For Those Who’ve Come Across the Seas, We’ve Boundless Plains to Share…. HA HA! KIDDING!

When I was an undergraduate teaching student, I had an incredible lecturer for my Society and Environment unit. (Society and Environment is what we used to call ‘Social Studies’). She was passionate and interested, and someone I felt I could have sat and chatted with for hours. I went by to see her one afternoon after class and she was telling me about a teaching aid she’d developed, and gave me a copy.

I got home and put the DVD into my computer. It was a game to teach students about government and democracy, but most importantly, about budgeting decisions. Obviously I knew about budgeting in my own household, but when you’re talking billions, it somehow seems not quite real, and you can’t really imagine why some decisions are made over others. The game showed, for example, that decreasing funding for public housing would mean fewer people who needed housing assistance would get it, which might lead to higher crime. Reducing the amount you spent on defence could prevent you from assisting neighbours in times of natural disasters, and thus impact on foreign relations. It’s the first time I really sat down and thought about the very complex decisions some politicians have to make when it comes to policies and allocation of resources. It’s actually very difficult.

Since then, when I read about decisions regarding foreign policies, or funding cuts, I try to keep an open mind. I think, well, there’s only so much money to go around. Resources have to be allocated, and sometimes reserved for later. And as much as I would like to hope, it’s unlikely that our politicians are going to ring me up and let me in on every state secret and plan for international relations. Possibly, there are things they know, to which I’m not privy.

I think this is particularly relevant when it’s an emotive issue. Take refugees, for example. Or don’t take them, which seems to be the policy at the moment. Australia is taking an ever stricter stance on asylum seekers, and it’s dividing the community. There are those who believe that Australia’s resources should be reserved for those who already live here, and those who prove themselves truly worthy of entering–not like the ‘queue-jumpers’ who attempt to come by boat. And there are those who believe that the harsh policy of disallowing refugees access to even basic needs, such as decent living conditions, is simply reprehensible, given Australia’s wealth, especially compared to the countries from where these refugees have fled.

I’ve been trying to keep my thoughts measured about this. I know that we need to consider many issues such as unemployment, the ability to provide for those people who already live here, and also the risk associated with integrating people into the community–as small a threat as it is, we do need to consider that some refugees are not be legitimate and really wish to do others harm. I can accept that it’s not as simple as it might seem at first glance.

Then I read an article about a man who has been trying to bring his younger brothers over to Australia from Pakistan, since that man’s wife and mother were recently killed, and the brothers are now orphaned. And the Australian government is now trying to ensure that anyone who has come here by boat and who wants to repatriate family members will have to ‘go to the back of the queue’. This means that it will now take several years to get such visas approved. Oh, and the government wants to backdate these cases to 2001.

OK. Now, that just seems really mean.

Then there is some speculation that the Australian Navy appears to have been sending asylum seekers found in Australian waters back into Indonesian waters (whence they came), to avoid, one would assume, having to process them.

Those who make it to Australian shores don’t get to stay here, either. They’re sent to offshore facilities in other countries, one of which is Manus Island, in Papua New Guinea. Recently, there was rioting in the detention centre, and subsequently, a person died.

Our government is trying to demonstrate how well it’s keeping its promise to ‘Stop the Boats’, but in fact, the boats are still coming, and pushing them back into the jurisdiction of another country is akin to us sticking our fingers in our ears and singing ‘lalala’ and hoping they will go away. Our government would like it to be someone else’s problem. And it is someone else’s problem, but not only theirs. It’s ours, too. We live on the same planet, and sooner or later, we all need help from other fellow global citizens.

I know that it’s important to be pragmatic about resources. Yet the vast majority of people don’t usually just up and flee their country of birth, not least with only the clothes on their back, travelling in unsafe and squalid conditions with no guarantee of safety or refuge, and not knowing if they will ever be able to return, or to see friends and family again. As a rich nation, in close proximity to many poorer ones, we do have an obligation, both on a moral level and as part of a global responsibility, to send aid, to assist in nation-building, and to take refugees. Long term, this also makes political sense. If we can help promote social and political stability in these nations, there will be fewer refugees. Those who want to leave their homeland would do it because they wanted to, rather than being forced.

I’ve been thinking of our national anthem, with regards to this. We usually only sing the first verse. I wonder if that’s because it just mentions the good bits?

Australians all, let us rejoice,
For we are young and free.
We’ve golden soil and wealth for toil, our home is girt by sea.
Our land abounds in nature’s gifts, of beauty rich and rare.
In history’s page let every stage,
Advance Australia Fair!
In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia Fair!

