Refugees shouldn't be locked up and should live in the community, argues Susie O'Brien.
Source: Herald Sun, 21.6.11
LIFE isn't easy in the outer suburbs. There's not much work, little public transport and nothing much to do.
Everywhere is more expensive, and it seems like everyone is trying to rip off hard-working families.
Racism is an issue, because there's lots of pockets of new Australians who don't speak much English, and don't seem to want to fit in.
And so we lash out at the most desperate, pathetic group of foreigners of all - those who arrive here by sea seeking refuge.
But don't blame these asylum seekers, who are doing nothing more than coming here lawfully, seeking a better life.
They're nothing more than scapegoats in boats.
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Instead, blame successive governments for not doing enough to help Aussie battlers get by.
And blame them for creating fear and loathing in our community towards asylum seekers.
It's a political con, and too many Australians - particularly those living in multicultural outer suburbs -- are falling for it.
And so we believe it when they tell us that these foreign dark-skinned people are going to harm us if they're allowed to roam free in the community.
It's got so bad that we don't want them in our suburbs, and so we lock them up in our deserts. And we're going even further with offshore processing, now making sure they don't even make it here in the first place.
Sadly, the scare campaign is working and 85 per cent of Australians in a recent poll said they didn't want Australia to allow more boat arrivals.
But I don't blame individuals, I blame successive governments who have used asylum seekers as political pawns.
It's no wonder many people - especially those who are doing it tough themselves - are scared of asylum seekers and what they represent.
We're told we're being swamped by boat arrivals - even though we're not.
We're told they're getting more generous welfare handouts than us - even though they don't.
We're made to feel like they're a threat to our Aussie way of life - even though most of them are just people like you and me who need somewhere safe to live.
We're told they're queue-jumpers, even though there are no orderly migration queues in war-torn Afghanistan and Iraq, and only 1 per cent of refugees worldwide are in UN "queues".
But trust me, everyone looks like a criminal when they're viewed from behind razor wire in the middle of Australia's most hostile locations.
However, during Refugee Week, I think it's time to get smarter than that, and to expose some of the myths and lies circulating about asylum seekers. And we need to end the twin evils of mandatory detention and offshore processing.
FACT: Mandatory detention isn't working as a deterrent, so why do we persist with it?
In 2001, 43 boats containing 5516 asylum seekers arrived. In 2000, it was 2939 people on 51 boats, and the year before that, 3721 people on 86 boats.
Clearly, mandatory detention, brought in by the Keating Labor government in 1992, hasn't been any sort of real deterrent for boat arrivals.
Yes, the number of boats coming to Australia is high at present, but the number of refugees around the world is at a 15-year high.
FACT: Offshore processing isn't reducing the number of boats coming to Australia.
The number of unauthorised boat arrivals dropped after 2001, when the Howard government introduced offshore processing. But that doesn't mean it worked. The policy continued under Labor, and in 2009 the number of arrivals suddenly jumped from 161 in 2008 to 2726 in 2009.
The simple fact is that the number of onshore arrivals has waxed and waned over the years according to the wars, famine and conflict around the world.
FACT: Genuine refugees from the Middle East don't pose any safety risk to law-abiding Australians.
The vast majority of those arriving by boat are found to be genuine refugees, who go on to be productive members of our community. Around 99.7 per cent of Afghans are found to be legitimate refugees, but only 42 per cent of those from China are.
FACT: Air arrivals are less likely to be genuine refugees.
Only 40 per cent of unauthorised air arrivals will be found to be refugees, compared with 94 per cent of all those who arrive by boat.
But no one is making a fuss about these people who arrive with a valid visa, then are given a bridging visa and allowed to stay in the community until their protection visa has been processed.
FACT: Australia is not being swamped by illegal immigrants.
Throughout 2010, 134 boats containing 6500 asylum seekers came to Australia. Yes, it sounds like a lot, but it's just a fraction of the 400,000 people who come to live in Australia each year from other countries. And it's just a fraction of the world's refugee population.
It's time that Australian people demand an end for the mandatory detention of asylum seekers, and to the policy of offshore processing.
Those who pose a safety risk, or cannot be identified easily, should be detained until their security status can be ascertained. Others should be housed in the community, at a fraction of the cost of detention centres.
We really have nothing to be afraid of.
After all, between 1948 and 1992, when the Keating government brought in mandatory detention, around 450,000 refugees lived peacefully in the wider community while their claims were being processed.
No one wants people to die on leaky boats en route to Australian shores. And no one wants people smugglers to win. But we can do more to crack down on this deadly industry without detaining innocent refugees.
Don't forget: when governments spend most of their time and money fighting an imagined enemy, they're not improving the quality of life for the rest of us.