Please stop calling each other d%#kheads: discussing asylum seekers and refugees in Australia


I feel like it is almost impossible to effectively talk about asylum seeker and refugee issues in Australia. That is, if you’re taking to anyone who doesn’t already agree with you.

I know a lot of people, educated and otherwise rational people, who say that they have no strong opinions on the matter. I find this mind-boggling because not only have these issues become so central in the Australian political arena (this is a lengthy discussion for another time) but because it’s not like we are talking about recycling or global warming (not to say these aren’t both serious issues) we are talking about individual people and families, and their lives are at stake, right now. These are quite literally life or death situations and so I don’t know how people can’t have any kind of opinion either way. So I got to wondering why this could be. Is this because a) they don’t care (unfathomable, but possible) b) they don’t know who to believe or c) they are too afraid to engage in the dialogue because of how aggressive it has become?

The dialogue itself has become so difficult because it’s as though you need to fit within two sides of a seriously split dichotomy. Either you’re stereotyped as a yobbo, racist bigot or as a human rights zealot who wants to punch or scream at everyone whose heart doesn’t bleed like yours does. You can see why a lot of people don’t want to join either team when it seems as though there are only two options available. It doesn’t help that the media is so oversaturated with politically geared messaging and inflammatory rhetoric either.

When people ask me what I do and I tell them that I’m a Refugee Advocate, most just say “oh” and then carefully try not to discuss anything to do with multiculturalism, politics or immigration with me at all. Instantly I’m lumped into that second stereotype. I must be an unbearably intolerant and aggressive lefty so it’s best not to talk about the issues at all with me because they don’t want any trouble. Some people hesitantly ask me questions like “are a lot of boat people actually genuine refugees though?“ and when I reply with “The Department of Immigration’s statistics say anything from 85%-95% actually”, they are surprised that I didn’t actually say “EVERY REFUGEE IS GENUINE YOU F%*KING KNOB”. They then ask more questions. I always encourage people to check out the data themselves and not just take my word for it either. A great conversation starts with respect.

To my fellow refugee supporters: while I know it is heartbreaking to be forced to watch a lot of what is going on knowing how many people are suffering, for the sake of the very people we are trying to advocate for, please don’t swear at anyone or call anyone stupid while you are doing it. I completely understand how hard it is with so many atrocities going on and it feels like we are at war, but by effectively going to battle guns hot we are sidelining the middle Australians and keeping them out of the discussion. We need their support to turn politics around and if the conversation stays this aggressive they won’t want to have anything to do with it. When speaking to someone who has conservative (in the right-wing sense) views on these issues, guess what? Telling them they’re a heartless d$@khead isn’t going to make them more receptive. If they don’t understand the complex Australian and international laws at play, don’t understand the legal concepts (define refugee for me please? Asylum seeker? You might be shocked at how many people don’t actually get it) and don’t understand the realities of policy they need to be politely encouraged to realise that. This lack of knowledge isn’t unique to the right-wing though. To be honest a lot of very vocal leftists don’t either. If you want to support refugees make sure you know the facts first. Don’t make them up to support your argument. All that does is make everyone else lose credibility along with you. Remember what the true goal here is. It’s about the people we support, not our own agendas or our own satisfaction. If you meet someone who doesn’t agree with you and you try to shut them down with a vitriolic rant, they won’t go away more knowledgeable or any more open than they came in to the conversation. Plus they will also have had such a bad memory of their encounter with you that it might just add more fuel to their anti-refugee/asylum seeker fire and they might take that anger out on the people we are trying to protect.

To people who see themselves as more conservative about refugees and asylum seekers: I am a proud Australian. This might be naïve, but I don’t believe any Australian honestly wants people to be sent back anywhere to die. Even if they say they do. I don’t believe it. I have faith in my fellow Australians. I think that anyone who believes something like that does it because they think it reflects some sense of fairness or justice. Take for example the idea that asylum seekers are queue-jumpers. This idea has flourished because a lot of Australians believe in fairness and don’t want “boat people” pushing in. If you fact check this notion you’ll realise there is no queue to push into and that “boat people” aren’t doing anything unfair to other asylum seekers and refugees. If you disagree with me, know that I respect your right to have your own opinions. If you are really so confident in your views, please, I encourage you to do some wider reading. Look into refugee camps, UNHCR processing times and read up on the very different situations of persecution around the world. Check out www.unhcr.org — a website that has a wealth of information about the global situation of refugees. Better yet, look at some academic journals or delve into the knowledge stored at Forced Migration Online www.forcedmigration.org. Do yourself the justice of not simply reading news articles and opinion pieces written by people who already agree with you. I read plenty of articles by people I disagree with and they don’t make me feel uncomfortable because I am confident in my understanding. I encourage you wholeheartedly to do the same. Don’t let my faith in you as an Australian down and make sure you have done your research before you stand your ground. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to support policies that have people returned to be tortured, believing that you are looking out for your country’s best interests, only to realise in later life how wrong you were about the facts. This can be avoided simply by fact-checking everything that you believe. Make sure that what you are supporting is actually what you think it is. Both sides make up facts to support their arguments but the real data is out there, just go read it.

I am not recommending that anyone abandons their views or their personal politics. On the contrary, I am encouraging everyone on every side to do wider research and reading. I am encouraging you to actually understand the facts because you checked them out yourself. That doesn’t mean reading news articles and believing whatever they have said because a lot of “news” articles have their own agendas and twist facts. It means looking at the Department of Immigration’s published statistics on applications made, it means reading the UN Convention on Refugees and it means looking up what each concept means – to start with. I encourage everyone to speak to each other with some semblance of respect so that everyone can feel more comfortable talking about this.

Don’t let anyone tell you what to think. Don’t let anyone call you a d&%khead. Don’t let anyone speak down to you. You are just as capable of finding the truth and forming your own views as they are. Believe that. Then lead by example: don’t swear at or belittle anyone else either. We need to make this a discussion and not a fight. There is enough fighting going on in the world and a lot of this conflict is what refugees and asylum seekers are trying to escape, not come to.

Let’s become an Australia that is respectful of its people, whatever they think and wherever they come from.

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