Aw, that’s nice, isn’t it? But then there is a second verse. Not only does it talk about working (ugh, that’s enough to put you off right there), it also gives an indication of how we should be behaving towards asylum seekers:

Beneath our radiant Southern Cross 
We’ll toil with hearts and hands.
To make this Commonwealth of ours renowned through all the lands.
To those who come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share…

We do, really, don’t we? Yes, we have scarce water, and our infrastructure is lacking in some areas, and resources are limited. But that’s the same, everywhere. We live on the same planet. Look at some of the places these people used to live. There is social unrest, war, prejudice, pollution. They have it really bad, there. And in comparison, we have it really good.

The water is clean, so is the air. We are a lucky country, despite the obviously long list of criticisms one could make of us. We’re so very fortunate, to live here. And if we’re going to get very defensive about our borders, our politics, and how other people are (rightly) judging our treatment of those wanting to come and seek refuge here, perhaps we should remember how most of our forbears came here on boats. And how badly many of them behaved with regards to those who already lived here.

I know it’s a complex issue. But it’s time we stopped our ‘not-in-my-backyard’ mentality. They’re already in our backyard, and it’s time we invited them onto the verandah for a cold drink and a comfortable chair to sit in. They’ve had a long trip.


12 thoughts on “For Those Who’ve Come Across the Seas, We’ve Boundless Plains to Share…. HA HA! KIDDING!

  1. Thought provoking as always! You make a good point about the desperation of refugees. Nobody willing leaves their home, their family, their culture, with no money, no food, only the clothes on their backs, to get on a rickety boat (or, here in Europe, into the back of a lorry or a sealed container), risking their own and their children’s lives, to travel in the most dire conditions to somewhere they have never been before, where they know they won’t be welcome. People do that because they are desperate, because life is so unbearable at home. Unbearable in a way that most of us couldn’t even imagine. Meanwhile the good citizens of Australia, Europe, the US horde our possessions and think we couldn’t possibly share what we have.

    It’s only 170 years since the people of my country (Ireland) were driven overseas in desperation, hungry partly because the potato crop failed but mostly because the bumper crops of grain those years were not fairly distributed, and were made to feel unwelcome and unwanted in the US, the UK and elsewhere. We have a short memory, because we fail to see that same desperation on the faces of today’s refugees who, through no fault of their own, have found themselves on the wrong end of conflict, climate change, political unrest. We need to put down our mobile phones and our TV remote controls, and open our hands in welcome. Because I know the refugees were my people in the past, and they could be my people again in the future.

    • Some of those Irish came to Australia and are my people, too.

      I think one of the problems is, the refugees come from countries with which we in Europe, the US and Australia don’t necessarily identify as ‘the same’. I think we half expect people in developing nations to suffer, because that’s the way it has been for generations. We don’t like to imagine that it could easily be us, there. But on a smaller scale, all it takes is one disaster–a cyclone or bushfire or flood–and then we have some realisation that, oh, THIS is what it’s like to lose everything. Except we are in the position where our government (usually) does something to help us out.

      I would like to think that we’re moving towards a more compassionate, global worldview. But, well, I just don’t really know.

  2. Pingback: For Those Who’ve Come Across the Seas, We’ve Boundless Plains to Share…. HA HA! KIDDING! | ugiridharaprasad

  3. I, too, struggle with these issues when I think about the US. We are, after al, a nation of immigrants. This hit home to us (no pun intended) when one of Sara’s Afghan staff (yes, she worked there for 1.5 years) began seeking asylum for his family. He had to go to northern Europe, and has still not secured visas for his wife and children. Sad, and yes, VERY complicated.

    Wonderful post, on a difficult issue!

    Hugs from Ecuador,

    • I was listening to the radio a few months ago and they were talking about the large number of refugees who had been resettled in Sweden. That brings with it some difficulties with cultural integration, but obviously when you’re looking for a safe place to bring up your children and live your life, you don’t have many choices. Sigh.

      Thank you! I read your most recent post and loved it! I was in the middle of posting something in response and my browser crashed, so I’ll have to get back there today 🙂

  4. Reblogged this on path: ethic. and commented:

    As I’ve followed the news feeds about the refugees trying to get through to Europe and countries who will welcome them, I was reminded of this post and our government’s continued–if not worsening–failure to adequately and humanely assist refugees who seek asylum here.

