Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Immigration (part 1): Asylum seekers/refugees in Australia (the facts)

Well dudes, I'm back from exams and I thought it'd be fun to do a bit of a series on immigration and the process of becoming residents/citizens of Australia for the next couple of weeks. If you have any questions you'd like me to answer, leave them in the comments!

Disclaimer: If my information is inaccurate, let me know. I'll include all my sources at the end of the post. I'll try to remain as unbiased and factual as possible, but this is something I feel extremely strong about so little pieces of bias may slip in here and there. Finally, I'll be focussing mostly on asylum seekers and refugees relating to Australia. Obviously this topic can be applied to almost any country in the world but I'm not a professor and don't have all the time in the world to cover everything. Let me know in the comments how this works in your country. 


So kinda ever since I've moved to Australia I've been interested in the topic of asylum seekers and refugees, mostly because it's such a controversial topic, world-wide and especially in Australia. If you hang around the Aussies for long enough, you'll eventually hear of the "boat people" and get many, many (many) differing views on them. In tenth grade I even did an assignment on them for my religion class (and got a pretty decent mark for it as well, I might add). So here we go! Hopefully I'll cover anything you could have wanted to know about asylum seekers in Australia. 

Just so we're all clear, an asylum seeker is someone who is seeking to be recognised as a refugee, while a refugee has already been given the status of a refugee by the government. Asylum seekers and refugees can leave their country because of religious, racial or political persecution, as well as due to conflict or natural disaster (such as flood, famine, drought, etc). Asylum seekers and refugees are not the same thing, although they are both leaving their countries for similar reasons. 

Seeking asylum from persecution is a human right under the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (Article 14). You can be denied asylum if you've committed a war crime, a crime against humanity or other non-political crimes, and any refugee has the obligation to conform to the laws and regulations of the country that has granted them asylum.

*wipes forehead* Now that we've got the definitions out of the way, let's move on. Australia's history with asylum seekers and refugees has been a long and controversial one. We've had massive waves of immigrants, mostly from Europe, and if you know your history you'll know that most first white Australians (Aboriginals being the first Australians) were Irish convicts. Other immigrants came of their own free will for a better life. But these immigrants weren't refugees/asylum seekers

In 1954, Australia agreed to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which states that seeking asylum is a human right. From about the 1970s to mid-1980s, Australia actually had a pretty good policy regarding asylum seekers and refugees. English lessons became a right for refugees, there was an orientation process, translation and interpretation services as well as other programs and services. In 1986 we even celebrated our first Refugee Week. 

From there, policies became harsher. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Tiananmen Square massacre, there was a massive increase of refugees flooding into Australia. New policies allowed the deportation of "illegal entrants", as well as reserving the right to force the asylum seekers to pay for the cost of their detention, processing and/or deportation. In 1992, non-citizens who arrived to Australia without a visa could be legally detained for up to 273 days, a limit that was later removed. Five years later, the government handed management of detention centres to private companies. Programs were still being offered, such as English tuition, trauma and torture counselling and help with accommodation. 

But that's all ancient history. Most frequently, for about the last twenty years people have tried to enter Australia by setting out, often from Indonesia, in cramped, unseaworthy boats. The Australian government created a policy giving them the power to turn back any of these boats by "any reasonable force" and deny anyone on these boats the right to apply for asylum. Then we've got the Pacific Solution. The policy states that any asylum seekers arriving in Australia without a visa are to be sent to an off-shore detention centre in the Pacific Islands. 

Early October, 2001. Australian government officials claimed asylum seekers had thrown their children overboard in an attempt to gain access to Australia, and released several images "proving" this. It was later discovered these pictures had been taken while the asylum seekers were being rescued from their sinking boat. 


Mid-October, 2001. A boat sinks between Indonesia and Australia. 146 children, 142 women and 65 men drown. The 44 survivors were rescued and returned to Indonesia after about 24 hours in the ocean. Many of the dead women and children were attempting to be reunited with their husbands and fathers in Australia. 

2002. The United Nations releases a report condemning Australia's detention centres, and two years later another report was released, detailing the mental illness children were suffering due to long periods of detention. 

August, 2004. The Australian High Court decided asylum seekers could be held in detention indefinitely, and "that harsh detention conditions were not unlawful." 

February, 2008. The Pacific Solution ends and the detention centres on various Pacific Islands are closed. 

September, 2009. Asylum seekers are no longer required to pay for their time spent in detention (about $100 a day). Remember some asylum seekers could be held for anywhere between a week and five years. 

December, 2010. Roughly 50 asylum seekers drown in an attempt to reach Australia. 

August, 2012. Australia increases its refugee allowance to 20,000 places per year. 

July, 2013. Asylum seekers are processed off-shore and if found to be genuine refugees, they are resettled in Papua New Guinea. A peaceful protest in one of the detention centres collapsed into a riot. 

