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Give them a chance

October 19, 2009

Sunday Mail : Cast adrift by racism
18 October 2009

IT IS not often that I am embarrassed to be Australian. I know that this country is like no other – full of exuberance, creativity and good hard-working people.

But I am cringing now. It has been a slow build to the embarrassment I currently feel. As boatload after boatload of illegal immigrants continue to be intercepted on their way here from Indonesia, I want to cry.

The current situation involving 32 Tamil Sri Lankans in Indonesia was the last straw for me. Watching a nine-year-old girl quite literally beg for her future was far too much to bear.

She was eloquent and beautiful. She and her people have been forced to flee a country where they face execution if they return, based on their caste. The Indonesian Government has been forced to look after them in the interim because we have said don’t bother sending them here.

With her on that boat were beautiful little boys with innocent faces and their hardened, desperate parents who just want a roof over their heads somewhere safe.

Yet none of that means a pinch of anything to those in government who persist with an antiquated immigration policy which is, at its core, racist. More

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  1. Australians for Tamil Justice permalink*
    October 19, 2009 11:07 am

    Sunday Mail : Cast adrift by racism
    18 October 2009

    IT IS not often that I am embarrassed to be Australian. I know that this country is like no other – full of exuberance, creativity and good hard-working people.

    But I am cringing now. It has been a slow build to the embarrassment I currently feel. As boatload after boatload of illegal immigrants continue to be intercepted on their way here from Indonesia, I want to cry.

    The current situation involving 32 Tamil Sri Lankans in Indonesia was the last straw for me. Watching a nine-year-old girl quite literally beg for her future was far too much to bear.

    She was eloquent and beautiful. She and her people have been forced to flee a country where they face execution if they return, based on their caste. The Indonesian Government has been forced to look after them in the interim because we have said don’t bother sending them here.

    With her on that boat were beautiful little boys with innocent faces and their hardened, desperate parents who just want a roof over their heads somewhere safe.

    Yet none of that means a pinch of anything to those in government who persist with an antiquated immigration policy which is, at its core, racist.

    Both the Labor Government and the Opposition have run a mile to distance themselves from the human face of the boat people tragedy. They quote policy and procedure at every opportunity.

    They cram these asylum seekers into accommodation on Christmas Island while they work out what to do with them. They pledge to all “decent” Australians that they will guard the sanctity of our borders by keeping these “types” of people out of here.

    Malcolm Turnbull said late last week that Kevin Rudd’s refusal to allow any of the immigrants into Australia was a soft response to the situation. Rudd said point-blank don’t bother coming, but that we had to balance the hardline with the humane.

    Turnbull said that was humbug. “He’s laid the welcome mat out and he’s held the door right open,” he said of Labor’s current softening of its temporary visa policy. The Opposition Leader’s view is that we must revert to the policies of Liberal governments past, when absolutely nobody made it through the net unless they were professionals who spoke fluent English.

    Malcolm Turnbull has leapt on the boat people issue because he knows most Australians will agree with him. He is relying on the racist in many of us to ignore humanitarian notions of safe havens and building futures. He knows that the polls will vindicate his absolute rejection of asylum seekers.

    It is cringeworthy stuff. Turnbull’s tough line and Rudd’s hardening attitude prove we have made very little progress. We are a bunch of racists who believe it is our God-given right to decide who should be privileged enough to come and share our back yard.

    We conveniently ignore the success stories of our immigrants – the Italians, the Greeks, the Chinese.

    So many have fled war-torn countries to settle here. Their gratitude can be seen in everything they do and the way they celebrate their freedom.

    It would be naive to believe that every single one of the boat people currently crammed into Christmas Island should be handed a visa.

    Similarly, it might be too much to ask that we might take on the thousands of asylum seekers flooding into Indonesia looking for an escape to Australia.

    Surely, though, we must look deep inside ourselves and offer a percentage of them a chance?

    An Afghan man featured in a report in a Sydney newspaper several weeks ago. He had fled his war-torn country 10 years ago with not a cent to his name. We gave him a chance because he had a university degree.

    He has not used his tertiary qualifications but has become one of our leading creative lights, making exquisite rugs that adorn some of our major buildings.

    Yes, he is just one success story. But there are thousands more like him. I am willing to bet that at least one of the Tamil people on that Indonesian boat could make an important contribution. All we have to do is give them a chance.

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