    It’s not only sad to read some of what went on over a year ago… it’s tragic that things have not improved. If anything, they’re worse. I can only hope that perhaps the tide of public opinion is turning, given the harrowing images we’ve seen in recent days, and the outpouring of grief and sadness from the Australian people in response.

  5. Germany just announced that they would take in everyone from Syria who reached their borders. I think this is a mistake. And not because I am opposed to taking in refugees. But Germany just created a deadly market, in which refugees pay everything they have in order to reach their “favourite” country, and people pay for fake papers in order to pretend that they are from Syria.
    Now the Australian system is the other extreme. I think what is truly needed is something in the middle. In the case of the EU, we need to set up refugee camps at the border of the EU (naturally the EU as a whole has to pay for them and ensure that they are in good condition) and then distribute the refugees over Europa. Meaning they may end up in Germany, but they may end up elsewhere, too. And everyone who tries to jump the queue, immediately looses the right of Asylum.
    I know this sounds harsh. But rather that than finding more children who suffocated in some van on their way to Germany. It wouldn’t dry out the market up to the point when the refugees reach European Soil, but at least it would ensure that after that the Refugees are treated humanly. Plus, it would ensure that only the truly desperate ask for asylum. Because everyone wants to life in Germany, England or Sweden. It is the paradise in the eyes of those people, encouraging them to not even try to settle in a few countries on the way in which the life is harder, but possible. The notion that after a long travel, there is no guarantee to get asylum in the “dream land” might discourage those who simply dream of a so called better life. (yes, we actually get refugees who either simply think that life in Germany is easier than their own country, and a lot which DID leave their country out of desperation but want to settle nowhere but in Germany because they know that they get better benefits here than in most other states).

    • Reading your comment made me think of an article I’d read the other day:

      He suggests that instead of making them travel all the way, we should be ensuring that they can be processed as refugees in Turkey (for example) and then distributed to the countries who’ve said they’ll take them.

      As much as I don’t agree with the right wing extremists who are attacking these vulnerable people, it also highlights that simply saying ‘Refugees Welcome’ doesn’t make it an easy transition, nor does it mean that life is suddenly full of roses for those who make it to Germany. There is culture shock, there’s a language barrier, and these people have already been through a lot. It is not a simple thing, taking in refugees. Of course, it’s necessary! But we should certainly look at ways we can make sure people don’t have to leave their homelands.

      • Sadly, a lot of the refuges don’t to seem understand the difference between “immigration” and “asylum”. The idea of asylum is that people who can’t live in their own country because their life is endangered can flee to a safe place until the danger is passed…and then they are supposed to go back. It is not meant to be a permanent solution. I admit, I am a little bit peeved when I see refugees which managed to get a temporary stay allowed complain about not getting a permanent one. If they want to stay permanent, they should work on meeting the rules for immigration (like, you know, learning German…not still speaking barely a word after one year of being in a country which does offer language lessons – the thing is, there are many people coming to Germany who work hard on becoming part of the society and those, we barely notice. But there are also a lot who try to create their own country within Germany and those ARE a problem and I honestly think that if they don’t follow the rules, they should loose the right to stay here immediately).
        Hungary has been made kind of the villain in this whole thing because they erect a wall and insist on the refuges to register. But they are kind of right. Ignoring the rules shouldn’t be rewarded and if anything, Hungary needs help dealing with all those people, not flak for trying to follow the rules the EU has set.
        I am actually against playing world police. Germany can invest in other countries in an attempt to help the economy along. We can implement fair trade, build fabrics with decent pay aso. What we shouldn’t do is manipulating the political circumstances within a country outside of diplomacy. History shows that military interference has never done any good – Germany itself might be the sole exception.

      • What you say highlights, I think, the issues with a huge influx of people from another country or culture, at any time. And it’s worse when said people come from war-torn countries, because settling is obviously going to be more difficult. I can understand wanting to keep hold of your culture while in exile or even having emigrated, but yes, I also can understand the friction that can cause.

      • Germany is actually pretty open to other religions, partly because the freedom of religion is a concept which was established fairly early and partly because most Germans are only nominally Christians or downright Atheists either way. The problem is that a lot of the believes of more fundamentally Muslims (and I don’t mean those who would kill for their religion) go pretty much against what we have established in out society, starting with the role of females. And I am not even talking about simple friction. I talk about Muslims who set up criminal squads in order to “punish” those Muslims who didn’t follow what they consider “right” in their eyes, or built their own little empire within Germany. All those are potential problem which do have to get considered.

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