December, 2013. A new policy makes it almost impossible for asylum seekers arriving by boat to be recognised as refugees. 

September, 2015. Australia grants an additional 12,000 places for refugees due to the Syrian and Iraqi crisis. 

April, 2016. The last of the children leave detention centres. 

2016-2017. Australia has a minimum of 13,750 places for refugees. This number is only for people who arrive "lawfully" in Australia (not illegally by boat, airplane or people transferred to off-shore detention centres). 

Obviously that's a lot of information. Basically, Australia's policy is to detain asylum seekers off-shore and turn back any boats that are attempting to reach Australia. Australia is the only country in the world with mandatory detention and off-shore processing. 

That disgusts me, but that's another post for another day.

What's the asylum seeker policy like where you live? Do you have any questions you'd like to see covered in the next few weeks? Let me know in the comments!

Sources:

United Nations, 2015, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, viewed 16th of June 2017, http://www.un.org/en/udhrbook/pdf/udhr_booklet_en_web.pdf 

United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, 1951, Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, viewed 16th June 2017, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/StatusOfRefugees.aspx 

Refugee Council of Australia, 2016, Timeline, viewed 16 June 2017, http://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/getfacts/timeline/

Australian Government, 2016, Australian's Humanitarian Programme 2016-2017, viewed 16 June 2017, https://www.border.gov.au/ReportsandPublications/Documents/discussion-papers/discussion-paper-humanitarian-programme_2016-17.pdf

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Tiger stripes

I'm sitting with my knees pulled up to my chest, my toes cold and my fingers hidden in my old high school sweater. Beside me sits my friends on a worn wooden bench, lined up in a neat row like duckling but of course we're not ducklings anymore. Our downy feathers are almost all gone. 


My hair smells of conditioner and smoke, perfume and dog. It's an odd combination but I like it, like the way it smells of me and something less than me and more than me all at the same time. I laugh at someone's stupid joke and attempt to grab another brownie, but it flops in my fingers and some of it lands on my leg. It's supposed to be healthy, chickpeas and zucchini and walnuts and cocoa. Sugar-free. It certainly tastes healthy, and I adore them. 

There's five of us altogether. There used to be more of us, but time and distance has taken care of that. We're gathered around the bonfire, the last dancing embers of the flames settling into the crisp wood. Marigold and tiger stripes, bronze and pumpkin. Apparently, it was an impressive fire three hours ago but now it more resembles a sleeping dragon, something you dare each other to awaken but no one has the guts to step into its den. 

We sit and talk. From the outside, it doesn't look special. It certainly doesn't appear exciting, and it isn't. Not really. We talk about boyfriends and university, living away from home and anatomy, of part-time jobs and TV shows, of politics and shooting stars. One of my friends swears she'll get me a boyfriend, and I agree as long as he can hold an intelligent conversation and give me free food and books, because what's the point of a boyfriend if he doesn't give you free books? We plan get-togethers and reminisce about teachers from high school, lay tentative plans for bike rides and camping trips and complain about university and exams. 

Then someone points out the stars. We're all silent for a moment as we crane our necks to the Australian skies, the smoke from the campfire obscuring our view when the wind changes. We're out in the country so there's no light pollution, and the result is spectacular. Dots of light from heaven poke tiny holes through the obsidian canvas of the night, and the occasional satellite blinks with a reassuring certainty as it treks through the unknown. I want to run my fingers through it, watch it ripple like the surface of a silver dragonfly pool, the stars my constant reminder of who I am and why I'm here. 

My friends are eventually distracted by a joke or a story or a remark, who knows what, but I keep staring. A streak of light flashes across the sky, then disappears. I cry out, more excited than I should be. A shooting star. Desperately, I try to think of something to wish for, and when my mind lands on what I want, what I really want, I stop and wish long and hard for it because what else do you do when you're surrounded by your friends and you see a shooting star? 

I'm pulled back to the present as someone makes a joke about one of us turning twenty. We're all quiet as we digest this. Twenty. We shouldn't be twenty, nineteen, eighteen. I am still seven years old, strawberry-blonde hair and dreams like a honey sunset that slips between your fingers, a splash of freckles and self-confidence like a shattered, bleached skull placed under too much pressure. Butterflies and dresses and old books that stain your fingers with stories the colour of rust, that's who I am. 

But the truth is, I'm not like that anymore. And neither are my friends. We are all of that and less, and so much more all at once. We are ready to plunge into the unknown rabbit hole of being adults, terrified it means leaving each other behind. But for tonight, for right now, we are here. We joke and tell stories, eat chips and grapes and sugar-free brownies, fill our lungs with the charcoal smoke and laugh under the stars, and there's no place I'd rather be than right here, right now.