look elsewhere for security and opportunity. Perhaps it's time to accept responsibility and acknowledge the cause and effect relation between military invasions and the refugee situation. Too simplistic a solution to a very complicated world? Maybe. But the world is not looking very good right now. With extremism on the rise, we are experiencing a rise in right-wing authoritarian policies, emerging in most of the developed world. The EU has seen countries abort the Schengen agreement and impose a harsh border policy to stop the wave of refugees; Donald Trump is campaigning for the US presidency on the promise of building a wall to stop “illegal migrants” from Mexico, in a rhetoric that is unquestionably toxic and fascist. Now, the Australian government has managed to out-trump Trump and put to action his idea. What's next? Concentration camps? That has already happened. It may be inappropriate − or disproportionate − to compare any country in the world today to 1930s Germany, but if we learned anything from Nazi Germany it is that ordinary, middle class people are capable of the unthinkable, should the occasion arise and circumstances allow for it. The unthinkable is already happening in many places in the world. The Australian people are sanctioning the unthinkable, the incarceration and stripping down of dignity of asylum seekers. We've all read the stories and seen the reports; people held for unjustifiably long periods of time, subject to violence and developing mental illness, women and children being sexually assaulted. We cannot claim not to know what is happening in Nauru and Manus Island. Australia has built concentration camps and its citizens, everyday people, workers and families, are allowing for children to be raped in their name there. And all this because people are afraid. In his erratic effort to justify what is happening in these detention centres, Peter Dutton claimed that asylum seekers are after welfare payment and Australian jobs. Of course, these two are mutually exclusive, but logic has been mostly absent in the public debate on this matter. It doesn't matter that there's modelling that says that the camps cost Australia more than it would to have all these asylum seekers in welfare; it doesn't even matter that the remarkable growth of the Australian economy of the past 40 years is the result of its opening the borders to migrants and asylum seekers and making them work for the country. No logic can ever beat the power of irrational fear and the rhetoric that is quick to create scapegoats, be it Jewish, Mexican, Asian or Muslim. We are constantly trading our humanity and compassion for a distorted idea of safety from the threat of 'the other', and nothing good can ever come out of it. Εργασία Employment Ζητήσεις Positions Vacant COUNTER & UPFRONT Serving Staff for Mobile Souvlaki stall at Queen Victoria Market. Start 16/11. Exp. and good communication skills and food handling. Call Mandy 0417 591 097.
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